Mutabilis - To Chop or not to Chop

ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9October 30, 2010

Mutabilis is one of the very first roses I planted in our garden here. I planted it in the front garden, close to the house wall, where it doesn't really get enough sun (I know, what was I thinking, but that's where I wanted it). As you can see from the pictures, it's a rather thin-caned bush which leans outward and I wondered whether a good pruning will help it or hurt it. Given the lack of optimal light, would it grow back quickly enough? I hope to have your expert advice on this. This rose is very dear to me even though at this time of the year especially it's not looking its best, but I never want to be without it. Seeing Mutabilis in a botanical garden years ago was the beginning of my passionate love for the old roses. By the way, the large piece of wood you can see at the bottom of the last picture is not part of the bush, but rather a piece of wood I used to prop up Mutabilis because after it rained it leaned very far forward.

Thank you for any and all advice.


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jerijen(Zone 10)

I can't tell you what to do, for our conditions are too different.
But I CAN tell you that it is possible to kill Mutabilis by pruning it too hard.


    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 11:49PM
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I saw some rose when visiting Provence and I think it was Mutabilis, but not 100% sure as I don't personally grow it, and I quickly felt in love with. I was also very surprised how mannerly it was grown, manicured into a regular, ball shape, but it got a lot lot of sun, too. So I think some shape prunning could work.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 4:09AM
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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

I can identify with what you are saying. My first rose was Joseph's Coat, and I tried for years to grow it here, but it needed spray. Then in memory of my father, I tried to grow some of the beautiful large red hybrid teas. Same problem!

I had Mutabilis for many years, but even though it grew a second rose, it just was not a good performer. I kept it for about 3 years because it was one of the oldest roses I know of.

It is so wonderful to make our gardens our own havens, and do whatever we want. That is what you should do, and even consider moving it, or starting a new one somewhere else on your property where there is more sun.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 7:46AM
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Campanula UK Z8

hmmm, now mutabilis, in the UK is NOT a monster bush, and behaves less like a rose and rather more like an airier shrub altogether - Deutzia gracilis say. As such, I am often in two minds as to whether I even like it all that much, mainly because pink and yellow together are quite vomitsome (yes, I know, I have this combo myself with a luridly yellow Graham Thomas next to a beloved Madame Gregoire Staechelin - one of them must go and this is the year of the unforgiving loppers. Anyway, to counter the twiggy stinginess of mutabilis, I have been on a lookout for disguising companions. Not yet succeeded since clems are a tad too vigorous unless I go for one of the smaller Evison patio clems - I would really like another deep red viticella type to scramble around and above my mutabilis. Failing that, it is going to be moved to a less conspicuous spot near to a rampant moyesii. I am thinking that it is a real sunlover - indeed, the sun behind the new growth is one of its great charms. I would suggest you aquire another one and plant it in a more open position and then decide whether you want to continue to allocate such a lot of space to your original one. I think drastic pruning would be a bad move.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 10:05AM
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There is an old Mutabilis bush in my sister's garden. I prune it for her every spring. I take between 1/3 and 1/2 off from it's heigh and remove some older canes completely.
At least in my climate Mutabilis loves it. It is very big, but nicely shaped bush that blooms non stop.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 1:58PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

You can prune it to the ground, and it will grow back exactly the same way. If it was in full sun it would look the same, just a little more dense. It's going to lean away from the house and towards the sun...pruning isn't going to change that.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 2:02PM
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jannorcal(No CA z9)

A local community rose garden has 3 Mutabilis in a row that need to be pruned quite severely to keep them in bounds and out of paths. So it is possible to prune it.
Not sure what your goal is. If you want a smaller plant, then you could prune it down by 1/3 or so and shape it. If you are hoping to get it not to lean, that may not be possible. As Hoovb says, it will continue to reach for the light.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 6:11PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Well, having gotten six different opinions I now know exactly what to do - not. There is NO place to move it to so I'll be sensible and do - nothing. At least for now...

I do appreciate the responses though and the fact that they made me smile.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 6:48PM
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A little late on this I am, Ingrid. My Mme Antoine Rebe that's on the north side close to the house does the same thing. I cut her back out of the path, and I think that just makes her grow harder in that direction which is just what she has done, and I'll be hacking her again when her bloom is done. About Mutabilis I've heard it doesn't mind some shade, so that's a good thing, and it just plain wants to be big. Yours has a lot of leaves and is blooming, so I think your decision is good. As to propping it up, that's what I do. Whether it really accomplishes anything or is good for the rose, I don't know. With Mrs B R Cant who wanted to lean and be blown around I put stakes in the ground and tied her to them to keep her upright, and then the strings broke, and she didn't need them anymore. Your Mutabilis is a lovely plant!


    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 10:46PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Thanks for the encouragement Sherry. At least I'm not the only one who has this kind of problem, and I'm encouraged that you think my Mutabilis looks good. A few hours ago I cut off the bare branch that you can see on the last picture to the left in the photo, which is the side that faces to the front, and that helped things considerably. I really enjoy "cosmetic" pruning; it's instant gratification. I think when it comes to propping up roses I've had the same experience as you: After some time they no longer need it. I can't wait until my Mrs. B.R. Cant needs propping. She's only a foot tall and a little wider but has already put out several blooms with more buds coming along, and looks so healthy overall. A really great rose!


    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 12:47AM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

After some overnight cogitation it became obvious to me that all of your advice, even though it differed somewhat, has enabled me to form a plan for my rose that I feel comfortable with. After removing the offending naked cane that was disfiguring the front of the bush and impinging on the rose Spice that is planted (much too closely) in front of it, my decision for now is to leave the rose alone until spring. By that time I surmise that it will have grown more and will take up more space than I would like. I will then do what olga mentioned and cut it back about a third and remove the oldest cane. That should result in a shrub that is the right size, does not look disfigured and will quickly put on new growth to cover the pruned areas.

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 1:19PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The only problem I see is where it was hedged before, near the bottom. Except where deformed by pruning it looks great. But if you want it to behave as a little short bedding rose in that spot you can certainly hard prune the whole thing each year at the end of winter.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 9:48PM
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greybird(z7 TX)

Mutabilis was also my initiation into old roses. I planted mine in a too small area. The young oak tree grew and shaded it, so it leaned into the path. I pruned it too hard, it responded by dying.

I wish I had just moved it instead of trying to impose my will on it. I loved that rose.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 9:51PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

graybird, thank you for you input; I will certainly heed your post as a warning not to prune my Mutabilis too much. Its present size is fine with me and I don't plan to do anything drastic to it.

bboy, I don't want Mutabilis to be a short bedding rose; the very idea gives me the shudders. I'm not sure what you mean that it was hedged before. The only thing I did was to prune some of the canes in the front because they were impinging on the roses planted in front of it. I'll be taking out the rose that's closest to it and don't intend to prune the front so much in the future. I've never pruned it hard overall since this is a young rose.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 11:11PM
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morrisnoor(z9b Sardinia Italy)

Hi Ingrid, I agree with Hoovb: you can prune it hard, and she will grow again even more beautyful.
I've reduced to 60 x 60 cm a Mutabilis more than 5 meters large in a friend's garden in central Italy (zone 8b) and in the middle of january, and no harm to it. After three years the bush is again 3x3 meters.

I've dove the same with mine, and it was good, too.

I think that -in your conditions- you can cut your plans exactely as you like. ;o)


    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 6:27AM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Maurizio, so good to hear from you. I was just admiring your garden on the link to your facebook. You are a true artist.

I'm afraid I'm a coward about pruning my Mutabilis severely, and at the moment don't see a good reason for doing so. In the future, if there should ever be a real problem with this rose, I think I would now have the courage to prune it rather hard one time, but certainly not repeatedly. I really appreciate everyone's input.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 10:33PM
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Sometimes it's better to be patient to see if the plant self-limits without the stimulation of pruning. Ingrid, think of it this way. For many roses, pruning stimulates - and doesn't inhibit - growth.

My concern is that shade combined with pruning will generate even longer, stringier growth on the front of the plant and no growth whatsoever at the back of the plant where the rose is permanently shaded. You aren't going to be able to encourage that rose to grow in the shade. It's always going to lean toward the sunlight.

If the opening of the space bothers you, I suggest sentinels on both sides, some kind of tall, narrow perennial that enjoys the shade and blocks the view of the widening space against the wall. There's a shade loving Penstemon. Check out phygelius cultivars, some of which love part shade. The pale yellow one, Moonraker, is huge, so avoid it. The deep maroon (New Sensation) in shade is the most restrained of the four different cvs If you keep it on drip, the suckering is confined by dry soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: google images of phygelius cultivars

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 1:49PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Strangely, at this time Mutabilis has put out growth toward the back and one branch is even touching the wall. It's really only after rain that the rose leans forward. As you can see in the second picture half of the rose is actually leaning to the back. I meant that the rose was leaning outward, not forward, with an open center. I do tend to agree though that pruning will not help in a rose that doesn't have as much sun as it should.

The phygelius cultivars are fascinating. I'm amazed at how many different colors there are. I'm definitely going to look into this genus further. Thank you for the info, Cass.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 12:19AM
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Campanula UK Z8

afraid to say various phygelius have long gone to the compost heap (but not without a struggle as these plants seem virtually indestructible, able to survive drought, darkness and starvation and still rampage all over the place). However, suspect they might be quite good in your garden, Ingrid, but do be prepared to treat them mean to keep them keen (a bit like husbands really).

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 8:27AM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Campanula, I think you've scared me away from the phygelias; they sound a lot tougher than I am.


P.S. I can't be mean to my husband; he digs all the holes and plants EVERYTHING. Need I say more?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 11:40AM
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Let's be clear. I am not talking about the species Phygelius capensis. I'm talking about hybrid cultivars, Phygelius x rectus. California is entirely different from the UK and PNW. Water and soils are both limiting factors.

I can't imagine gardening without testing newly available plants. Naturally I research them before turning them loose. I've grown 4 different cultivars of Phygelius x rectus for more than 5 years in a climate with 2 to 3 times the annual rainfall of Ingrid's region. As I said, only Moonraker is large in an area where it can be as large as it was advertised, 3-5' x 3-5'. The other 3 are easily and completely restrained by drip irrigation. In my Mediterranean climate, they spread less than Penstemon, flower just as much, have far less dead foliage at the base and look better for much of the winter. New cultivars with a shorter, more compact habit are being released all the time. One is a Proven Winner.

Here is a link that might be useful: range of color but research the true dimensions

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 1:27PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Cass, thank you for the info. It's obvious that you know quite a bit about these plants, and the type you mention sounds like a great perennial. The problem is that I do only overhead watering. However, I could dig a bowl around it and put the water in that without splashing the plant, and water more sparingly than the roses and other plants.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 11:09PM
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