The Basics: An important task simplified!
The first thing you need to know about pruning roses is what type of roses you have in your garden, because each rose type is handled a little differently.
Pruning is very straightforward, once you have your roses categorized and you have established the correct time to prune. Time will, off course, depend on your country and your latitude but usually falls after the last frosts of winter and before spring starts the sap rising.
“It can take years for you to become an expert at pruning roses, but don’t be put off by any lack of skill in that area, it is always better to prune your roses badly than not at all.” Well, that’s what the experts would have you believe at least. But the truth is very different.
Rose pruning is EASY.
Just to prove the fact, take a look at the images below. The first two, show a very straggly Iceberg rose. The next two show the rose “pruned” to roughly 1/2 the size. Any dead wood, unwanted branches and twigs removed etc. And the final images show the same bush in full bloom the following summer, 3 months later. As you can see, it’s flowering well, even though the pruning was less than expert.
Here are some basic tips to help and guide you so that you can learn how to prune roses in an accomplished and capable manner.
Before you go out to start pruning your pruning your roses you will need to make sure you have all the correct equipment, this will include a thick pair of work gloves, a good sharp pair of secateurs and some gardening string or twine. Always make sure your tools are clean and sharp before you use them, to ensure clean cuts and no contamination from other plants that may carry diseases. Some people will use a small pruning saw as well but for beginners this is not a necessity.
When to Prune Roses
Roses are summer flowers and will bloom during this time, you should always prune while the plant is in its dormant stage. Autumn (fall)is the best time for pruning to be done but if you are living in a climate where you can experience frost over the winter months then it may be better to prune during the early spring months after any ice has thawed.
Bare root roses will require pruning as well. Be sure to remove any blackened roots or rot, as this will affect the plant as it grows. Its also good to do before transplanting to make things easier to handle. Deadheading will also require some pruning work as will.
Before you start pruning, stand back and take a look at the plant as a whole, it will give you an idea of the overall shape of the plant and what needs looking at and what parts need the most attention. Always start your pruning from the bottom of the plant first and work your way up to the top and out. Firstly you should remove all the dead leaves and twigs from the bush, any twig that looks weak, thin or dead should be cut off and discarded.
You should also cut any twigs or branches that are growing towards the center of the plant, you want the rose bush to breathe and open out without getting too crowded and overgrown in the middle. When looking for a good place to cut a branch that needs to be cut back, you should go for a place that is a few millimeters up from the bed. You need to get rid of the old and lengthy part of the branch but the new bud should be left near the top. The cut should made at a 45 degree angle facing away from the bud and always be done with sharp tools to avoid a raggedy and disheveled edge.
If you are living in an area that has a ‘cane borer’ problem then you should use a sealant on the end of the branch after cutting to ensure it does not get diseased. Once you have finished your pruning you should clean around the bottom of the plants and make sure there are no snails, slugs or dried leaves left around the bottom and take all the cut and mulch away from the area. You can then give the plants a good watering and a bit of food and wait for them to bloom beautifully in the summer.
Different Rose Types, Different Pruning
Pruning Climbing Roses
Pruning climbing roses is a little bit more of a different beast than a bush or shrub. Good habits can make it a strong grower that looks great in your garden!
With ramblers, it can often be several years before you’ll see any significant blooms or flowers. During this time you really don’t need to worry about a prune. Focus more on proper training and direction so that the flowers grow evenly on your arbor, trellis, or other structure.
Trim out weaker wood at the bottom of the climber. Also, be sure to cut off any canes that are in the wrong direction. A lopper is a very handy tool for this
You also need to take into account the plant itself. A repeating bloomer should be pruned during the winter or early spring. While a one-time bloomer, should only be cut after it has bloomed for the season, removing about 1/3 of the growth. Cut the lateral canes to just a couple of buds, down to about 12 inches or so from the main canes. You can be very aggressive on the smaller offshoot canes. Some people will say that you can trim these offshoots throughout the season but its not a necessity, as long as you are doing the seasonal trimming. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll get the best blooming on one year old growth. Older canes will probably not produce as much.
Sometimes you’ll have a main cane that is damaged or wounded or weak. Look for one of the lateral canes off of it and find a healthier offshoot. You can then train this healthier offspring to your trells and allow the damaged cane to be a lateral offshoot. The rose will then train itself to the new configuration.
Pruning Rose of Sharon
Pruning Rose of Sharon questions are quite common. The good news is that it is such a low maintenance plant that in most cases, it really doesn’t need to be trimmed to stay healthy and vibrant in your garden. Most people see the “Rose” in the name and assume it needs the same level of care. It normally doesn’t. However, there are some things you can do if it looks like it needs it.
One thing that people sometimes don’t realize is that this plant can grow to be quite large. Twelve feet is not uncommon. Sometimes you’ll need to prune just to keep the size in check so it doesn’t overcrowd the rest of your garden. You’ll want 6 to eight feet of clearance to other plants.
If you are trying to train it to be a tree, then you’ll need to trim the side shoots from the “trunk” as well.
You can cut it back quite a bit, even more than the traditional 1/3 rule you’ll find with most roses. You’ll want to leave a good two to three feet of canes there though, or at least a couple of buds. Use variety of lengths on the cuts so your plant doesn’t look like it got a “buzz cut”! You can use a lopper or hedge trimmer but its best to use some shears to give it a more bushlike appearance.
The best time to do this is in the late spring while it is still dormant. Cutting before the buds open will help new growth and add additional blooms in late summer, when it starts to flower.
Pruning Knockout Roses
Pruning Knockout roses is usually quick and easy. After all, they are bred to be extremely maintenance free! Isn’t that why you plant and grow them?
According to Conard-Pyle, the breeder, these actually don’t require the usual pruning. You can do a cutback prior to spring blooms in the early spring. You can cut off about half of the current plant back. Conard says that you may be able to leave only about 12 inches of cane left. That seems a little low to me, but you should be OK as long as the last frost has passed for the season.
After you first plant them though, its generally best to let them grow through uncut for a season. This will help them grow unchecked into a natural position and shape.
Even though they are marketed heavily as being care free, some basic housekeeping will keep them packed with blooms and healthy! Aside from the springtime cutting, you should also always hack out any dead or diseased wood to protect the health of the rest of the plant.
Also, while these plants are designed so that the spent petals and blooms fall away, some deadheading can help out and speed up the process. The result should be even more blooms, and quicker! Normally it might take four to six weeks but with the knockouts it tends to be quicker. Some Miracle Gro can help as well.
For double knockouts, you can follow the same principles, but just look at deadheading the double blooms when they are out and spent.
Pruning Miniature Roses
The just need a hair cut: a few inches all around. (plus what we said above!)
…should be left to ramble.
Pruning Non-repeat bloomers
…such as Gallicas, Albas etc. bloom on the previous seasons growth, so be careful. Take about 25% of each cane from the top, immediately after blooming.
Pruning Shrub Roses
…cut only the weakest side shoots to maintain the tall, informal shape.
Do not prune shrub roses too much.
Pruning Hybrid Teas and Floribundas
…can be cut to about 18 inches if you like. Prune hard for producing less flowers but of higher quality. Open up the middle to get air to the center.
The right tools for the job
If you want to make the job of pruning your roses as easy as possible, then you need good tools. Not only will it make it much easier to do the work, it’s better for your roses! Blunt, poor quality tools are not only difficult to use, they crush and damage the plant.