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Pruning image courtesy of Shutterstock

Yes, ProfessorRoush has not blogged for quite some time.  January has frankly been dismal here in the Flint Hills, and I’ve been leery of planning the return of green and glorious landscapes lest I awaken the wrath of the Winter Gods and precipitate another late April snowstorm.

I was rudely roused, however, from my winter slumber on a recent morning when my local paper printed the January 29th column of the esteemed Washington Post garden columnist, Adrian Higgins. Higgins, normally a sensible and knowledgeable garden writer, titled that column Prune Rosebushes in Winter, a bland and partly inaccurate title that leads the reader—eventually—to  founder blindly on the shoals of poor rose advice.  Thankfully, Mr. Higgins rambled over the first half of the article, presumably filling column space, before he got to rose care; else the damage done to Washington’s roses could have been much worse.

In his last few paragraphs, Higgins opens the rose-related conversation by stating that “roses are inherently sickly, but the vigor of modern hybrids far outpaces their woes.”  Apparently, Higgins is only acquainted with the inbred, over-pampered, disease-susceptible Hybrid Teas and Floribundas of the 1960’s-90’s, a time when monstrosities such as ‘Tropicana’ and ‘Chrysler Imperial’ ruled the rose world, commercialized and hyped to the point of nausea.  He never mentions the hardier roses that our forefathers grew, nor the disease-resistant, sustainable rose shrubs created over the last two decades by breeding programs such as that of the late Professor Griffth Buck, or test programs such as the Earth-Kind¼ program of Texas A&M University.

Higgins doubles down on his rose ignorance by recommending the annual pruning of all roses to a “goblet of five or six canes
cut back to 18 inches,” making no exceptions for once-blooming Old Garden roses, nor for leaving many modern Hybrid Tea and Floribunda cultivars taller or bushier.  My local newspaper compounded the omission by also deleting the last two paragraphs of the original column, where Higgins briefly mentions pruning exceptions for  “utilitarian landscape roses” such as Knock Out and larger Ramblers.  I appreciate his  demeaning characterization of Knock Out, but his description of appropriate pruning for these ubiquitous blights will only perpetuate the attempts of home landscapers to turn these shrubs into  flowering topiary.

Adrian, you did well with your recommendations of pruning for once flowering shrubs, shade trees, and hydrangeas, but please, leave rose-pruning advice to those with a broader view of the rose world.  I retire now, left to cope with my resultant nightmares of hacked down ‘Madame Hardy’ and ‘Variegata di Bologna’, butchered in their prime in the refined neighborhoods of Washington D. C. because of a need to fill newspaper column inches.  Oh, the horror.

Posted by

James Roush
on February 3, 2014 at 6:39 am, in the category Guest Rants, It’s the Plants, Darling.

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  1. ProfessorRoush

    10th October 2016 at 12:24 am

    Do tell Susan? What are they and where can the rest of us find them?

  2. admin

    29th October 2016 at 4:49 am

    I reluctantly agree, since I know Adrian and find that he (usually) knows his stuff.

  3. ProfessorRoush

    19th November 2016 at 11:18 pm

    I agree that Adrian normally writes a good column, although I confess I sometimes look to find fault with him since I still miss Henry Mitchell.

  4. Vincent Vizachero

    20th November 2016 at 9:14 pm

    “native Nazis”? Really?

  5. ProfessorRoush

    21st November 2016 at 5:27 am

    Godwin’s Law already, David?

  6. Janet Butts

    26th November 2016 at 10:14 am

    Love it!

  7. Karla

    29th November 2016 at 12:45 am

    Oh, whew, I thought it was me! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the winter pruning of roses thing. And the whole rest of the article wasn’t really a bad treatise on pruning generally (if you ignore the rose advice)

  8. Gail

    29th November 2016 at 6:10 pm

    No winter pruning for me as all the roses are varied under snow.
    Since hybrid teas have to be fussed with so much here in Wisconsin I plant those darn utilitarian landscape shrub roses some of unfortunately bloom all summer with no disease problems. Oh the horror of it all!

  9. ProfessorRoush

    30th November 2016 at 4:58 am

    Agreed Gail. I’m not braving subzero weather just to get a jump on my spring pruning!

  10. ProfessorRoush

    30th November 2016 at 11:49 am

    Yes Susan, I grow Tiffany and she’s one of the best. Burgundy Iceberg is grown by a friend and I can second the blackspot magnet stereotype.

  11. Rob

    30th November 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Way to go slaying someone who is trying to promote the craft. I agree that ‘one size fits all’ explanations don’t always apply, but try getting your ramble printed and I’ll bet you’ll fall short. In my experience, no one is buying roses anymore because of all the work that needs to go into it. Knockouts, while being over rated, are the only rose that sells consistently and keep some interest going in a dying sector of the market. Reading this rant only reminded me why I don’t grow roses, its only for high brow elitist who enjoy belittling people with perceived wisdom.

  12. ProfessorRoush

    1st December 2016 at 2:52 am

    Rob, roses are for everyone
.if you find and grow the right ones for your climate. And “promoting the craft” is fine
.right up until you mislead people.

  13. Casa Mariposa

    1st December 2016 at 3:46 am

    Die hard gardeners aren’t the audience Higgins is writing for, but for the masses who purchase a new rose every few years from a big box store after killing the others. His advice might not work for every rose or every gardener but is fine for his intended audience who probably aren’t growing roses that need to be pruned differently. Chances are, if you ask them what kind of rose they’re growing, they’ll respond, ” A pink one and a red one”.

  14. Marianne Willburn

    1st December 2016 at 9:17 am

    Unfortunately, Higgins is not just writing for the expert (of which there are many in DC), but for the amateur and the ssp ‘Ignorant Amateur’. Many of those in the last two categories never venture past hybrid teas and feel that Austin roses are pretty damn exotic, so the chances that his generalized advice will work is pretty good. He does touch upon the landscapes and the ramblers (fairly common), but those of us who know what an EarthKind designation is are going to be disappointed by the depth of the article (or lack thereof). Perhaps if he’d saved roses for a completely different column (as the title suggested) more information could have been imparted.

  15. ProfessorRoush

    1st December 2016 at 9:36 am

    How did the beetles every get past the thorns to destroy Hansa? That is one tough rose.

  16. Marianne Willburn

    1st December 2016 at 10:59 am

    Like many a man, they plowed through the thorns for that one-of-a-kind perfume.

  17. David Muns

    1st December 2016 at 12:38 pm

    And that thoughtful reply comes from Marianne, as far from a high brow elitist as you can get! Ask her about her Harry Lauder Walking Stick!

  18. Marianne Willburn

    1st December 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Harry doesn’t hang out with the rugosas David, he’s a grafted snob.

  19. Gary J

    2nd December 2016 at 9:33 am

    I am totally not getting the disdain for Knockouts. Here on the South Carolina coast mine bloom without bugs or disease straight through from April to Christmas. We had a couple and warm days in January and some blooms popped out again!

  20. ProfessorRoush

    2nd December 2016 at 10:58 am

    Are there still Drift Roses out there? Around here they seem to be annuals
I don’t know why except maybe the lack of rainfall is tougher on them than other climates.

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