Taking the Mystery Out of Rose Pruning by PJ LaRue Smith
The rose bush benefits from pruning in much the same way we benefit from receiving a hair cut. While removing long, scraggly canes (long hair); or canes that cross one another (split ends); or thinning the bush’s center (thick hair); or cutting out old, corky canes (dry, damaged hair); and cleaning up the rose bed (sweeping up the cut hair) may not be essential to life (either the rose’s or ours), it certainly can improve the overall look and performance of both!.
Once-blooming roses (some climbers, shrubs, and Old Garden Roses), should not be pruned until after flowering in the spring since blooms are produced only on growth from the previous season. Rose varieties that bloom repeatedly from spring until fall can be pruned in late February, or early March.
Generally, the “perfectly pruned” rose bush should resemble a tall vase – open in the center, with canes on the outer perimeter. Typically, this is achieved by pruning the plant down to 4 or 5, 12” – 16” pencil to thumb-sized canes. However, like us, each rose plant is unique and should be assessed individually. Some will require more (or less) pruning depending upon overall health, whether grafted or own-root, growth habit etc. Weak plants, for example, should have only the diseased, damaged, or dead wood removed. Grafted plants (recognizable by the hand-sized “knot”, the bud-union, located at the base of the canes) should have any growth below the bud-union removed (aka suckers) and canes cut no shorter than 12”. (Hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and modern climbers are generally grafted. Tree roses will have two grafts, one to a rootstock, and the second just below the cluster of canes.)
Miniatures and polyanthas, on the other hand, are typically on their own roots and can sustain much heavier pruning, and can tolerate being pruned down to 5-7 inches above soil level. Roses classified as species, shrub, or Old Garden Roses (OGR’s) are generally grown on their own roots as well, but unlike miniatures, need little pruning. Simply remove the dead, diseased, and crossed canes; take a little off the top; lightly thin the middle and they’re done.
Tools for pruning: a pair of leather gloves (to protect hands); a sharp pair of bypass (scissor-action) pruning shears; a pair of loppers (for large canes in tight places); a pruning saw to cut large, woody canes; and a whetting stone for keeping the pruners sharp. Always wear protective clothing (long sleeved, heavy shirt and jeans) and be sure your tetanus booster is current (within the last 10 years).
Basic guidelines for pruning – cut to an outside facing eye (this limits stem growth in the center of the bush); cut 1/8” to 1/4” above the eye (limits cane die-back); cut at a 45 degree angle with the height of the angle at the eye (enables moisture to run off the cut, away from the eye); and lastly, cut down to a clean white pith/center (discolored pith is a sign of freeze or other damage).
Clean-up is an integral part of rose pruning – remove last year’s leaves, both remaining on the plant and on the ground; bag up all trimmings, mulch, and if so inclined, spray bushes with a fungicide to protect the emerging new growth from any residual spores.
Enjoy the “new look” your roses will have this spring!