Why do we prune roses?
There are several reasons we prune
modern roses. Pruning allows us to shape roses to desirable heights
and size characteristics to compliment our garden. We can prune to
encourage the production of large, long-stemmed flowers from our
hybrid teas or smaller but more abundant clusters from our
Proper pruning also helps to create a
healthy rose by removing the 3 D's; dead, diseased and damaged
canes. By thinning canes from the interior of the plant air
circulation is increased. This decreases the likelihood of some
common fungal ailments such as mildew. By removing dead or damaged
canes we increase the overall well-being and beauty of our roses.
These general pruning recommendations
are most applicable to hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora modern
roses. Some of these varieties have special needs where consulting a
rosarian at a garden center may be beneficial.
The American Rose
Society (www.ars.org) also has a consulting rosarian program
available online. This resource allows you to find a rosarian in
your area and correspond by email with your questions. Climbers,
miniatures, ramblers and heirloom varieties have different pruning
requirements and techniques.
When should we prune our
There are guidelines, not rules, for
when to prune your roses. Typically you should wait until after the
last frost before pruning. This could be as early January in warm
climates or as late as May in areas subject to a late frost.
Pruning a little late is not as
tragic as cutting your plants back too early, causing them to suffer
damage from a late winter freeze. In areas prone to severe winter
winds you may need to partially prune large bushes back at the
beginning of the season before covering for winter. This will reduce
the chances of the entire plant being lost if several canes break
off at the base of the plant.
What tools do I need?
Pruning roses does not require any
specialized tools. The main cutting tool is a good pair of bypass
pruning shears. Don't use anvil shears because in some cases they
can cause damage to the plant. Bypass pruning shears make a cleaner
cut which is beneficial when making precise cuts near a bud eye.
A pair of long handled bypass loppers
is necessary for large canes. The long handles provide extra
leverage necessary to cut thick old growth. In some cases a pruning
saw may also be needed.
Protective clothing should be worn to
avoid injury from thorns. A good pair of rose gloves will protect
your hands and forearms from cuts. Wearing a long sleeved shirt and
long pants is also recommended.
What do I cut?
Before you begin to prune think about
the overall shape you are seeking for your roses. For many roses and
gardens the classic urn shape is desired. This shape promotes an
appealing, full shape. It also allows for an open center creating
better air circulation within the bush.
Start by removing all dead branches
and canes. Healthy growth will generally appear green or red where
dead canes will generally turn gray or brown. As you cut into the
canes if the pith is dry and brown continue cutting further down
until you reach a green or cream color. Cut the canes low on the
plant, as near to the base or bud union a possible. Also remove
damaged canes and ones that cross or rub on other healthy growth.
Now we can start making the main
pruning cuts on healthy stock. These cuts should be made about ¼
above a bud eye and at a 45 degree angle. The bud eye should be
facing outward or in the desired direction of growth.
Remove all branches thinner that a
pencil. With floribundas you can leave some smaller branches. You
want branches of sufficient size to support your new spring growth.
While pruning remember to keep the desired finished shape in mind.
How much do I prune?
The amount of pruning depends on the
characteristics you desire of your rose during the blooming season.
For more abundant blooms on smaller stems you may choose a lighter
pruning. Leave most of the canes and only prune them back about 30%.
You still need to remove very small branches and clean up the center
of the plant.
Medium pruning general removes more
foliage, leaving up to 8 10 well placed canes, fewer on hybrid tea
roses. The canes should be reduced to 1/3 to ½ of their original
height. This amount of pruning will generally work well for most
In some cases a heavy pruning is
desired. You may have damage from a severe winter or a bush you
cannot get under control with medium pruning. Make sure to cut back
to wood to where the center or pith is healthy, living wood. Heavy
pruning produces fewer but larger flowers or longer stems.
What else should I do?
You should also remove suckers, or
rootstock shooting out of the ground from below the basal break.
Spraying with dormant oil will help prevent some diseases. Make sure
you clean up all of the clippings from the base of the plant. Throw
these away and do not add them to your mulch or compost pile. Many
rose pests and diseases survive in old rose debris.
What about harvesting and
cutting dead flowers during the blooming season?
During the blooming season you may
want to cut some of your fragrant blooms for your home or at least
remove old, spent blooms. This process is called deadheading.
Deadheading encourages the plant to re-bloom.
Cuts should be made similar to
pruning cuts made on canes. Find a leaflet with five or more leaves
and with a bud eye pointing in the desired direction of growth. Make
your cut just above this location. Remove any petals or leaves that
fall into the bush or on the ground.
Make sure the branches are large
enough to support the new growth. Grandifloras and large hybrid teas
will need larger branches to support the weight. By pruning in this
manner during the season you will enjoy new blossoms throughout
What if I don't prune
Fortunately for us roses are
resilient. Experiment and see what type of pruning works best with
your roses. As long as you keep your rose healthy you can prune
again next year and try something different.