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Rose Articles

The "4D" Rule Applies to All Roses

A few key points to remember when pruning different types of roses

By Brad Jalbert, Select Roses

Hybrid Teas

This popular group of superb cutting roses thrives on good culture and a simple tidy moderate pruning in early spring. I find this the easiest group of roses to prune since they normally have very few canes .Make your cut just above a bud to avoid brown “stubs”. Cut them back about half of their original height, but always down to good clean wood. You can prune the average Hybrid Tea rose in less than 60 seconds! Well okay, during the first 60 seconds most of us fret, then the next 60 we cut, then the last 60 we fret again so perhaps it’s a 3 minute job. Wink wink...


This group is pruned very much the same way as hybrid tea roses. Some of them tend to have thinner canes and denser growth than Hybrid teas while others are very similar looking when dormant. When shaping your plant, it's acceptable to leave some of the thin even crossing cane as long as they are not rubbing each other. Rubbing canes tend to cause wounds so we try to trim one of those out. I prune mine down to about half of their original height. If you are spending more than 3 minutes to prune a typical floribunda, you are fretting to much!

Miniature and Patio Roses

Same pruning as Floribundas, and if all else fails, cut them back half or even two thirds and they will be happy campers! They have dormant buds very close together so you don’t even have to pay particular attention to where your cut is.

Shrub and David Austin Roses

It’s difficult to recommend pruning methods of such a diverse group of roses so just follow the basic 4 D rules and tidy them up! Shrubs will have many canes and it’s a good idea to thin out some of the oldest ones. I find that most of my David Austin Roses look best when pruned about half way, but some of my larger ones look nice when I trim of just the top third of the plant and allow them to arch or branch over. Pruning this group is all about how “Big or Small” you want your plant to be.

Climbers and Ramblers

Everyone seems to freak out when it comes time to prune their climbers. In a nut shell, if it’s too big prune it harder; if it’s not big enough then prune less!

Ramblers: Introduced before climbers and have much more flexible canes. Most flower once in the summer on last year’s wood. Since they flower on old wood you don’t want to prune them hard in spring. Tidy gardeners tend to prune the old growth out of ramblers after they flower and train in the strong new shoots that will flower the next summer. Many of my Ramblers have masses of old wood left in them and they continue to flower in mass each summer, despite what I do or don’t do to them!

Climbers: Flower all summer and tend to be what most gardeners plant. This type of rose can be pruned according to the gardeners needs. They tend to flower best when their longer canes are arched over, causing them to send up more lateral flowering shoots. These laterals can be pruned back harder to the main canes that are trained in place. Pruning in this fashion will encourage your climber to push out new growth each season. I also prune some of the climbing canes low or stagger prune them to have flowers blooming at different heights rather than just on top.

Old Garden Roses

One of the most beautiful and elegant groups of roses. The majority of Ogr’s flower for a month in summer but do not repeat bloom. They are best pruned lightly, with some of the old growth thinned out and the tops trimmed back no more than one third. If you must prune your old roses harder, do this in the summer just after they flower, so they will produce new young canes that will flower the following summer. Many roses in this group make wonderful climbers if trained in this fashion. Prune them according to your training methods but leave plenty of last year’s wood for them to flower on.

Ground Cover Roses

This indestructible group often used in mass plantings can also be used as single specimen plants in smaller gardens. They have this habit of growing much larger than expected here on the west coast and will benefit from a thinning and haircut each season. You can just take the hedge sheers to these tough roses and then remove some of the old canes or you can hand prune if you wish. Don’t worry about looking for buds, they have them every ¼ inch and really don’t care where you cut them. This is a group of roses that will flower well with little regard to how they are pruned. I tend to find them messy looking when dormant so this is why I like to thin and haircut them! Do as you please, they don’t mind.

Keep it simple and enjoy your Roses!

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