To point this plea for moderate pruning, and at the same time help the fair grower who, hitherto averse from pruning at all, is now driven reluctantly to ask for practical guidance in the hateful duty, it will be well to refer to an illustration which may help to teach the happy medium in pruning.
In Fig. 19 is an interesting study in Rose pruning on the "moderate" system. In A we have a two years old plant. As a maiden it was shortened at the point shown by the letter a, which will be found in the lower part of the open space in the centre of the bush. At the time of shortening there were five bold buds visible on the lower part of the stem, and each of these pushed a shoot, represented by the letter e. But there are six of these letters instead of only five. Where has shoot number 6 come from? It has sprung from a bud which, being just beneath the surface of the soil, was not observable at pruning time.
We shall come back to the letter e in order to see what the cuts mean. In the meantime, let us examine the letters 6, c, and d. The first letter, b, indicates where the bush flowered for the first time in June, and the shoots which bore the flowers were lightly shortened. The second letter, c, "hows where the bush flowered for the second time, perhaps in September or October. The third letter, d, indicates how shoots started in early spring from the growths which flowered in autumn.
Now it will be clear from this that we have to regard the bush as consisting of two parts - the part (upper growth), above e, which gave us leaves and flowers one year, and the part (lower stumps) below e, which we are going to make use of to give us the leaves and flowers of the next year. There is a dividing line in this bush, and that dividing line is the letter e. All above e has served its purpose; we now get rid of it, and rely on the stumps below e to give us a new bush.
We may pause for a moment to consider what would happen if we left this line of demarcation altogether out of account, and kept the bush with the shoots b, c, d intact. In other words, if we abandoned pruning altogether.
What would happen is this: In spring the shoots near the tips of the branches, d. which first made a move in February or early March, would grow rapidly. The shoots nearest of all to the top would be the strongest; others, however, would break lower down. We should, in short, get a great many young branches near the top of the bush; the lower part would be comparatively bare.
Now, here we are given pause at once. Firstly, our unpruned bush is obviously going to be a spreading bush, and it is going to be top-heavy. If we want our Roses to be sprawly, and of a water-on-the-brain aspect, well and good. If we do not, bad. Secondly, the flower-producing energies of our unpruned bush are going to be very much diffused. We stand to get a great many flowers, but they will be small, and they will be of no particular shape. If we want a great many flowers, and do not care what shape they are, well and good. If we want fewer fine flowers, bad.
It all amounts to this: We can, if we like, leave bush A just as it is, and have no dividing line e at all; but before we decide on that let us at least have the issue before us. We can have a healthy bush, but we cannot have a compact one. We can have a great many flowers, but we cannot have fine specimens of the particular varieties.
Those who are going in for the non-pruning system must now please step aside for a few moments until I have dealt with those who have set their hearts on compact bushes and fine flowers. To all such the dividing line, e, becomes something very important indeed. Unfortunately, while it looks clear enough on paper, with the wide gaps between the upper and the lower shoots, it is not so clear on the growing bushes; how shall we find it? We can get at it in this way: When growth begins in late winter on the upper part of the bush, an examination of the lower part will reveal little reddish swellings. These are buds. Counting from near the ground line upwards until we have come to six of them, we can say, "There, just above the sixth bud, is my letter e." Count the buds on each shoot in the same way, and the dividing line is arrived at.
We must not, however, put our pruning knife through at once. If we did a catastrophe might ensue. Those eager young shoots which are bursting near the top of the bush in February are taking the sap and keeping the lower buds - the really important buds - dormant. In March or early April comes a sharp frost, and those forward shoots get very sharply nipped. No matter. The buds are safe because they are not growing. If we had cut to e directly the tips, d, began to move, we should have concentrated the sap on the bottom buds and caused them to break into shoots, which of course would have had to bear the brunt of the "nip."
If, however, it is dangerous to prune hard in February or early March, it is safe to prune a little. We can remove a few inches of the tips of the branches, if we are getting alarmed at the extension of the shoots, without doing any harm. But early April is soon enough for cutting to e - that is, for doing the real pruning.
So far as figure A is concerned, it remains to make a brief allusion to f, which will be found on the left hand side, below a. Nothing very disastrous would take place if the grower ignored it altogether, but a rosarian with an eye to a perfectly formed and dwarf bush would cut out the strong shoot at f, and so leave the centre quite open.
It is necessary to give a few moments' attention to B, which may be taken as the result of pruning such a bush as A when another year has passed. A safe rule to follow in the third and succeeding years is to prune very weak shoots, mere twigs as thick as whipcord, to one bud; shoots 1/8 inch thick to two buds; shoots 1/4 inch thick to three buds; all shoots upwards of 1/4 inch thick to four buds. In every case begin to count at the base of the shoot. Each little reddish protuberance is a bud.
The course of pruning here outlined is perhaps as near the happy medium as we can get. In a sense it is hard pruning. It concedes more to the show pruner than to the non-pruner. It cannot, perhaps, be applied with equally satisfactory results to every Rose in the garden; but there is this to be said in its favour - it is more likely, if generally applied, to give good all round results than any other system, whether of harder or lighter pruning, that might be chosen for general adoption.
The comparative merits of hard and light pruning (with nonpruning we will have nothing whatever to do) are likely to provoke discussion until the end of time. As long as Rose shows are held people who are fond of Roses will go to them, and, seeing very large blooms there, will want to produce flowers just like them in the garden at home. It is not an unworthy ambition. The Roses at the show represent the greatest possible development of the particular varieties, and people cannot be blamed if, seeing a high ideal, they resolve to work up to it. There is, however, reason to fear that this laudable resolution often leads to disappointment, and the amateur may well be warned not to expect too much. Under the merciless pruning which the great exhibitor practises many varieties would fail unless they had the best of well-chosen soil and the highest of skilled culture. Many amateurs cannot give the soil and culture of the great grower, consequently the hard pruning system is not for them.