If you look at the calendar, Spring begins on March 20 but for lovers of roses, spring comes when that yellow-flowered shrub called Forsythia starts to bloom. Pruning roses is a rite of spring for rosarians. In the South, I was told to prune on the last week in February. Then our season begins. Some rosarians start early which is not such a bad idea especially if you have plenty of roses to prune. You can always cut more later but you have a head start.
We prune our roses for several reasons – to keep our roses healthy, to control its excessive growth and to shape the bush for a better display.
Before we rush out there in the garden, make sure you have all the right equipment. A good pair of bypass pruner preferably Felco. No 2 is recommended. Keep your pruner very sharp. A sharp pruner is less taxing to your hand and creates less bruising on your roses. For cutting larger canes, a lopper is a better choice. Their longer handles make it easier to cut through thicker canes. You should also have a pruning saw for those extra thick canes.
Also, of utmost importance is to wear gloves. A good leather glove is a must to protect yourself from too many scratches. Long sleeved shirts or jackets will protect your arms and wrists. Hat is also important to protect your face from the sun and to protect your head if you are balding. Make sure your tetanus booster shot is up to date.
Your first agenda is to cut the dead, diseased and damaged canes. Cut until you see the white or cream colored pith. If necessary, you can go down to almost near the bud union. Roses will bloom on a dark colored pith but once the weather warms, the canes die back or become unproductive. Don’t go crazy looking for white pith on “Peace” rose. It does not have white pith. After getting rid of the dead and diseased canes, begin cutting the longer canes first and get them out of your way. Pay close attention to what you are doing. Work from the outside in. Remember that you are surrounded with thorns so be very careful.
Cut above the leaf with five leaflets to about ¼ inch from the bud. If longer, the cane can die back and if shorter, new growth might break off in the wind. Cut to an outward facing bud so a new growth will face outward too. With few exception, like roses that tend to grow sideways, cut in the direction you want the branch to grow. Roses like The McCartney Rose, First Prize and Just Joey tend to sprawl so prune them to an inside facing bud. Always remember to aim at an open space in the bush. Make the cut on a slant so water drains off. Seal with Elmer’s glue to prevent the cane borer from burrowing into the newly cut canes.
You also want to open the center of the bush for good air circulation to ward off diseases. Cut long and straggly canes and canes that are crossing or touching each other leaving the stronger canes. Leave three or four good healthy canes. If only one cane is available, cut it lower to encourage new growth from the bud union.
On Hybrid Teas, Grandiflora, and some Floribundas, remove stems smaller than a pencil because they will not produce good blooms for cutting. For exhibitors, cutting back to 6 to 12 inches length will produce stronger canes and good quality blooms. Miniature roses are pruned the same way as Hybrid Teas. If you find this too tedious, you can go drastic and use a hedge pruner and prune to 5” high. Mother Nature is very forgiving and usually corrects our mistakes so don’t worry too much.
Remove all blind shoots. These are branches that taper down to almost nothing. Remove spurs. These are short growths only a few inches long that have hardened off and taper down to a point. They will not flower.
Prune to desired height you want for your rose. Some rosarians want their roses tall. I want my roses short and compact looking so I can look down on them instead of stretching my neck to appreciate their beauty. I usually cut to about a foot high except for the shrub types which can go from 18 inches to 24 inches tall.
After you are done pruning, remove every leaf. These old leaves are the reservoir for black spot and mildew. You might also want to start your spraying program with dormant oil to take care of the overwintering insects. Also, spread a cupful of Epsom salt around each bush for better growth. Then you can relax a little bit while waiting for the new growth to arrive.
Rose Bush Before and After Puning.
Until next time. Stop and Smell the Roses.
Rosalinda, The Rose Lady
Rosalinda R Morgan
Author and Garden Writer