About Pruning Roses

Experienced rose growers know that pruning is essential to good growth and flowering. A rose that is not pruned well will soon grow tall and lanky, and its flower production will be poor. Pruning stimulates new growth, an important factor in flowering because many varieties produce flowers only on new canes.

Roses vary in their need for pruning. All hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, and miniatures require heavy annual pruning to keep them in top shape. Climbers may need heavy pruning or only a light shaping, depending on the circumstances, and many shrub and old garden roses may need only the annual light pruning you would give to other woody plants in the garden.

Pruning is the science of removing growth to achieve one or more goals: keeping the plant healthy, making it more productive, controlling its size, or encouraging it to grow in a particular shape or direction. The amount, type, and timing of pruning depends on the type of rose, the hardiness zone of the garden, the amount of winterkill, the condition of the plant, and what you want from your roses.

Watch an expert rose pruner at work and you will see several of these strategies in action. First, the pruner removes dead, damaged, or diseased canes (known among rose growers as the “Three Ds”) and any crossing canes, to enhance the appearance of the plant and prevent chafing. Next, the pruner tries to open up the center of the plant to improve air circulation and admit more light, which keeps down mildew and other diseases. Further cuts are made to encourage growth at desired points along the canes, or at the base of the plant, so that growth and flowering are stimulated. Still other cuts are made to give the plant an overall shape, or to ease the burden on a newly transplanted root system.

Like other skills, pruning is mastered with practice. Proper tools, good timing, and knowledge of your roses’ growth habits are essential to perfecting this skill.