How to Prune Roses

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If you have roses in your garden, chances are, you need to learn how to prune them. Why prune? Here’s the thing… most roses are a lot tougher than we give them credit for… In fact, it can be pretty hard to kill a rose! But just because they can survive through a lot of neglect, doesn’t mean they will be healthy, or beautiful. Pruning helps the rose plant in three ways…

  • It shapes the plant, preventing it from becoming gangly and awkward.
  • It allows the plant to concentrate on growing flowers instead of cane, producing more, and larger, blooms.
  • It allows circulation of air within the plant, and removal of old and dead canes keeps disease from setting in and ruining your blooms.

All in all, if you have roses, prune them. And it’s pretty easy! Here is a quick how-to on pruning roses.

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When?
Prune roses about a month before your last frost, before many new leaves emerge.  In mild climates this is likely January, the colder your climate the later you prune, all the way up to March. If your rose is breaking dormancy and starting to put out lots of new leaves, you’ve waited too long, but it’s not too late to do a light pruning of dead canes, and to lightly shape the plant. (It’s always ok to prune out dead, dying or diseased wood, no matter where you are in the season.)

Tools?
Use a sharp pair of pruning shears, and make sure they are clean so they don’t pass on disease from other plants. You can always wipe your tools with a bleach solution after pruning to keep them disease free. Allow to dry thoroughly before using. Ratchet pruners are great for those who find it tough to get through those thicker canes.

What?
So the big question is, what to prune? First, where do you make the cuts?

Always cut on a 45 degree angle about 1/4 inch above a swollen leaf node. This diagram shows us how its done…

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So now you know where to cut, now what do you cut?

The best choice for most gardeners is to do a moderate pruning. This helps keep the bush healthy, and produces armloads of pretty blooms for you. A light pruning might be done if you were interested in a larger bush, with more, but smaller flowers. A hard pruning, meaning pruning more than half the plant back, is often done for roses meant for show. It puts more energy into the blooms, producing larger, and more spectacular flowers.

How to do a moderate rose pruning.

  • Prune out all dead or diseased canes back past the damage.
  • Cut any interior canes that cross, or are weak growth.
  • Cut any suckers off at the base. Suckers are straight shoots that come out of the plant under the graft union. The graft is the large swollen rootstock at the base of the plant.
  • Remove about one third of last years branch growth on each remaining branch. The illustration below shows you what we mean…

 

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Some people use a sealant on the cuts after pruning, though I have never found that necessary. Remember to always dispose of diseased canes properly and not add them to a compost pile or community yard waste container to prevent spreading the disease.

Throughout the season, lightly prune back dead and dying flowers to promote further blooming, and always cut back and dispose of dead canes or canes that prevent good shape or air circulation of the plant.

One more tip? Gloves. Leather gloves. And when you are done, you will be rewarded with healthy, beautiful roses!

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Image Credits: HGTV Gardens, BHG, Sunset, HGTV

 

 



Comments

  1. I really like your point about disposing of diseased canes in a separate place other than the compost pile. I had always just put them in the compost pile, but this is a great tip to keep in mind in the future. Thanks!

  2. Willy Sheperd, Master Rosarian says:

    Rose pruning and planting will vary depending on where you live. Where I live in the desert south-west we do our heavy pruning and planting in January trying to be done by the first week of February. In cold climates they wait till springtime to see how much winter die-back they have. I strongly recommend contacting your local rose society for recommendations on pruning. They normally hold public pruning demonstrations at the right time of year for your area. They not only show you how but encourage you to join in for “hands on learning” which is always better than just watching. FYI – do not buy cheap pruners. By good by-pass pruners. Enjoy our national flower THE ROSE.

  3. What about antique English Roses? Ex. Austin Roses…. do these need to be pruned as vigorously as you diagrammed or can they be mostly left alone, except to trim off dying, dead or diseased branches? I am a “lazy” gardener and try to select specimens that do not need a lot of maintenance…. I have been drawn to Austin Roses thinking these can pretty much be left to do their thing. Am I wrong? We have 11 acres, and I moved here a bit over 3 years ago, and plan on landscaping as much of it as I can – so I want to do it with low maintenance specimens… thus my reason for being a “lazy” gardener… there will be way too much for one person to maintain when I finally finish to plant high maintenance trees, bushes, perennials, bulbs, vines, etc… Also, we live on what used to be “agricultural farm land” and it was sprayed to death with round-up, etc. for who knows how long… my neighbors tell me NOTHING will survive in our soil, not even “grass” BUT WEEDS DO EXCEEDINGLY WELL!!! I spend so much time removing weeds I have no time to pamper my flowers, trees, bushes, etc… I don’t want to spray the weeds, b/c I want the soil to HEAL and become healthy again. We are seriously talking about having some top soil brought in and added to areas that I am working on, and just expanding from the house outward until I complete my landscaping project. I love flowers and gardening, but I do worry that an 11 acre garden may be my undoing! Anyway, back to those roses… do I need to prune them yearly? or at all, or what have you???

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