For Better Bloom Production This Season

By Steve Jones, Master Rosarian

To prune or not to prune, that is the question. The bottom line is that roses will survive almost anything you do to them. An acquaintance in Chicago prunes their roses with a lawn mower. A study at the Royal National concluded that rose pruning with a hedge clipper will give you just as many rose blooms as careful pruning, even though the rose bush is unsightly during the winter with damaged cane tips. Some roses don't like to be pruned, and others do very well with pruning. I have several roses that I never prune, but that's by choice.

However, most roses will do better with careful pruning to remove unwanted growth, and it will help to give us those beautiful blooms in the spring. When the weather cools, our roses retract their growth and blooming energies to enter a state of dormancy. We help this process by pruning. In the SCV area, we barely get cold enough to allow the roses to go fully dormant. In warmer climates, such as Florida, roses "burn out" after a few years because they never go dormant. In these climates, roses are more like perennials. 

Let's Get Started with Pruning Roses
The best time to prune roses is when the weather has sufficiently cooled so the plant is approaching dormancy, usually in January or February in our area. The first thing you must do is to gather all of the tools you'll need to prune your roses. You should have on hand clippers, loppers, saws, gloves, white glue or orange shellac, disinfectant, wire brush, and a mulcher or green waste barrel. Check all of your tools and make sure they are sharp and well oiled. If you are cutting diseased wood, clean your tools with a disinfectant after each bush is pruned. Tools that are sharp and in good working condition will make rose pruning less of a chore.  

Different Methods of Pruning Roses
Each type of rose is pruned differently, but the basics are the same. First, you must decide on the type of pruning you want to do. For general gardening, you'll want to prune lightly. For exhibition, you'll want to prune heavier. Pruning for general gardening will give you more blooms sooner than exhibition, while exhibition pruning will give you fewer and bigger blooms which are needed to show. Throughout rose pruning, step back and look at the rose bush. Imagine the shape and direction your rose bush will grow if you cut a cane at a certain point. As with deadheading, cut the cane just above an outward facing bud eye at a 45 degree angle. The basics of general rose pruning is to remove all dead, diseased, or unwanted growth, and to clear out the middle of the bush to allow good air circulation when the plant grows in the spring.

Pruning Hybrid Tea Roses
For hybrid tea roses, rose exhibitors will prune the canes around 24". General gardeners should prune from 24" to 36". I usually prune "knee high" for hybrid teas. For weak plants, prune lightly. After you decide if you want to prune for garden or exhibition, remove the dead, diseased, or unwanted growth. Then decide which canes you want to keep. Remove the older wood, and keep the newer canes. Rose exhibitors will keep 3-4 of the stronger canes, and general gardeners usually keep 4-7 canes. 

Pruning Floribundas and Miniature Roses
Pruning floribundas and miniature roses is much more difficult because of the numerous branched growth and sometimes not having a good bud eye to prune from. Take your time to prune these roses. Generally speaking, floribundas should not be pruned as hard as hybrid teas.

Miniature roses grown in pots are ideal because you can lift them onto a table and avoid the "micro" surgery you would have to perform while on your knees. Once again, exhibitors will prune these roses harder, and general gardeners lighter. For these roses, do general pruning and cut back about a third of the plant. Scissor-action hedge trimmers are great for pruning miniatures. Simply whack away to the desired height, and then thin out dead and twiggy growth afterwards.

Pruning Climbers, Large Shrubs, & Old Garden Roses (Antique Roses)
Pruning climbing roses and large shrub roses is handled differently. If your climber or shrub rose is trained for lateral growth, then cut back the laterals to about 3-4". Some shrub roses are best left alone except for general cleaning, however, you may cut back a third of the growth. For once-blooming roses you should have pruned the rose bush several months ago as many of the once bloomers will only bloom on year-old growth. Therefore, no pruning should be done except for removing dead or diseased canes.  Repeat-blooming OGR's are pruned very lightly, mostly general pruning and cutting the canes back one third.

After you cut back the rose canes, seal the wound with white glue or orange shellac. This will prevent insect damage and stops the cane from drying out. Once all of the canes are cut back and sealed, take a wire brush and knock off all of the old bark on the rose crown. It sounds terrible, but knocking off the old bark will allow new basal breaks to form in the spring. For removing large canes, on your roses you may need to use a saw or loppers. Make sure you remove all leaves from the pruned rose canes. Leaves may harbor diseases and pests that could winter over and reproduce in the spring.

Finish With a Dormant Spray
When you complete your rose pruning, use a dormant spray for insects and disease. Copper, sulfur, and Volck Oil are common dormant sprays. 

After dormant spraying your rose bushes, cover the crown with a top cover of mulch for winter protection in case we have long periods of freezing weather. To help reduce volumes in our landfills, mulch your rose clippings and use as a top cover or mulch around your non-rose plants, or place them in your green waste barrel. Never use rose clippings as mulch around rose plants because they harbor insects and diseases.

Don't Overdo
Above all, don't overdo it. During cold weather, you might overheat or even get frostbite if you do too much. Spend just a few leisurely hours per day pruning. Your back will thank you.

© Copyright Steve Jones. All rights reserved. Published with permission.  

For questions about Pacific Rose Society, contact: 
Chris Greenwood


© Copyright Pacific Rose Society. All rights reserved.

Photos © Copyright Kitty Belendez
Updated January 4, 2016

Miniature Rose 'Dorothy Rose'