The following article is meant to give an overview on the vast subject of pruning roses. Subsequent articles will deal with the particular pruning needs of climbers, ramblers and shrub roses.
The subject of pruning roses seems to strike fear into the heart of new rose growers. But it need not be so. If we remember that first and foremost, the goal of all pruning is to help the plant provide new growth and to keep it healthy by making it possible for air and light to filter into the middle of the bush. As you are guided by these two principles, you will find that pruning roses is fairly common sense and not nearly as complex as you once may have thought. Remember too, that learning the basics of pruning by reading books, magazines and watching demonstrations will only teach you so much. Experience is the best teacher; the more pruning you do, the more confident you will become. Even mistakes can teach us what not to do next year! As you get to know each of your roses you will know what works best and what will produce the most shapely, healthy and floriferous bush. Visiting a public rose garden in your area in the early spring will also be helpful to see how the experts prune.
First of all, pruning roses redirects growth in the plant. When parts of a plant are pruned off it uses its energies to produce new stems and leaves. All pruning cuts should therefore be made just above a new outward facing bud. A rose cane or stem will grow and bear flowers actively for a number of years. However unlike a tree, it does not increase in size every year; it eventually exhausts itself and dies. Roses that are left unpruned can become a tangled mess of old and new canes all competing for air and light. Pruning is essential to the health of the rose. Cutting out dead and diseased wood will encourage the regular development of healthy new canes and ultimately, the goal of all rose growers, beautiful masses of blooms.
Using sharp secateurs or pruners and gloves to protect your hands from thorns, first cut out all obviously dead, diseased or damaged wood. Cut it out cleanly at the base. When you have made your cut, look for white inside the stem. If it’s brown, cut further down. Healthy wood is greenish white not brown. Next, cut out very thin, twiggy growth and remove any stems that cross or rub together. Suckers should be ripped out from their source. Do not cut them, as this will encourage more vigorous growth. You are now ready to prune the bush to the desired height. There are 4 methods from which you can choose. Try all four and see what results in the summer, when your roses are in full bloom. Keep a notebook and record all your experiments for future information.
The first method is called hard pruning. This is when rose canes are severely cut back to 12 – 15 cm (4 – 5 inches). This method is rarely used except for newly planted rose bushes, Hybrid Teas that are used for exhibition, and for rejuvenating weak or neglected roses. Hard pruning builds up a strong root system and stimulates the plant to produce new, strong canes from the bud union.
The next method is called moderate pruning, where the rose canes are cut back by about one half of their height. This is the pruning method generally recommended for all established Hybrid Teas and Floribundas.
The third method is light pruning, where stems are only cut back to less than two-thirds of their length. This method is not generally recommended because it can produce a tall and spindly bush. However, very vigorous roses can benefit from light pruning.
The last method, and the easiest, is aptly called the easy-care method. Simply cut the bush in half, straight across with a hedge trimmer. Leave all wood, but if you wish you can cut out all dead wood. Interestingly enough, experts that have experimented with both the moderate and easy care method, report that there are no noticeable differences later on in the growth and bloom of the bush.
The time of year for pruning roses depends on where you live. It is a good idea to prune back long canes in the fall before winter winds and storms can cause windrock or loosening of the roots. You can also avoid damage or breakage of long canes if they are slightly cut back at this time. Usually the best time to prune is in the early spring just as you see the new growth beginning to bud. A word of caution: pruning too early may cause buds to start growing in mild weather only to be killed by a late frost. Pruning too late may weaken the plant, as the sap will have already begun to flow and pruning would cause loss of sap. You must be the judge of the correct time in your particular area and climactic condition. You can be safe to prune when all chance of freezing is past. The exceptions to this are Ramblers, which are pruned once they have finished blooming in late summer or early fall. Gardeners in Northern climates sometimes wait until the Forsythia blooms in their area before they feel it is safe to prune.
Pruning gives you a wonderful yearly opportunity to
shape the growth and health of your rose. Correct pruning encourages
vigorous blooming and healthy new shoots from the bud union.
Removing old, dead and damaged wood allows the plant to direct its
energies into producing healthy new canes from the bud union.
Pruning is also important in warmer weather climates as it induces
the plant into a kind of dormancy, which is something that cold
weather plants automatically receive in the winter. If you remember
that pruning is an annual process of renewal, you won’t go wrong.
Roses are very tough plants, able to withstand all kinds of neglect
and abuse. Don’t be afraid to prune, just go ahead and start to
experiment. You will be rewarded with your own valuable experience
and a bounty of sweet smelling roses!
(By Elizabeth Roth)