Nichole asked last week about how much to prune roses. There are lots of thoughts about this, but it’s hard to kill a rose bush with pruning, so don’t be afraid to jump right in.
There are several reasons to prune roses. First, it is important to cut out all the dead wood. Pruning makes it easier for the plant to put out new, young stems for healthier flowers and branches. Shaping your plant can prevent problems from branches rubbing against each other, and it gives the bush a more appealing appearance. Good air circulation around the branches can stem off problems like powdery mildew as well, which can be a big problem, especially in areas that receive a lot of rain or regular irrigation on the foliage. Just as a side note, if you water your roses with a sprinkler, make sure to do so in the morning so the sun will be able to dry off the leaves quickly. If you have a choice, drip systems are better for roses.
It’s important to start out with pruners or loppers that are nice and sharp. You don’t want to leave a ragged edge behind as that is an invitation for diseases. Also, you’ll probably want to consider a pair of thick gardening gloves. I have a pair of thin leather ones I use for tasks like this to protect myself against thorns.
Start trimming at the bottom of the plant, taking out dead growth, spindly branches (less than a pencil width), and branches that go toward the center of the plant. Make all of your cuts at a 45 degree angle a quarter inch or so about a bud that faces outward to encourage growth away from the center. Also, don’t forget any branches that might be coming from below the graft.
Another note, if you have cane borers in your area, use a drop of white school glue on the cut points to seal the cuts.
Now, there are a several different types of roses. Some bloom on new growth, while others bloom on last year’s wood. This means once those canes have been bloomed on, they won’t produce blooms again the next year.
There are also bushes that bloom repeatedly on the same wood for several years. These still need to be pruned for shape and to remove any dead wood. Some like Bourbons and Portlands should be pruned this way before growth appears, then pruned harder after the first flowering of the season when you see where the blooms are appearing. Miniature roses should only be pruned for shape and health too, since they rebloom on older wood.
As for how much to cut them back, that depends on the type of roses you have and what you want them to look like. Some people prune dramatically every spring because they like the formal tight appearance. I prefer a more flowing look in my cottage garden, so I didn’t trim at all the first year except to cut dead wood. This year I need to trim them back more as some of the canes are stretching over five foot. A good rule is the rule of thirds. Trim back a third of the growth to encourage new growth without stressing out the plant or sacrificing summer blooms.
If you aren’t sure what kind of roses you have, it is a good idea to watch your plant this year to see what they are doing.