Plant Answers  >  Pruning Roses

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by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service in San Antonio

Roses have already begun growth but if you haven't pruned you should do it as soon as possible. Annual heavy pruning is essential to insure the prolific bloom and long-life of a rose bush.

Explaining the concept of rose pruning without a live bush to demonstrate on is difficult, so let your mind loose to help visualize the following steps in rose pruning.

Pruning of roses is actually done year round. Every time you cut off old blooms and remove twiggy growth you are actually promoting new growth. There are two times a year when you prune more seriously, spring and fall.

You will need the following items: a good pair of hand pruners (preferably the scissor type, not anvil type), a sharp keyhole saw and large loppers, a heavy pair of leather gloves, a pruning compound and a dull knife.

The first step in spring pruning of Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas and Climbing roses is to remove any canes that are dead or just old and non-productive. These canes are usually gray in color and scaly.

This pruning will encourage future "basal" breaks which are the life blood of any rose bush. Basal breaks refer to new shoots, soon to be producing canes, which arise from the graft union. These should not be confused with "suckers" which arise from the rootstock below the graft union. Remove all suckers.

The next step involves taking a good look at the bud union. If you have any old, dry scaly wood on the union, remove it. Use the dull knife to scrape the bud union to remove the scaly wood. By doing this it will again make it possible for new basal breaks to come about.

Beginning to fine tune the pruning, remove all twiggy growth on the remaining canes. (Note: The fine tune pruning on climbing roses should be done after they bloom in the spring.) Try to clean out the middle of the bush as much as possible. This allows for good air circulation to prevent insects and disease.

Now you are ready to prune on the good healthy canes. With the early flush of growth on the roses the most important procedure this year is to prune each cane back to a dormant bud. A bud that has already begun growth will continue to grow vigorously and bloom very little. A dormant, non-growing bud will initiate growth after pruning and will produce an abundance of blooms.

One comment always heard is to "prune to an outside bud." This means when picking the point one a given cane to cut back to, make sure there is a good bud on the cane facing toward the outside of the plant. This will insure the growth of the new bud is to the outside, therefore keeping the center of the rose bush clear and open for air circulation.

Another guideline in pruning back an individual cane is to cut the cane at the point when the diameter of the cane is the size of a pencil or slightly larger. This is normally at a height of 18 to 24 inches. Because of the need to prune back to a dormant bud, the size of the cane may be larger and the cane length may be shorter.

If old and large canes have been removed to the bud union, it is a good practice to seal these large cuts. This helps prevent insects and diseases from infecting the cuts. Smaller canes in many cases don't need to be sealed. Use some sort of sealing compound such as orange shellac or even Elmer's glue.

When pruning is completed remove any old foliage left on the canes and spray with a mixture of Funginex or Benomyl and Orthene or Diazinon as a clean up spray. Spray the entire bush and the ground around the bush.

The final product of your pruning should be a rose bush about 18 to 24 inches tall with 4 to 8 canes. Add some fertilizer and regular pest spraying, and that pitiful looking rose bush will soon give you a shower of flowers.

What about pruning the new miniature roses? Use the same guidelines given for the larger type roses except do it in miniature. The end product will be a rose bush about 4 to 6 inches tall with 4 to 6 canes.

If you don't have any miniature roses, plant some this spring. You will be surprised at the wealth of blooms such a small plant can produce.

Use the miniatures in groups of 3's, 5's, or 7's to make a real splash. The miniatures also work well as a border plant along the front of a shrub bed. And finally, try some miniatures in clay pots and decorative containers to add color to decks, patios and apartment balconies.

For additional information about pruning roses, see:


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