Rose pruning

Groundcover- and shrub roses

We always cut roses hard, at least in part. That's because they bloom best on younger wood, which also tends to be cleaner, disease-wise.

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Hybrid teas bloom on brand new wood so we can cut them really hard every year.

Climbers and many of the old shrub roses bloom on branches two years old and older, and produce the best show on vigorous young- and middle-aged wood. So every year we cut out some of the climbers' and shrubs' oldest wood.



  This year we had an additional reason to cut hard. The winter was
  brutal.  Dead wood doesn't bloom at all and any growth at all from
  half dead wood is a waste.

  Above, left: It's time to cut the roses we gave as an example in
Assessing winter's toll: Deciduous dieback.

Routine rose pruning

To see examples of normal spring rose pruning:
     • Climbers, download What's Coming Up 157, pages 8-11
     • Groundcover roses, Prune roses & summer bloomers
     • Hybrid teas, rose trees, climbers: download What's Coming Up 141, pages 7-9
     • Shrub roses such as R. rugosa, download and read What's Coming Up 88 pp. 8-9

Cut out the dead, cut down to good wood

There is no sense in leaving badly damaged wood. What buds out from weak canes is likely to die in summer when the heat and drought exceed an impaired branch's ability to draw water from and send starch to the roots.


Cut to where the branch's core is clean, white wood.
Right: We were glad to see white yet cut even lower on this branch to get below the dark, damaged area.


If the rose is grafted (hybrid tea roses; some others) and the wood's discolored all the way down to ground level, that's when you'll be glad you planted that rose deep, burying the graft union as the horticulturists in cold northern botanical gardens and research stations have instructed. Then, you may not lose the rose because live wood probably remains below your cut and it will push up a healthy new cane.


The cane in the photo below came from the roses pictured at the top of this page. Those roses won't start blooming this year until late summer, skipping their usual first flush of bloom in June because they lost all their mature wood. It's a consequence of cold, not to be blamed on pruning time or technique.


Above: A look at the cane's color from cuts at the bottom, middle and near the top. Now you know what dead- and nearly dead wood looks like. Don't leave such wood on a rose in spring.

About timing:

We don't wait for the forsythia to bloom to begin pruning roses and yes, we do prune roses when winter coats and long underwear are still a must. As one botanical garden horticulturist put it, "I have hundreds of roses here and there's just one of me; I start pruning in March and I finish in June. Roses that can't handle that, too bad."






















Nancy Giordano

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