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Pruning Roses for Spring and Summer Beauty

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Rose pruning contributes to the health (leaves the strongest canes on the plant), productivity (promotes flower size and quality), and longevity (stimulates new growth) of rose plants. Pruning gives the plant an attractive shape and desirable size. Prune just when buds begin to swell and after the danger of frost is past. Anytime from now until early spring is the time to prune here in the foothills. Tools required for pruning roses consist of sharp pruning shears, long-handled loppers, a fine-toothed curved saw and a pair of rose gloves or leather garden gloves.

Generally, there are three types of pruning; severe, moderate, and light. Severe pruning reduces plant size and promotes showy, but few, blooms on vigorous well-established plants. Leave only 3-4 canes 6-10 inches above the bud-union (where the stem joins the roots). Moderate pruning develops a much larger bush and is the best method for most gardeners. Leave 4-8 canes each about 18-24 inches above the bud-union. Lastly, light pruning removes only diseased, broken, and crossing canes. Remaining canes are cut back 3-4 feet above the bud union.

Pruning cuts should always be made one-fourth inch above a strong outside bud. However, if removing the entire cane, cut at the bud union where the cane originated. All cuts should be made at approximately a 45-degree angle.

To begin pruning, remove all dead canes and any canes that do not show healthy growth. Next remove branches running through the middle of the bush and those rubbing on healthy branches. Always remove shoots (suckers) that may be growing below the bud-union. Stand back and look at the plant. Are there branches that seem to make the plant lopsided? Cut these backs or remove them completely. Thin out the remaining healthy canes to the desired height creating a bowl shape with an open center. As a general rule, remove from one third to no more than one half the length of the previous season’s growth.

Hybrid teas and grandifloras can be successfully pruned using these guidelines. Floribundas, polyanthas, shrub roses, and climbers require additional information.

Floribundas, polyanthas, and shrub roses are grown more for the quantity of blooms than for the quality of individual blooms. Cut back previous year’s growth only by one-fourth and leave as many strong new canes and stems as the plant produced. Bush roses of the same variety can be sheared as a hedge by pruning all plants to the same height.

Climbers should not be pruned for the first two or three years. Remove only dead, weak, and twiggy wood, allowing the plants to produce long, flexible canes. Most blooms will come from lateral branches produced on long canes. Train the long canes along a fence or over an arbor. When pruning climbers, if the variety only blooms once a year, prune after blooming. Repeat bloomers are pruned at the same time as hybrid teas and other roses. Cut back lateral canes to within two to three buds from the main canes as well as removing dead, weak and woody stems.

In order to reduce yearly pruning, every time I dead-head or cut roses for a bouquet, I cut the stems one or two inches longer than necessary. I also remove suckers and weak or damaged canes all year long. At this time of the year my work in the rose garden is much less arduous.

Carolee James is a former University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.