Annual Pruning

Pruning your roses at this time of year is important as it is the basis for the coming growing season and, in fact, the act of pruning spurs the rose to put on new growth. Pruning is part science, part art but mostly it reflects our decision on how we wish the rose to grow.


When starting with just new roses we may only need a good pair of sharp by-pass pruning shears. By-pass pruners will not damage the cane or branch as much as an anvil style. Felco is one of the best manufacturers of pruners and the parts are replaceable. Once you have had your roses a few years you should also obtain a good small pruning saw. This will allow you to trim close to the bud union for grafted roses. Also, as the shrub gets larger pruners can not cut through a large cane, especially if it is dead. Anvil pruners are recommended for cutting dead canes, but are not required.

Now we have the necessary tools. It is best to prune at the end of February at the earliest in the Atlanta area. I prefer to wait until mid-March when the danger for a late frost has past. There may be some new growth, which is pruned, but that is not a problem since the rose will quickly put on more. Also, donít forget to fertilize the roses after they are pruned. The exception to this are newly planted roses. Wait until after the first blooms. Fertilizing newly planted roses will encourage new growth, and the roots need to be allowed to grow first. If you use organic fertilizer, this can be added to newly planted roses, since organic fertilizer take longer to act. The other shrubs though really need fertilizer as they will be starting their initial flush of new growth. Also, should you forget later you know that at least the shrub received one good fertilizing. Be sure it is a complete fertilizer and not just say for blooms.

Next you need to determine what you wish to accomplish in pruning the rose.

New roses:

When you plant a new rose, prune it and leave at least three or four potential bud eyes on each cane. The canes should end up about eight to twelve inches long.

Older roses:

For roses which have been in a few years pruning becomes more your decision on your goals for your garden and specific roses. For instance in the Rosarian Ramblings for this month Howard Walter writes:

"THINK OUTSIDE THE BOXÖThe Royal National Rose Society conducted trials at St. Albans and found that roses trimmed with hedge shears had more leaves and more roses than roses pruned conventionally. The Rambler suspects the "Rose Truth" is somewhere in the middle."

To me the most important point is you should prune your rose so that it will look like what you want. It is a very hardy plant and will take quite a bit of abuse. If we do not prune it just right for a year or two, it will do fine, and this will give us time to figure out what is best for the rose and itís surroundings. Below are some general guidelines.

Letís get started:

First remove all dead and diseased canes. It may be necessary to cut it all the way to the bud union or closest to the point it branches. A pruning saw is best for this task since a dead cane is difficult to cut with by-pass pruners. An anvil pruner can also be used, but a pruning saw will allow you to make a cleaner cut and one which is closer. If the cane is heavy, two cuts are recommended. The first should cut off most of the cane allowing the final cut to not be inhibited by the weight of the branch.

Next remove any crossing branches. These are canes, which cross other branches, and are generally parallel to the ground. These canes can rub against other canes and injure them. This may also be true for two branches, which are going in the same direction and rub each other.

Lastly, you may also wish to remove old canes. Removing them especially on a grafted rose should spur the rose to produce a new cane.

If the shrub has "gotten out of hand", you may wish to hard prune it leaving only a few canes twelve to eighteen inches long. Note that hard pruning for a large shrub such as a climber could be removing half to ĺís of the growth. This is not necessary, but can be done if the shrub has become too overgrown for the location.

After all the dead and crossing canes have been removed it is now time to assess how you wish to have the shrub appear. In general, about one third (or more) of the growth may be removed. This is sufficient to promote the rose to put on new growth. You may wish to prune larger shrubs more to contain their growth while smaller shrubs may be pruned less to maintain their fullness.

If the rose is hard pruned, you may apply a white glue such as Elmerís to the cut. This will help prevent borers from entering the cane.

One-time blooming Old Garden Roses:

There is one exception to pruning roses. Like many shrubs which bloom in the spring you may wish to delay pruning OGRís, which bloom only once in the spring, until after they have bloomed. This way you will get the full effect of the rose.

When pruning, cut at about a 45 degree angle just above a budeye. It should be cut about a quarter inch above a bud eye or potential bud eye and down at 45 degrees. A potential bud eye is located at a ring much as on bamboo. Since the shrub will force a branch at this point it is best to prune to have the bud be on the outside. This will help prevent crossing canes and provide more air circulation.

Now that the pruning is finished itís time for a little house cleaning. It is best to remove any leaves from last year especially if they are diseased. Next clean up all the debris on the ground which has accumulated over the winter and from pruning. Fertilize your roses with a complete rose fertilizer. After fertilizing your roses water them well, but remember that the watering ban is still in effect. Mulching this time of year can be done, but is not necessary (assuming it does not get too cold). Leaving the mulch off will aid in warming the soil. However, I usually replenish the mulch. This can delay growth somewhat, but Iíd rather have the mulch to prevent the weeds from growing and retain moisture. Lastly, since I use an organic mulch, it also puts a little organic matter back into the soil.

If you have any questions, please ask a Consulting Rosarian or come to our next meeting to speak to a consulting rosarian.