Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Assessing a new garden, and when to say "No" !

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Digging up an old rose

Recently, I received an email question about digging up an old rose ("Hi, Suzi!" ) and luckily, I'd pretty much covered the subject in an earlier post, How To Move A Rose - Yes, It Can Be Done!

Then, just last week, I had another opportunity to do this task myself: in one of my gardens, the Garden Owners have decided to redesign various area, and the washing-line area is going to become a veg garden.

This means that a well-established rose is now scheduled for the chop, which gave me the perfect opportunity to show my Trainee how to move an old rose.

As I said in the earlier post,  it's going to be a bit of a challenge, but it's always worth trying!

Here's our Rose:

It consists of three metal supports (presumably the previous gardener couldn't find one big one, so they used three little ones crammed together), with our rose growing slightly off-centre.

I have spent the last three years training it round the supports instead of shooting straight upwards: when I first came to this garden, the supports were all completely bare, with a couple of old stems rising vertically, then a tuft of roses way, way up at the top,  out of reach and pretty much out of sight.

After three years, it now twines all around the supports, and is smothered in roses all the way up, which is much better.

But now it's time for it to go: it's always a shame to lose a plant where you've invested a lot of time in training it, but heyho, these things happen, and I'd always much rather work in a garden where things changed and evolved over time, compared to a garden where nothing ever changes, which can get a bit dull after ten years or so (*laughs*).

Before we started this job, we made sure that we had already prepared the place into which it was going: we dug the soil over, cleared out any weeds, added some good organic matter from our own compost heap, and checked that the wires on the wall behind the new place were firm, and ready to be used.

Then we went back to the rose.

First job, as per the earlier post, is to remove most of the top foliage, partly because it will put the plant under significant stress, trying to support all that top growth once we have callously ripped it from the ground: partly because it will be easier for it to establish in the new position without all that top-growth flapping around (compare this to autumn pruning of roses to prevent wind-rock); partly because we will have to remove the old metal plant supports, and it was thoroughly entwined: and mostly so that we don't get poked in the eye while trying to dig it out.


First part of the drastic pruning: take a good look at the whole plant, and then look at the base to check the proportion of strong new growth, to old tired growth.

Here - right - you can see that we have two old stems - the thick, grey ones - and two young stems, which are slender and green.

So, we got our pruning saws, and carefully cut out the two old stems, right down there at the base.

Then we traced each stem upwards, cutting it in short sections of about a foot at a time (that's 30cm for all you youngsters), and carefully easing them out of the supports, trying to do as little damage as possible to the remaining stems.

This was a good opportunity to let my Trainee see for themself how easy it was to cut the "wrong" stem... the trick is to start at the bottom, where you sawed through the old stem, and work your way up, rather than starting at the top and working down, because if you do that, you may reach the bottom and find, oh horrors, you've carefully pruned the wrong stem. 


This left us with just two new stems, but still rather too much top growth.

As an exercise, I showed my Trainee how we would prune it if it were staying in place - we go "inside" the bush, and prune out anything thin and leggy, anything that's clearly dead (ie pale brown in colour) and anything which appears damaged.

As this is a rose being twined around a support, I would also remove anything growing out at a spiky angle, ie sticking straight outwards, which might be tricky to bend around the supports.

This reduced the rose quite drastically, as you can see - right.

If the plant were remaining here, at this point I would clear the ground around the base, give it a good feed, and mulch it thickly to encourage it to spring into life as soon as it gets a bit warmer.

But in this case, as we are going to dig it up, we will prune even more drastically (pause while I revive my Trainee, who fainted with shock at the prospect of pruning it even harder) to make it easy to lift: and to help us to remove the metal supports without damaging the stems.

 Here's the final version: reduced to just two new-growth stems, and in order to get out the plant supports, we had to remove nearly all of the thinner growth.

Having done all this (and revived my Trainee again), we cleared away the weeds - no point in taking them to the rose's new home! - and started to dig around the rose.

As you can see from the photo, the rose was not planted in the middle of the hole, just to make our life more difficult: so we had to lift some of the grass in order to get as many roots out as possible.

When you do this, by the way, it is always shocking to see how little root structure a big rose will have.  Naturally,  I forgot to take a photo of the naked roots...sorry about that, but you can take it from me that roses tend to have one big gnarly bit of root in the middle, then a couple of enormous long thick ropey roots, and not much else at all.

It is impossible to dig up the whole length of the long roots, so we just went as deep as we reasonably could in the time allowed, and cut the roots as far down as we could reach.

We then plunged the bare-root rose into a bucket of water, to keep the roots moist, and carried it carefully over the the new location.


Here it is, in the new position, and tied to the wires - which are nearly invisible in this photo! - to prevent it flapping around, which will give the roots a better chance to establish.

We watered it in well, and moved some white Hellebores from elsewhere in the garden, to give it some company.

There you have it: job done, rose moved, now all we had to do was go  back and tidy up the hole where the old rose was, by backfilling all the loose soil: and to put the metal supports away in the shed, until such time as we find a need for them.

Now we just cross our fingers, wait for spring, and hope that it sprouts!

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