March is the time to care for your existing roses and to plant new ones. The sun is getting stronger and the days are getting longer. The roses are starting to show signs of breaking dormancy. Buds are beginning to swell and some may even showing their first leaves. Even though we can still get some snow this month it is not going to do much damage. Start pruning!
If you are going to plant a new rose, it is best to dig a very deep hole, at least two feet deep. Fill it with well aged manure or compost and top it off with 4″ of amended soil. This will tend to get the roots to grow deeper. Soak bare root roses for a couple of hours before planting. Once planted, water deeply and do not let the soil dry out completely until they become well established. This means most of the growing season. Water twice a week if it hasn’t rained. Too little water can cause sunburned canes and defoliation. Too much can cause root disease and nutritional deficiencies. Avoid wetting the foliage whenever possible as wet leaves tend to encourage fungal diseases. Consider drip irrigation or soaker hoses to get the water directly to the roots. If you use a sprinkler, water as early as possible to give the leaves a chance to dry thoroughly during the day. Mulch with 2″ of shredded leaves or shredded hardwood. For existing roses, cover with mushroom compost or aged manure.
Prune your existing roses early in the month, as the buds begin to swell. Cut off all discolored canes, dead canes and thin out to about four healthy canes. Don’t be afraid to cut them back to about two feet; they will fill out with a nice shape as the weather warms. Remove any weeds growing nearby. When pruning, always cut the canes on an angle with the dormant bud at the top of the angle. Pruning now will also stop the stored nutrients from going to small and weak buds.
Look closely as you prune for signs of pests and disease. Look for lesions or discoloration on the canes and prune this off. Fungal diseases are spread by spores that move in water from plant to plant. Clean your tools with an alcohol wipe after pruning each plant. Also, do not prune while the plants are wet.
Also, be on the lookout for borers that leave what looks like a drilled hole down the center of a cane. This is a tunnel left by the larval form of an insect. Cut these canes down until the signs are gone. If you find a small white larva, destroy the worm.
Your roses should be planted in full sun with fertile soil and steady air circulation. Sanitary practices will help reduce pests and disease. Remove any diseased leaves, shoots and flowers regularly and place in the trash. Check your roses often in order to correct a problem before it becomes severe. Your roses will be healthier if you include a diversity of plants. Consider annuals, herbs and even some vegetables near your roses. Many swear by planting garlic and other alliums nearby.
It is best to get a laboratory soil test to determine not only pH of the soil but exactly what nutrients need to be added at this time of year. Ideal pH is 5.6 to 6.6. If a fertilizer is required, make sure you water both before and after fertilizing so you don’t end up with fertilizer burn. Organic, slow release fertilizers are best.
If the weather is terrible with cold temperatures, late snow and ice, don’t worry. All of this work can be performed in April, as well.
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