the zen of pruning roses

It’s been a few years since I had a pruning job. I forgot how joyful the simple process can be. The weather has gotten colder and the leaves have fallen off the roses, the perfect time to break out the pruners. Note,”pruners,” if you think pruning roses is about breaking out the hedge trimmers, you’re wrong. It’s much more than that.

Processed with VSCO with ke1 preset

It’s about sliding your hands down the stem to find buds you can’t see. Feeling for which direction the bump in the stem is pointing and either accepting the position or moving further down. You’ll mostly want to cut right above the buds facing outwards from the plants but I leave a few on the inside to fill the center so it’s not completely void of foliage.

Pruning roses is about peaking underneath the top leaves to find the stems breaking through the soil and underneath the graft, yelling “you chopped my head off!” These shoots that come from below the graft aren’t the rose you necessarily desire but they don’t know that. They just have a will to live but you must remove them or they will take over. You remove them to form the shape, to prevent overcrowding of stems and leaves that can cause poor airflow and disease.

You’ll want to take a step back from the beautiful specimen to examine it’s form. Often you can get so consumed in the pruning that you don’t know what it looks like from a regular viewing distance and not from the twelve inches your eyes are seeing it from. You may find a branch that you missed, a rose that wasn’t deadheaded, or a shape that just seems slightly off. I believe rose pruning has parallels to life. We can get so caught up in our day to day that we don’t take a step back to take a look at the larger picture. Maybe we need to trim something that is not serving us or change ever so slightly the direction of our life.

Regional Parks Botanical Garden at Tilden in Berkeley, California

Spring is a great time to invite your neighbors or friends who aren’t necessarily interested in plants to take a hike through a local park or botanical garden. Even if their interest lies far away from the ‘natural’ world, the showy blooms of many of our native and non native flowers will spark their interest for an hour or two. Who knows? Maybe they will catch the plant bug. I know for me, once I’m introduce to something, I began to have more appeciation for what it is, whether it be a plant, mushroom, make-up technique, fast car, anything!

I visited the Botanical Garden at Tilden in Berkeley with my friend Samantha the other day. This place has been around since 1940 and it shows. There is an amazing display of plants from all regions of California. It’s a great way to see the state’s flora in one place. Did I mention it’s free?!? There is also tours on Saturday and Sundays.

Here are a few pictures from a recent visit to the gardens…



Reduce nutrient runoff by knowing your soil

As the weather warms in the spring, a mix of perennial and annual plants in the garden begin to bloom, providing an array of colors contrasting with the gray of winter. 

Grape vines break out of dormancy, and gardeners walk in limbo, deciding when to plant their first tomatoes to avoid Sonoma County’s late spring frosts. This is also a time when most gardeners and farmers enrich the soil by applying fertilizers and compost. At the farm or at home, fertilizer can sometimes be essential but when applied excessively, it can cause nutrient runoff, damaging water quality and habitat. There are ways to avoid these environmental problems by taking responsible actions to promote soil health.

Applying too much fertilizer may cause nutrients to leach through the soil before the plant has a chance to use them. When this happens, the water-soluble nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphates get deposited into our water supply. This causes a process called eutrophication.

The higher nutrient levels in streams cause algae (that green stuff on the top of the water) to grow excessively. As this algae dies and decomposes (breaks down), it depletes the water of oxygen, causing the death of other organisms that can’t survive on the low levels of oxygen. Eutrophication is a natural process but is often exaggerated by human influence.

For example, in the Florida Gulf, where the Mississippi River drains, there is commonly a large dead zone that has been growing in size, often in correlation with the use of chemical fertilizers. 

Both humans and animals can be affected by high nitrogen in our water supply, causing birth defects and other health problems. There are ways to avoid polluting our waterways while providing an adequate amount of nutrients to plants at home and at the farm. The techniques include soil testing, adding compost, using plant-based fertilizers when needed and planting native trees and shrubs.

Testing your soil, whether you’re a home gardener or farmer, is a great idea. Why? It can provide a detailed analysis of what nutrient levels your soil contains. 

It will allow you to make better decisions about when to fertilize, what fertilizer to use and how much. Testing will help reduce runoff and your expenses on unneeded products.

In most gardens, fertilizer may not be necessary. The addition of compost and mulch will provide the plants with enough nutrients to thrive. Compost does its job by adding important nutrients and organic matter, while the mulch will help conserve moisture and eventually turn into compost. Some heavy feeding plants require large amounts of nutrients to keep production high. Tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders and may need fertilizer added to the beds each year.

There are many choices when it comes to fertilizer. Walking through most garden centers, you’ll often see fertilizers that are petroleum based, which take more energy to produce and are more prone to leaching into our water systems. There are some alternatives to these fertilizers such as cover crops, manures and plant based fertilizers, which often break down at a slower speed. These ‘organic’ soil amendments break down slowly to provide a gradual release of nutrients to the plants. These fertilizers have a lesser chance of getting into our water. 

For our water to be cleaner and our energy used more efficiently, farms and gardeners should test their soils, rely less on petroleum-based fertilizers, add compost and mulch, and incorporate cover crops and plant and animal-based fertilizers when needed. 

These healthy and more sustainable practices will allow our gardens and farms to thrive while having less negative impacts on soils, wildlife, and local and global water ecology.

This article was originally published in the Community Voice on March 8th, 2013.

A link to the original article: