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Beautiful Roses

Photo by Silvia May 2010

Pruning rose bushes is intimidating to many gardeners, but actually very good for the plants. Becoming an accomplished rose pruner takes time and practice, but keep in mind that it is very hard to kill a rose with bad pruning. While there is a great deal of disagreement among rose experts regarding how and when to prune roses, it is generally agreed that most mistakes will grow out very quickly and it is better to make a good effort at pruning roses than to let them grow rampant.

Why Prune Roses

* Encourage new growth and bloom
* Remove dead wood
* Improve air circulation
* Shape the plant

When to Prune Roses

Timing is determined by the class of the rose plant and the zone in which it is growing. Most rose pruning is done in the spring, with the blooming of the forsythia as a signal to get moving. If you don’t have forsythia, watch for when the leaf buds begin to swell on your rose plants, meaning the bumps on the canes get larger and reddish in color.

Hybrid tea roses are the most particular about pruning. If you don’t know what type of rose you have, watch the plant for a season. If it blooms on the new growth it sends out that growing season, prune while dormant or just about to break dormancy, as stated above. If it blooms early, on last year’s canes, don’t prune until after flowering.

Some general pruning guidelines by rose classification

Bloom Once on New Growth

Modern Ever-Blooming Roses & Floribunda: These bloom best on the current season’s growth. Prune hard (½ to 2/3 the plant’s height) in the spring and remove old woody stems. Leave 3-5 healthy canes evenly spaced around the plant. Cut them at various lengths from 18 – 24 inches, to encourage continuous blooming.

Hybrid Teas & Grandiflora: These also bloom on new wood and should be pruned in early spring. Remove dead and weak wood. Create an open vase shape with the remaining canes by removing the center stems and any branches crossing inwards. Then reduce the length of the remaining stems by about ½ or down to 18 – 24 inches. You can allow the older, stronger stems to be a bit longer than the new growth.

Repeat Bloomers

Modern Shrub Roses: This group is repeat bloomers, blooming on mature, but not old, woody stems. Leave them unpruned to increase vigor for the first 2 years and then use the “one-third” method. Each year remove one-third of the oldest canes (in addition to any dead, diseased or dying canes).

Bourbons and Portlands: These will repeat bloom, blooming on both new and old wood. Prune to remove dead wood before flowering. A harder pruning and shaping can be done after the first flowering.

Deadheading Roses

Most books recommend cutting the spent bloom back to the first 5 leaves. However, some recommend just cutting off the dead bloom, leaving maximum foliage.

Roses in Seward Park Garden

Most of our roses seem to be repeat bloomers. Some of them are very rangy and benefit from deadheading back to 5 leaves. Others are more compact. In this case, just the spent bloom can be removed.