Pruning Roses by PJ LaRue Smith
The goal in pruning rose bushes is to improve the health and vigor of the bush. Removal of dead, diseased, damaged, unproductive, or crossed canes, also assists in disease prevention.
Of particular note – a once blooming rose should NOT be pruned until AFTER it blooms in the spring. Roses that bloom from spring until frost can be pruned before they leaf out completely. Green canes should be pruned back to healthy, creamy white, wood. Old garden roses (OGR’s) shrub roses, and climbers should be pruned lightly.
As with any garden chore, assembling the necessary equipment prior to beginning makes this yearly task much simpler to complete. Standard rose pruning equipment includes the following: (a) a sharp pair of BY-PASS pruners; (b) solid leather thorn-proof gloves (no part of which should be cloth); (c) a pruning saw, or sharp pair of long-handled, BY-PASS loppers (to trim away large diameter canes); (d) a trash can for debris (both what has been cut off and what may be lying below the plant); (e) a good whet stone to keep the pruners/loppers sharp (dull blades damage canes and tend to be a hazard for the operator); (f) appropriate footwear for working in the garden (sandals and flip-flops don’t protect from thorns, ants, or the accidentally dropped pair of pruners); (g) long-sleeved shirt and jeans; and (h) stocked first-aid kit (complete with tweezers for picking out the “thorn in the flesh”).
“Opening up the bush” to allow for greater air flow, requires the cutting out of interior crossed canes, and cutting above an outward facing bud eye. A “bud eye” looks like a little smile with a nose above it and is where a leaf was attached last year. New growth will originate from the “nose” of the bud eye and grow in the direction that it is pointing. The strongest new growth on a cane originates at the cut end, therefore, cutting to the outside facing bud eye directs the new growth outward and upward. This increases airflow through the bush and deters fungal growth. Pruning cuts should be made approximately 1/4” above the bud eye at a 45° angle with the peak directly above the bud eye.
When to prune? In the Hunt County area, the optimum time to prune is the first two weeks of March. However, late freezes or mild winters can shift the timeline a week or so in either direction. If you had a problem with disease in your rose garden last year, particularly blackspot, then you must remove and dispose of ALL trimmed material and any leaves that may be on the ground.
If your roses were free of disease, then cuttings can be made from the rose material that has been pruned off – provided what’s been pruned is healthy material (no brown in the middle). The fast and easy way of taking advantage of this plant material is to take a large nail, poke a hole in the ground (on the shadow side of the bush), slide an 8” rose piece in (leave one-half to one-third exposed above-ground), gently pack the soil down, replace the mulch around it, and lightly water in. (Cuttings should be “stuck” IMMEDIATELY after they are cut.) Keep the area around the cutting moist, but not wet. When new growth is strong and healthy, the cutting can be removed and potted for later placement in a new location. If the cutting turns brown, it is dead. Simply remove and dispose of it. There are other, more precise, methods for making rose cuttings, but that is a topic for another day. Enjoy the spring weather and watch out for those thorns!