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Lady BanksI love roses. In my little garden, I’ve been growing several – one of the few plants I’ll maintain, even if I can’t eat it.

One of my favorites is Banks rose. Lady Banks’ rose, or to use the proper name, Rosa banksiae, is one of those plants that can make even the most jaded urban dweller brighten right up. Although they are relatively numerous in Southern Nevada landscapes, they’re unique as roses go.  Is there anyone who couldn’t enjoy a big plant that bursts into bloom, covering an entire thornless bush with glorious double flowers? All the blossoms appear at once, which makes for a spectacular display. Most of the time they’re growing as shrubs, but with some attention and care they can be trained to grow up a trellis, even though they don’t have any clasping parts.

Most of us are familiar with the cream-colored variety, although they can also have yellow or white flowers. For a while, there was some talk about a new red cultivar, but apparently, it’s not a true Banks rose. Like virtually all other members of the family, it’d certainly be pretty, but not a Banks rose, just a red-flowered climbing shrub.

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[Learn More: Looking for more gardening tips?  Gardening expert Norm Schilling will be at Plant World on March 22 with Desert Companion on Tour.]

Lady Banks has several characteristics make it such a favorite. For one thing, the flowers are lovely, and they all appear at about the same time. In fact, it’s one of the earliest flowering shrubs in many local gardens. Sadly, it only flowers for about a month, but what a month!

Since it has a sprawling habit, it can cover most of a wall (or a yard) in blossoms if given the chance. An important attractive feature is – it’s almost completely free of thorns (“prickles” is the technical term), which are standard defenses for most roses.

Some of the white varieties do have thorns on the larger branches, however.

It keeps its leaves year-round in this climate, so it does not leave dead-looking branches through winter, when many landscapes are unattractively barren.

It tolerates our wild weather conditions! Summer heat does not kill it, nor does the winter generally cause much harm. As long as they receive some fertilizer after the blooming period, it’ll continue to grow merrily.

[Hear More: What's the best food and fauna to plant in March and April?  Find out on KNPR's State of Nevada.]

The plant itself does not require pruning, but it will elbow its way to become a 20-foot wide shrub if permitted. Few people have unlimited land to dedicate to a single rose bush, so while it may not need to be pruned back, most gardeners need to keep it in check.

Like many, perhaps most, early flowering landscape plants, Banks’ yield their blooms on what we call “old wood.” This is wood that it produced last year, or even the previous year. It makes sense, since there wouldn’t have been enough time to develop new woody tissue before the flowering period.

Since they do bloom on old wood, it’s critically important to avoid pruning severely during the winter, the time when most other landscape plants receive their grooming. Cutting back branches in January would be removing the very wood that bears the spring flowers! Badly timed pruning is a sure way to diminish the spring floral display.

[Hear More: Roses are a beautiful addition to any landscape, but learn how they are tough enough to survive the desert heat on Desert Bloom.]

The way to maintain them is to do all serious pruning right after the flowers have passed – usually mid spring.  This holds true for the other early spring flowering plants as well. Give the bush enough time to grow flowering wood in year one, and it will burst into bloom in the spring of year two.

This advice is only for the early spring flowering shrubs. Something that flowers later, like lantana, honeysuckle or Texas ranger, is different.  As a rule, if a plant produces blossoms from summer to fall, then its flowers appear on branches it grew this year. Pruning their old woody growth should happen in the winter.

With pruning, timing can make a great difference in floral display; and our desert landscapes can bloom much of the year.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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