Q: Should I prune my climbing roses now or in the spring? Where do I cut them off? They are far too tall, and I have to do something. Once I followed a neighbor's advice and cut them to the ground in the fall. I won't do that again.

A: I belong to the school of pruning hardy roses when the daffodils bloom. By that time the worst of winter weather is over. Pruned in fall or late winter, roses can be unintentionally pruned a second time by cold weather that freezes their stems.

Where should you make the cuts? Try cutting the longest, most awkward stems about 18 inches above the ground, next spring. Do not cut more than half the total number of stems. In the following spring repeat this pruning, cutting back all the remaining stems which are too tall. In succeeding years you will be able to keep the roses at the height you want by pruning any stems which are too long. Do not trim the tips off stems, because new stems will start from the point where you cut the old ones.

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Q: Will any kind of bamboo grow in western Montana?

A: All that I know of are too tender to survive our winters, but if you have a very sheltered spot you could try one of the hardiest bamboos. As the giants among grasses, they share the virtues of other ornamental grasses. They are always graceful, and their color is restful to the eye, whether they are actively growing or dormant.

If you decide to experiment with bamboo, check descriptions carefully before you order one. Like other grasses, bamboos come in two types called "running" and "clumping." Plant only a clumping bamboo. Running bamboos are like quackgrass on steroids; they are impossible to control in a small area. Roots are quite capable of exploring underground for 10 or 20 feet, then finding a place to come to the surface and start a new plant. It may be in the middle of a flower bed or under the garage floor.

Some gardeners suffer from the illusion that they are in control of their gardens. Running bamboos teach us that humans are no match for a plant.

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Q: Can I make cuttings from one of my house plants at this time of year?

A: Yes, but expect it to root more slowly than it would in the spring. Although most house plants originated in the tropics, they seem to be quite aware of seasons. From now until February some house plants will be more interested in resting than in multiplying.

As long as a cutting remains healthy, it need not grow new shoots immediately. Treat it like other house plants, and do not check on its roots until they begin growing out the drain holes in the pot. Cuttings like geraniums and succulents, which rot easily, should be grown in open air. Others can live with a plastic bag draped over them and will need only minimal attention. I have had cuttings which seemed to be in suspended animation suddenly wake up and start growing in early February, when the sun's height or the day length reached some magic number.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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