January and February are quiet times in the garden.
This is true for roses as well, plants are dormant, waiting for the first signs of spring with only the winter favourites of Mahonia (it’s long flower spikes currently swathed in bright yellow flowers, loved by the bees on days warm enough to venture out of the hive) and some of the early Prunus, Viburnum and my favourite Lonicera fragrantissima which is brave enough to flower. Incidentally all of them have great perfume.
Ideally we would like to see roses completely free of last year’s leaves, as this does help reduce any carry over of leaf disease, but I expect there are many rose lovers still seeing plants with leaves and probably the odd flower still hanging on. In sheltered spots, I wouldn’t be surprised if some varieties are beginning to open bud. Well, we cannot do anything about the weather and it’s influence on how plants respond we can only manage what is put before us – which will change from year to year. In North Kent we never think that winter is not over until February has passed by, in fact our weather station shows that the first two months of the year often give us our lowest average and absolute temperatures.
This being the case we welcome the lower temperatures, it allows us a more predictable growing pattern with the plants. If you have tipped your rose plants or would like an easy job on a nice day, cutting back the shoots by a few inches wouldn’t hurt – it would remove the majority of old leaves and get rid of any overwintering aphid eggs, but, until we think winter has passed I would forget about spring pruning, even if you see some early bud movement.
Why? Largely, rose buds start to grow at the tip of the stem first, then progress down the stem towards the root, the number that grow depends on the type of rose and the variety, so if a few of the upper buds have started to grow already there are still plenty lower down the stem that will stay dormant for some time yet, which are a good insurance against any severe weather to come, and are probably more in the areas of the plant that you would like to prune back to.
Resist temptation and leave those secateurs in their holster – keep warm and hope for a bit more seasonal weather yet.