Pruning

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Why you should Prune, When to Prune, and How to Prune

Note: If there are as many ways to grow roses as there are rosarians, there are as many theories on pruning as there are pruners. This information is offered as a general guideline for the South Puget Sound area.


Why you should prune


The main purposes of pruning hybrid teas are:
  1. To improve the appearance of the bush,
  2. To stimulate growth,
  3. Control over-wintering bugs and diseases, and
  4. To control the quality and quantity of blooms.

Tall, thin canes produce more but smaller blooms. Fewer, thicker canes result in fewer but larger and better quality blooms. Light pruning is not recommended for most hybrid teas because tall, spindly bushes result. Moderate pruning means removal of 1/2 - 2/3 of the existing bush, while hard pruning leaves only 3-4 canes 8 to 12 inches long.

Hybrid teas are always improved and never killed by pruning. Unpruned hybrid tea roses bloom on small cane tips, go to seed, and become dormant. Poor or "incorrect" pruning is better than no pruning at all.

Not all roses respond to pruning the same way, however.  These rules are for modern hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas.  Shrub, antique, species, and Austin roses are generally best left unpruned, or just thinned and shaped lightly.  Climbing roses have their own rules.

When to prune

Fall pruning is normally done around Thanksgiving. Bushes should be cut back to about half their original height and leaves should be removed. This will prevent winter winds from whipping the bushes and loosening the root systems. Removing the leaves is done for hygienic reasons because insect eggs and fungal spores overwinter on leaves. It is a good practice to mound soil or mulch 6 to 8 inches deep around the plant to protect it from winter damage.

Spring pruning is usually done during the second week of March around south Puget Sound -- a week or so later at higher elevations. First remove the mounding material to expose the lower plant and canes. Then follow directions below on "How to prune."

How to prune

Modern bush roses:

  1. Take out all dead wood.
  2. Take out all crossed or twiggy growth, and any cane smaller than a pencil in diameter.
  3. Keep the center open for good air circulation.
  4. Cut all canes to white or pale green pith. Any brown coloration in the pith indicates a dead or dying cane, in which case the cane should be pruned to a lower bud eye, clear to the crown if necessary, in order to find live pith.
  5. Cut approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch above a bud. Cut to an outside bud to make the plants grow wider. Cut to an inside bud for more upright growth on a plant that has a tendency to sprawl.
  6. Use sharp tools for cutting. Use a keyhole saw or lopper to cut thick, woody, old canes.
  7. Cut canes at uneven heights for a longer blooming period and better appearance.
  8. Select from 3 to 6 strong basal shoots from previous year's growth. Remove all other growth. Then prune those canes left.
  9. Accomplish as many chores as possible just after pruning before the bushes have sprouted. Remove mulch from the bud union, weed, and clean up the rose garden. This prevents breaking off the new shoots when doing these things later.

Climbing roses:

  1. Take out all dead wood.
  2. Take out crossed growth, and canes that grow into walkways.
  3. Cut all canes to white or pale green pith. Any brown coloration in the pith indicates a dead or dying cane, in which case the cane should be pruned to a lower bud eye, clear to the crown if necessary, in order to find live pith.
  4. Select long, pliable canes as the framework; train these primary canes onto the support, as horizontal as possible.  Climbing roses bloom best on horizontal canes.
  5. Trim secondary growth coming off the primary canes, to just a few inches long, with 2-4 buds.  These secondary twigs are the flowering wood.

Antique and Old Garden roses:

  1. Roses that bloom once a year should be pruned in summer, after bloom.  Pruning can also be done in winter, but will remove canes that would have bloomed the next spring.
  2. Take out all dead wood.
  3. Take out all crossed growth and any damaged canes.
  4. On mature bushes, remove a few of the oldest canes to the ground.
  5. Cut back the entire bush by up to one half.  Hedge shears are fine.
  6. Most roses in these classifications prefer little pruning beyond the above steps.  They should not be pruned as severely as hybrid tea roses, and can in fact be left unpruned most years.

2008,  The Olympia Rose Society . This page last modified:  Saturday, March 21, 2015