By Carolyn M. Shaw, LCol (ret’d)
One of the great things about living along the shoreline in Nova Scotia is being able to enjoy the intoxicating aroma of salt in the air combined with the unforgettable perfume of the beach rose, which flowers throughout the summer and autumn months. I recently moved back to the small community of Cottage Cove and inherited a large hedge of these roses. Years ago, at my request, my father had planted a line of rose bushes to make a hedge along the front of the property. They had been dutifully planted, however had grown for years without a gardener’s attentive hand. As there was a tremendous amount of dead wood in the hedge, I decided it was time to prune these rose bushes.
Although I am an enthusiastic gardener and know a bit about growing most vegetables and a few shrubs, my knowledge of roses is minimal - so before tackling this project I had to conduct a bit of research. I discovered the method of pruning is dependent on the class of rose. Classes of rose include climbing roses, hybrid tea roses (“long-stemmed roses”), miniature roses and shrub roses, to name a few. The beach rose, known by several other names including the salt spray rose, beach tomato or sea tomato (as the fruiting bodies - the rose hips - are so large they resemble tomatoes), is a shrub rose. Said to have originated in eastern Asia and later introduced to Europe and North America, its Latin name is Rosa rugosa. A very hardy rose, it is able to survive weather conditions that are common to the seaside, including strong winds and salt spray. Its tolerance to harsh weather as well as to salt also makes it an ideal ornamental plant for inclusion in parking lots, which oftentimes are unsheltered areas that are heavily salted in the colder months to melt ice that would otherwise accumulate.
As previously stated, each class of rose requires a different approach to pruning; however, the usual first step for all is to cut out any dead wood. Cutting implements include pruning shears for small stems, long-handled bush cutters for thick stems, and a narrow-bladed pruning saw or chain saw for large dead wood. After cutting out all of the dead in the plant, thin or weak stems should be cut out to ensure the plant’s energy is directed to more vigorous stem or rootstock. Feeble stems will waste a rose bush’s energy and produce few if any flowers. Complete stems that are removed from a parent stem should be cut as close to the parent stem as possible. With bush roses, if two stems cross or rub, the weaker of the stems should be cut back to a growth bud (a bud from which a stem will form) below the point where they cross. Overly long shoots can be cut back by one-third to prevent drooping. Flowered laterals (stems that originate from a main stem) can be pruned back to about two buds. Finally, the tip of the stems can be pruned to encourage the plant to maintain or improve its bush-like appearance.
To ensure a bush rose grows outward to minimize crowding it is important that a branch is cut just above a bud that faces outward, away from the plant. The cut should be angled so that it slopes slightly back and away from a bud, as shown in this photo. If you prefer the rose bush generate growth inward or in any other direction, choose a bud that is growing in that direction and prune accordingly. Beach roses are very robust. If the plant is doing nicely, it can be pruned lightly each year to ensure a good display. If the plant has an abundance of dead wood, disease, weak stems and the like, it can be pruned back hard. Although the number of flowers it will bear during the upcoming summer and autumn will be less following a hard pruning, this will allow more energy to be directed to new stems and foliage.
Because Rosa rugosa bears such beautiful large fruit, it is recommended that pruning not be conducted in the autumn but be delayed until early springtime, before the plant begins to grow. This way, the fruit can remain on the rose bush as a source of food for birds and animals during the harsh winter months. Alternatively, rose hips - which are an excellent source of vitamin C - can be harvested in the fall and eaten raw (the flesh is quite tasty) or used to make rose hip soup.
Not only is the beach rose highly aromatic, beautiful and hardy, it is also a very versatile plant. Whether used for privacy hedges or ornamental plantings, whether its fruit is used to feed wildlife or people, and whether its flowers are used to produce potpourri or a beautiful flower arrangement, this is a plant to be enjoyed.