Rose Pruning Basics

You'll enhance enjoyment and pride in your rose garden when you prune properly.


When and How Much Should You Prune?
Enlarge Image Pruning promotes healthier blooms in the spring.

In general, you will be pruning just before the plant breaks dormancy after spring's final frost. This will be early in the year in warm climates, and anytime between January and April in cold climates.

If it's old roses you are tending, prune them after blooming. They bear flowers on last year's wood. Cut away the dead wood first -- it will help you "see" the shape of the plant without distraction. It's a good idea to visit a public rose garden and find specimens of roses you are growing. Note how the gardeners have pruned roses of the same type. In cold-winter climates, pruning is often reduced to one option: Simply cut back the wood that was killed in winter. In warm climates, pruning can be done at any of three levels, depending on your purpose. Severe pruning (cut to leave three or four canes, 6 to 10 inches high) produces fewer but larger blooms. Moderate pruning (five to 12 canes cut to 18 to 24 inches) makes for a larger bush. And light pruning (less than one-third of the plant is thinned out) increases the number of short-stemmed flowers that will be produced.

Click here to learn about the special meanings of different kinds and colors of roses.

Tools

Invest in a pair of high-quality pruning shears with both blades curved. (Those with a flat "anvil" on one blade tend to crush stems, not cut them.) This is one tool where price really does make a difference. Select a manufacturer with a proven track record, and buy the best that you can afford. Some pruning shears have a special hand grip designed for left-handed people. Others have swivel handles that are easier on your wrists, and there are models with removable blades for storage. Smaller versions (costing about $20) are available for pruning miniature roses. Next, you'll need a pruning saw to remove large woody canes. It will give you a clean cut without damage to the bud union. The third tool you need is a pair of lopping shears. Loppers are pruners with long (12- to 18-inch) handles. They will provide you with leverage for the thicker canes. Finally, buy a good strong pair of leather gauntlet gloves or hand gloves that are puncture proof. Now, you're ready to start pruning.

Why Prune?
Enlarge Image A miniature plant in late fall.

By fall, miniature roses have grown tall and leggy. Colder evenings produce ill-formed, mottled blossoms and yellowing foliage that often starts to fall off. Rose hips, which can interrupt the next blooming cycle, may result if spent blossoms are not removed. Pruning removes diseased and dead stems and canes and reduces the overall size of the plant. The first spring bloom demonstrates how pruning results in an annual process of renewal.


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