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January’s pruning time for roses

Baldo Villegas enjoys the many blooms in his Orangevale rose garden, which features more than 2,500 bushes. He developed a pruning method that takes 3 minutes or less per bush.
Baldo Villegas enjoys the many blooms in his Orangevale rose garden, which features more than 2,500 bushes. He developed a pruning method that takes 3 minutes or less per bush. Sacramento Bee file

Baldo Villegas and TJ David are used to tackling prickly situations.

Both longtime Sacramento rose lovers care for thousands of bushes. To keep these plants blooming and looking good, their January days are packed with pruning.

Villegas, a retired entomologist and master rosarian, grows more than 2,500 bushes at his two-acre Orangevale ranchette. Davis is the co-creator of the International World Peace Rose Gardens including the flower-filled landmark on the east end of Sacramento’s Capitol Park and a one-of-a-kind school rose garden at Southport School in West Sacramento.

With no time to waste, they’ve each developed their own streamlined approach to this annual chore. And local gardeners who want to trim time devoted to pruning can watch Villegas and David in action at separate events.


Sacramento gardeners have several opportunities to sharpen their pruning IQ this month with workshops, clinics and classes every weekend.

Saturday at Roseville’s Maidu Community Center, Villegas will lead a winter rose care workshop, hosted by the Sierra Foothills Rose Society. Highlighting the event will be his demonstration of how to prune almost any rose bush in what seems like record time.

“If you follow my advice and if you have seen me give pruning demonstrations, you will find out that I do things differently than what everyone else recommends or what the rose books tell you to do in pruning your roses,” Villegas explained. “I claim that you can prune most roses – except climbers and some overgrown, neglected roses – in three minutes or less.”

Villegas created a one-page cheat sheet, detailing his quick-cut approach. (It’s available at www.sactorose.org.) His secret? He starts at the bottom and works up.

Roses generate new canes at the crown (located just above the soil line) or bud union (where the top part of the plant was grafted to its rootstock). New growth produces more and bigger flowers. Eventually covered in scaly gray bark, old canes lose their vitality, producing fewer and fewer flowers as the years progress. Good pruning cuts out unproductive old growth, so new growth can flourish.

“The goal is to encourage new replacement canes from the bud union or crown,” Villegas said. “Always start your pruning at the bud union/crown and work up the plant, one cane at a time.”

Villegas first eliminates what he doesn’t want. He removes suckers, those long spindly canes that sprout from below the bud union. Those suckers come from the rootstock (an entirely different and less desirable rose variety) and sap the plant’s strength. If allowed to grow, they’ll take over the bush.

He also cuts out dead canes, diseased or damaged canes, twiggy canes thinner than a pencil, crossing canes or canes that rub together. Villegas makes his cuts as close as possible to the bud union, so new canes have room to emerge. And those unproductive gray canes? They go bye-bye, too. Snip, snip, snip.

What’s left should be three to six strong green canes, each as thick as a finger or more. Villegas then works up the remaining canes, removing dead, diseased, damaged or twiggy laterals (those side branches off the canes). As for height, he tops off the canes at about waist high (for hybrid teas) or knee high (for floribundas).

As a final step, he strips off any old leaves and cleans up debris around the bush. He brushes mulch away from the bud union to keep it exposed. When spring comes, the warmth of the sun will stimulate new canes to emerge.

David, who will lead a workshop at Southport School Jan. 17, has his own three-step approach. It also focuses on the canes, sorting out old and weak growth. But he keeps some good “new growth” that sprouts off older canes, too.

“No. 1, identify and remove small, weak, spindly growth in comparison to rest of the canes on the rose,” David said.

“No. 2, find larger, older canes which are supporting last year’s new growth. Cut spikes about 6 to 10 inches long just above a bud (where a leaf attaches to the cane) of this new growth that is growing from the older growth.

“No. 3, find large new canes that have grown from the lower part of the rose near the bud union,” he added. “Cut back about 40 to 50 percent (of those canes) or to about the height of the canes in Step 2. Remove all the remaining leaves to help induce dormancy – or sleep time – for your roses. Keep as many good canes as possible.”

Pruning can be fun, David added. But it helps a lot if you have sharp tools and thick gloves. And don’t forget to wear long sleeves. Those prickles hurt.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington. Read her Seeds columns at sacbee.com/debbie-arrington

Prune, prune, prune

This month, improve your pruning know-how at several free events:


Where: Maidu Community Center, 1550 Maidu Drive, Roseville

When: 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 10); chili cookoff, 12:30-1:30 p.m.

Details: www.sactorose.org

See master rosarian Baldo Villegas prune a rose bush in under three minutes. Sierra Foothills Rose Society hosts this popular event, which combines a detailed rose care and pruning clinic with another passion: chili.


Where: Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, Fair Oaks Park, 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks

When: 9 a.m.-noon Jan. 17

Details: (916) 876-5338, http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/

Sacramento County master gardeners demonstrate how to prune fruit trees, grape vines, cane berries, blueberries and roses including heritage shrub varieties. Also, learn grafting techniques and how to espalier, training a tree or shrub to grow along a wall. The 2015 Master Gardener calendar and growing guide ($10) also will be available at this event.


Where: Natomas Rose Garden (next to South Natomas Community Center), 2921 Truxel Road, Sacramento

When: 9 a.m.-noon Jan. 17 and 24

Details: (916) 359-7411, www.natomasrosegarden.org

This is a hands-on opportunity to learn while doing. Help the garden’s volunteers get this public garden into winter shape.


Where: Southport School’s World Peace Rose Garden, 2747 Linden Road, West Sacramento

When: 10:30 a.m.-noon Jan. 17

Details: (916) 381-5433, www.WorldPeaceRoseGardens.org

TJ David, co-creator of the International World Peace Rose Gardens (including the one at Capitol Park), demonstrates his three-step quick rose prune method at Southport School’s rose garden. David’s method maximizes bloom while cutting down on work.


Where: Green Acres, 8501 Jackson Road, Sacramento; 205 Serpa Way, Folsom; and 901 Galleria Blvd., Roseville.

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 17

Details: www.idiggreenacres.com

This one-hour workshop covers the major points of pruning roses, fruit trees and shrubs.


Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento

When: Pruning party, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; classes, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Jan. 17, 9 a.m. Jan. 24 and 31 and Feb. 7

Details: www.cemeteryrose.org

The City Cemetery’s Heritage Rose Group, caretakers of the site’s renowned old garden roses, start their pruning chores with a party, followed by a series of free classes for the public. Volunteers and anyone interested in learning more about old garden roses are welcome to join the party; bring gloves and pruning shears. (Rain date is Jan. 24.) The classes are devoted to specific types of roses including climbers (Jan. 17), modern roses (Jan. 24), once-bloomers (Jan. 31) and older tea and China roses (Feb. 7).

Debbie Arrington