by Bill George

Last month in about mid February, we saw the temperatures climb into the fifties and for a fleeting few days I thought, could the groundhog be right this year? Was Winter going to check out early? Then reality checked in. The following week, we were back in the single digits and mother nature had played another cruel joke by enticing us with just a taste of balmy breezes.

Those few warm days did give me a chance to get out and inspect the rose gardens for the first time this year. Surprisingly, they looked pretty good. I saw some green canes that meant so far, the winter kill hadn't regressed to the root unions. So now, those few warm days have energized my brain. I'm thinking about where I'm going to plant all those roses I ordered from mail order nurseries this past Winter. I'm planning my pruning schedule and thinking about what type of nutrients I'm going to feed my plants for another successful bloom season.

One of my key compost ingredients this year is going to be a strong dose of coffee grounds. For the past two months, I have been scrounging coffee grounds at work and schlepping them home by plastic grocery bag every day. I sort of look like the homeless bagman of Ford Motor Company. Nevermind that my coworkers are whispering behind my back when they see me separating grounds and paper filters. What do they know? With the price of coffee the way it is, they think I've found a way to reprocess it and sell it back to the midnight shift. They believe I'm making money at this, but not sure how. Little do they know that I'm going to be introducing a natural source of nitrogen to my garden and on top of that, the worms love it too! So now who's a half bubble off plumb? Think about it. Coffee grounds are ground up roasted beans and nothing more. It certainly doesn't bother me that after a good rain, my garden smells like Juan Valdez and his burro have trampled through it. Hey, I love the smell of coffee in the morning. Its just not percolating in the kitchen, that's all.

One of the initial chores of Springtime in the garden involves the rites of pruning. Veteran rose growers will expound on the methods of correctly trimming the rose. Neophytes in the garden will wring their hands, worried of making wrong cuts. You can make this job whatever you want. My philosophy has always been, let's make this job as easy, simple and least time consuming as possible. In 1993, the British National Rose Society completed a three year study in which a test garden was divided into three section. One section was pruned with the "correct" methods in mind. The second section was roughed pruned where the pruner randomly chose his cuts without regard as to direction of the eye. The third section was pruned with nothing more than a hedge clipper at about knee level. Guess what? No real appreciable difference in bloom production at the end of three years in any of the sections. Them plants are trying to tell us something. It matters little what style hair cut we give them, they're going to bloom their little fool heads off if we just give them the basics. A little food, a little water some TLC and viola', a seasons worth of beautiful blooms.

Myself, this year, I `m going to prune with a little of each technique. I'm going to put on my fatigue jacket and go in there with the hedge clippers at knee level. It ain't going to be pretty. After that, I'm returning with the pruning shears, do a little apologizing for being so brutal and cut out the remaining dead wood.

Are you getting my message? Go out to your rose garden this Spring and have some fun. Smile a lot when you're doing the garden chores that will have you taking pain relievers for a week after the pruning process is completed. Roses pick up on that and will reward you handsomely for the coming season. Keep your roses a fun part of your life. If you ever have any questions or compliments as to the information dispersed in this article, you can usually call me in the mornings after nine o'clock or contact me by e-mail. Direct all complaints to the editor of this fine newsletter. Good luck!

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