Removing Buds of First-year Plants - Kim was RIGHT!
Yes this title states the obvious - of COURSE Kim knows more than I will ever know about roses - but I just wanted to add my voice to his wise words about helping make roses stronger in their first year. The idea is to be ruthless about pinching off any buds on a rose in its first year to force it to dig deep and make stronger roots to support the plant. This is particularly important for those of us in cold zones since having a strong root system is often the single factor in a marginally hardy or just plain wimpy rose surviving our winters. I presume the same is true in hot zones for roses surviving your summers.
It's one thing to know this, but an entirely different thing to do it. I recently recommended this to a rose buddy in my area and her reply was "I just can't stand to do it - does it really make that much difference?" Well, yep, in my yard it really did. I had a mostly new bed of roses where I ruthlessly pinched off any blooms last year, and it was hard to see dozens of green blobs doing lots of nothing. I plant a lot of roses each year, but last year I resolved to be faithful about cruising the beds and looking for cheeky little first year roses trying to bloom behind my back. On the one hand it was easier to find the buds since there was precious little to deadhead in that exceptional drought we were in, but on the other hand it was harder to stand pinching off the few blooms that were brave enough to try.
After 7 years or so of rose growing, I can add my testimony that it really made a difference. Usually I lose around 20% of my HT/floris over the winter and chalk it up to varieties of roses that are commonly listed as not being hardy in our zone 5. I figured my odds were good at that survival rate. Well so far, out of around 200 HT/floribundas planted last year I think I've only lost about 10 that weren't on their way out anyway by the end of last summer. I finally had success overwintering Deep Secret and Black Pearl, both of which were on their third and last try in my yard. Heck, I even had Tom Brown survive mostly unscathed, and he's a notorious wimp!
So thank you Kim, and all the other wise folks that have chimed in. Now go be ruthless with those first year roses, and they'll thank you next year and for years to come. In the meantime, plant some annuals for color in the rose beds and don't expect anything beyond survival at first.
P.S. OK, one little whine - if the rose has succeeded in sneaking behind my back and is JUST about to bloom, is it spending that much more energy to go ahead and let it bloom, or should I still be ruthless? It seems like once it's produced the flower maintaining it isn't much extra work, but I'm probably quibbling. Like everything it's a tradeoff of benefits to pain, but that one's the hardest situation to be wicked to the poor thing.