Seize the momentum of fresh energy at the start of this new year and resolve, pledge and vow to prune and care for your roses. Unlike some resolutions, this one is easy to keep for two reasons. First, it is therapeutic, cleansing and enjoyable to tackle a task that helps rid the garden of last year’s old leaves and trouble. And second, the task is spurred on by the vision and inspiration of fresh new growth and blooms in the spring.
Free rose pruning workshop
Master and consulting rosarians will show how to properly prune many different types of roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas, shrub roses and climbing roses.
But you need to understand why and how to prune. When you approach a task you don’t understand, it can be tedious and even overwhelming. You might even mistakenly consider rose pruning to be an unnecessary chore and one you are unwilling to tackle. On the other hand, when you are comfortable pruning roses and know how to do it, it is enjoyable, uplifting and rewarding, for both you and your roses.
In San Diego, our enthusiasm for new beginnings is perfectly timed, as roses here are generally pruned in January.
Why we prune
- For the well-being of the bush. Modern repeat-blooming roses do not have the ability to become dormant but the cold weather and shorter days do slow growth. This is a good time to remove diseased leaves, blooms and canes from the rose garden. The pruning of dead, damaged and unproductive canes encourages the growth of new strong, healthy canes from the bud union. Pruning opens the plant to air and light, which minimizes future disease.
- For the production of the plant’s best blooms. We grow roses for their blooms. Pruning roses not only shapes the bush to its best appearance but also rejuvenates the bush to maximize the number and beauty of its blooms.
How we prune
- Examine the rose from the bottom up. Start by looking at the bud union (the base of the grafted rose), and assess and keep the best, healthiest and newest (green) canes. Canes that are dead, spindly or damaged must be cut out. Do check before you cut out an older cane to ensure it does not have a newer cane growing from it further up the bush.
- Remove old canes. When we cut out old canes, we encourage the rose to put out new fresh canes. These are known as basal breaks. You want to stimulate these basal breaks by sawing old canes with your pruning saw down at the bud union. Removing them at the bud union opens up room for new canes.
- Strive for the right height. In San Diego, we do not need to prune severely. Generally, we don’t prune below knee height as they do in colder areas.
- As a general rule, we cut about one-third off the height of our hybrid teas. On hybrid teas, we want one large bloom per stem, so after the basic clean-out of dead, damaged and twiggy growth, we generally get rid of stem-on-stems, also known as “doglegs,” and then we cut back to an outside bud eye on a cane that is thick enough to support the desired future bloom. Generally, this leaves five or six major canes on a regular sized hybrid tea, but you should leave all healthy canes on larger vigorous roses.
- We cut back only one quarter of the height on our floribundas, polyanthas, shrub roses and David Austin roses. We can leave some branching doglegs on floribundas and shrubs, but we do need to get to a stem diameter that will support the quality of blooms or cluster of blooms we want.
- On miniature and miniflora roses, some people prune off the top third with hedge shears and then open up the centers by cutting out twiggy growth with their pruners.
- Climbing roses are pruned very differently from other roses. The main canes are not pruned unless they are dead or damaged. Climbers bloom off lateral shoots, so train new, flexible canes horizontally as much as possible in order to encourage lateral growth. Your cuts are made at a bud eye on each of the lateral shoots growing off the main canes.
- Old garden roses that bloom only once need just a light grooming after their flowering has finished, and very little pruning in January other than the removal of old and dead growth.
- Look for an outward-facing bud eye. We purposely open up the center of the plant to air circulation and light, which helps to minimize fungal diseases. There is a bud eye above each set of leaflets on a rose stem. Having figured out approximately how much to cut off, make each cut at about ¼ inch above a leaf with five leaflets and choose an outward facing bud eye as this prompts the rose to grow in that outward direction and away from its center. When you cut a cane, the pith should be creamy white; otherwise make your cuts further down the cane.
- Get rid of the old. Strip all the remaining leaves from the plant. Don’t let your rose garden start the new year with last year’s disease and insects. Clean up and dispose of all clippings, leaves and petals around the base of the plant to get rid of dormant spores of fungi and over-wintering pests.