Pruning Roses

Pruning is critical to the continued blooming and thriving of your roses. However, different types require different pruning practices.

A rose left unpruned can grow into a mass of tangled brambles that produce small or inferior blooms. Proper pruning removes unproductive or damaged wood and leaves a few good canes as the foundation for a healthy bush that will produce well-formed flowers.

Pruning also allows you to create an attractive shape and to keep the rose to a size that fits the landscape.

Prune and groom roses as they grow. Cut out weak and spindly shoots, suckers, and obvious signs of disease. Remove flowers as soon as they have passed their peak.

When to prune

Prune modern roses just before the plant breaks dormancy after the last frost. This can be anytime between January in warm areas and April in severe-winter climates.

Most old roses bear their flowers on wood produced the previous year, so they should be pruned only after they have bloomed.

As an act of kindness both to your plants and to yourself, use sharp, clean, well-lubricated tools for pruning. For all roses except miniatures, you’ll need three types of cutting instruments: hand pruning shears, long-handled lopping shears for thick canes and for hard-to-reach places, and a fine-toothed curved saw for cutting woody canes. Wear heavy-duty garden gloves when you prune.

To prune miniature roses, you’ll need only a pair of hand pruners for thick stems and a smaller, more delicate pair of shears for trimming.

Making cuts

  • Cut at sharp, 30- to 45-degree angles.
  • Make any cuts to the base of the cane above the bud union, just above one of two forking branches, or to a strong outside bud or bud eye. A bud eye is a small bulge with a tiny “eye” and a horizontal crease below. At the end of the dormant period or when they are stimulated by pruning bud eyes develop into new shoots.
  • Notice the direction in which the bud or bud eye is pointing. Prune to encourage outward-facing buds so that you do not end up with a tangle of canes competing for sunlight in the center of the bush.
  • Make cuts about 1/4 inch above the bud. If your cut is too high, you will leave a stub above the bud where the wood will die, providing a haven for pests and diseases.
  • When using pruning shears, ensure a clean cut by positioning the cutting blade on the side closer to the bud or the part of the cane that will remain on the plant. The slight injury that results from pressure on the non-cutting side should be on the part of the cane that you discard./li>

How much to prune

Whatever kind of rose you’re pruning, always cut away deadwood first. Its not going to come back to life, its unattractive and it harbors diseases.

Pruning while the plant is dormant removes buds without reducing the energy stored in the roots and branches. The heavier the pruning, the more buds are removed, and the more energy will be available to each remaining bud.

About all that gardeners in severe climates need to do is cut back wood that has been killed during the winter.

Types of pruning

For those in more moderate climates, there are three basic types of pruning. All three methods will be used by different gardeners within the same climate zone. It usually takes several years to learn the best pruning method for each variety of rose. You may discover that a light pruning works best, with a heavy pruning every four or five years. If you cut back too far one year, you’ll know to go easier the next year.

Severe, or heavy pruning — The plant is cut back to three or four canes 6 to 10 inches high. This method is used to produce fewer but showier blooms for cut roses. It is also used to stimulate vigorous growth of weak plants. (Strongly growing plants don’t need this treatment, because they can handle more buds and still grow vigorously.)

Moderate pruning — Five to twelve canes are left, about 18 to 24 inches high. Moderate pruning develops a much larger bush than severe pruning and is a better choice for most garden roses. The result of moderate pruning is smaller but numerous flowers.

Light pruning — Less than one third of the plant is cut back. Light pruning produces a profusion of short-stemmed flowers on larger bushes. This method is practiced mainly with floribundas, grandifloras, first-year hybrid teas and species roses. It is easier to prune bush roses if the bud union is above ground. If it is below soil level, you may wish to remove soil from around the bud union while you are pruning so you can see the origin of all the canes.