Pruning Methods
(also consult the American Rose Society : Pruning)

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
  • a dull knife.

Steps to Pruning Roses - Spring

Spring pruning in South Central is normally done between the third week of February and-the first week of March. The length of time taken for a bush to bloom depends on the number of petals in the bloom and how deeply it has been pruned. For multi-petalled roses, the spring blooming can take as long as 60-70 days, while fewer petalled varieties can take 35-40 days. Weather is also a factor in bloom cycles. Cool and warmer temperatures will weather will lengthen these periods cause the soil to heat up faster and blooming to occur sooner.

  1. 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 scaley. To prune hybrid tea and grandiflora roses follow certain principles including:
    • High pruning for more flowers earlier or low pruning for fewer, bigger flowers later
    • Pruning to remove weak and crisscrossing canes
    • Removing growth an inch below a canker
    • Removal of damaged, dead, or broken canes back to healthy growth
    • Removing sucker growth as close as possible to main root.

    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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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." The basic technique for most pruning is to cut 1/4 inch above the nearest outward-facing bud with the cut at a 45-degree angle (the higher point above the bud). This means when picking the point on 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. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

Floribundas are usually not pruned as severely as hybrid teas. Even so, be sure to remove any dead, broken, damaged, or blotched branches back to where the pith, or center of the cane, is white and healthy looking. Next, remove weak, spindly canes, canes growing toward the center of the bush, the weaker of two canes that crisscross, canes that grow out, then up, and suckers, if any. Finally, trim all remaining canes back to one-half their former height.

Miniatures - In the spring it is best to cut miniatures almost down to the ground ( i.e., 2 to 3 inches). Moreover, if they are over three years old it is a good idea to divide them by cutting the whole plant in half or more. Be sure to leave some roots on each division.

Old-Fashioned (Antique) and Shrubs - Remove any dead canes and lightly trim remainder of bush, removing about a third of the growth. Mass blooming is the aim with these roses. Additional light grooming throughout the year is encouraged since everblooming varieties bloom on new wood. Varieties that bloom only once during the season should be pruned AFTER they have bloomed since they bloom on old wood.

General - If the bush is over two years old, cut out one or more of the oldest and largest canes using a keyhole saw. Also, clean off the bud union with a dull knife. Seal any large cuts with Elmer's glue or shellac. Remove debris from beds and any leaves remaining on bush after pruning is completed.

Steps to Pruning Roses - Fall

The fall pruning is lighter than in the spring and consists of removing twiggy and unproductive growth along with any crossing or dead canes. All foliage is left on the bush at this time. Labor Day is a good time to do the fall "grooming."

Climbers are not pruned in the same manner as Hybrid Teas. To encourage growth of more flowering laterals and stimulate production of new canes, you should not cut back long canes unless they are outgrowing the allotted space. Varieties differ in this respect since some will produce new canes from the base each year, while others build up a woody structure and produce long, new canes from a position higher up on the plant. Thus, when pruning, the following practices are recommended:

Everblooming varieties -- Cut back to two or three bud eyes all laterals that bore flowers during the past year. Remove any dead, diseased or twiggy growth. For established plants, oldest canes are removed annually at the base. Remaining canes are repositioned and secured, if necessary. For routine maintenance, remove all spent blooms and cut back to a strong bud eye. Canes are tied in place as they mature. Avoid attempting to do this before the wood matures, as soft tender growth is easily broken off.

Ramblers and once blooming varieties - These types should be pruned after blooming as they will normally bloom on year old wood. Thus, after spring bloom, cut out old, unproductive wood and weak canes.

A good practice is to avoid severe pruning for the first two or three years after planting, as it takes this long for most climbers to mature. During this period, remove all dead and weak canes and spent blooms (in some instances, climbers will bloom very little for the first couple of years). New canes of most climbers should be trained horizontally to encourage the growth of flowering laterals. Strips of old pantyhose make good "ties". Pillar roses will grow and bloom upright.

Summer Care of Roses

Summer is the most important time of the year for continued care of rose bushes. Most people have a tendency to slack off due to an increase in other activities. For bushes to be healthy and productive, they must have water. One to two inches a week is generally recommended. Keep an eye on beds next to a fence or house, even after a good rainfall there is an excellent possibility they will still be dry. Maintain a systematic spray program. To maintain moisture in beds, keep mulch on the beds.

Fungus diseases are not as prevalent in the summer months. Blackspot and powdery mildew, however, can be a problem if a regular spray program is not maintained. The spray interval can be lengthened to 10-14 days if we are having the hot, dry summer that we usually can expect in this area.

A regular spray program for insects is not necessary. Too much spray is harmful to the plants, so only spray when insects are present. Thrip are persistent warm weather insects. For control of these pests, start spraying the buds every couple of days, prior to sepals coming down, with Orthene or Cygon. If this doesn't eliminate them, continue spraying after the bloom has opened as these insecticides will not harm the petals. The spider mite is another warm weather invader, which, if left unchecked, will cause the leaves to eventually shrivel and fall off. Some degree of control can be obtained by using an insecticidal soap spray or water washing the underside of the foliage every three days or so with a hard spray of water.

Continual light feeding of roses during the summer months is recommended in this area. if using a granular food, use monthly. During the hottest months, a weaker solution of liquid food may be used.