By Brad Jalbert, Select Roses
Pruning is a way of fine tuning and controlling the growth of your rose plants. It helps to reduce diseases, keeping the plant shape attractive and also regulates blooming. Proper pruning encourages the rose to make vigorous new shoots that will support larger flowers. Since we all want our roses to be healthy and to produce abundant flowers, pruning should be a job you love and face with confidence!
Pruning your roses is simple and easy! Over my many years of rose growing, I have pruned tens of thousands of roses. I have also read countless articles on rose pruning and have come to the conclusion that some rose growers have too much time on their hands or just want to complicate a very simple task! No offence to long winded writers.
I have written a few suggestions on how I prune my roses, but remember these are only suggestions. If you ask a 100 people how to prune a rose bush, you will get a 101 different answers. One good thing to remember is that you’ll never kill a rose bush by pruning! Well almost never.
The best way to learn to prune roses is not from reading books, watching DVDs or from listening to so called “experts”. Hmm, well listen to some “experts” (wink). The very best way is to dive in and prune some roses! If you don’t have enough, then plant more just so you have more to prune (double wink...).
I'll tell you how we recommend our customers prune their roses. I consider this to be the safest and easiest method until you gather enough experience to develop your own way. The traditional method of pruning the ‘average modern rose ‘consists of removing what we call the "Four D's". With some fine-tuning, this method can be used for almost all types of roses from climbers to ground covers.
Cut out any wood that has broken off during winter or been rubbed by another stem. If open wounds are left, these canes tend to produce fewer flowers and are prone to galls and other diseases moving in.
If you notice canes with unusual growths or cankers on them, they should be cut down to healthy wood. Downy mildew ( a rose disease) can leave purplish blotches on canes and these canes should also be cut down. I've noticed a few varieties such as the beautiful 'Sally Holmes' shrub rose that tend to have canes with purplish blotches on them. This blotch seems to be just a quirk of that variety and a couple others.
I had to look this word in the dictionary! According to Webster's, it means "decaying or deteriorating". If your bushes display this type of growth, I would cut this wood to the crown as it’s unlikely to support decent flowers. You'll notice older canes by their darkened colour and also rougher texture when compared with younger growth. It takes a bit of time to decide when these canes have outlived their productivity, but removing them helps make way for the vigorous new basal breaks. Once your eye is trained you will spot the difference between ages of rose canes as easily as people!
Climbers, shrubs and Old Garden Roses the do have canes that live much longer than Hybrid Teas or Floribundas, so you should judge accordingly. Mini roses also can become tangled with this old wood, so they should be managed in the same way.
Just to confuse you here, I will say that in almost all cases, you should cut dead wood to the crown. But, with many of the Old Garden Roses in my yard, I've found it to be very beneficial to leave the old dead wood under the plant to help support it. I've read about this in a few books, mostly from Old Rose enthusiasts who claim from experience that the old wood doesn't become diseased as with modern roses. It seems to act as a natural frame to support lax growth. My own collection of Old Garden roses consist of several healthy bushes having armloads of dead twiggy growth holding them up. When plants leaf out in the spring, they cover up much of this otherwise unsightly mess. This method suits me fine, but might drive the tidy gardener over the edge! Do what you feel is best for your type of garden.
Buy the BEST pair of ‘by pass type’ pruners that you can afford! Let me repeat that, buy the BEST pair of pruners that you can afford. The ten-dollar pruners will do the same job in skilled hands as my eighty-dollar Felco pruners, but won't last as long. Most low price pruners will dull within the first few cuts and will often break or snap from metal fatigue before you head to your 3rd rose bush. I use my pruners almost daily, for ten months of the year, so costly Felcos save me money in no time. If you have many bushes with larger canes, a pair of loppers and or also a small pruning saw is very useful. I've found the moderately priced pruning saw to be an excellent tool for larger jobs.
During pruning, it's important to keep your tools sharp and oiled. This helps them cut better and with less effort. If your hands don't have as much power as they used to, it might be worth it to purchase a set of "Anvil" style pruners. These are said to crush the canes, but are very useful in many areas were rough cuts are suitable. They take far less power to cut and would be perfectly suited for shrub roses or Old Garden Roses. I also use them for topping some of the bushes in fall.
They tell us to disinfect our pruners with either rubbing alcohol or Lysol. I can't say for certain that I've never spread disease among the roses from pruning, but with great honesty I don't dip my pruners unless I'm taking cuttings in the greenhouse or dealing with a plant I know to be seriously diseased.
This is the most worrisome part of pruning that just needs a common sense approach. The amount you cut down each healthy rose cane depends on the way you like to garden and the type of rose you have. In some years, we are forced to cut most of our modern roses down low because of winter damage. You can tell if a cane has been damaged in winter by the colour of the inside "pith". Make a clean cut and check to see if the colour is white or brownish. Some old canes on climbers and shrubs will have a slight brownish colour inside, but will still produce a healthy rose. When dealing with Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, I've found that these brown canes usually die back further in the season, so it's best to cut them down to clean white wood early spring.
If the winter has been mild, we're blessed with many choices come pruning time and I generally cut my modern roses down by about half their original height. I'm told that constant hard pruning of roses will shorten their life while pruning a rose too high each year gives you a nasty looking plant with few basal breaks to replace aging canes. Moderate common sense pruning has always worked well for me.
People can lead very convincing debates on how to best prune a rose. All methods have merit and we try to take the best from these methods. If you're still uncertain, remember one thing, you can kill a rose many ways, but pruning is not one of them. Try to use common sense and look at the way the plant is growing and how you would like it to grow. If it's far too big, then cut it down to size. If the wood is sound and the plant is smaller, then let the foliage do its job and feed your rose. I try to ignore “theory” and do what makes the plant grow best. It’s amazing what we can learn by simple observation and experimentation.
One last thing - never let anyone tell you that you've pruned your roses wrong! If they insist their way is better, you can simply say with a smile "Oh, are people still doing it that old way!!"
One more thing. If all of this is just too complicated, grab your electric hedge clippers and cut the bush it half. Some recent studies showed that roses pruned in this way actually did better than hand pruned roses!
So take that rose experts (wink wink).