We all know pruning roses is good for them, but sometimes we can be intimidated by the task.
When should we do it; how much should we prune; which canes should we remove? The good news is that very few roses are actually killed by incorrect pruning. They are very forgiving, and most mistakes will grow back so you can continue to "fix" and shape your rose bush.
By Althea Godfrey
Sharp blades on your pruners are crucial to making clean cuts. Cleanly cut canes heal faster, which minimizes the chance of disease.
Keep pruner blades uncontaminated. Carry a bucket with a 1-10 bleach/water solution and dip the blades between cuts and especially between plants. An alternative is to use alcohol or bleach wipes. This minimizes the spread of fungal disease, like black spot, between canes and plants.
Make it a day with your roses. Fertilize each plant as you prune it, accurately following package directions. Carefully cultivate solid granules into the soil. About an inch deep is sufficient. Add compost at the same time.
Roses are fond of coffee grounds. Add no more than an inch on the soil around the plant, and cultivate as above. The grounds are beneficial in our local soil, too, adding organic matter, and loosening both clay and granitic soil types.
Top the base of your roses with about 2 inches of mulch, to protect them from cold and minimize water loss in the dry season.
You will need clean, sharp bypass-type pruners. Bypass pruner blades overlap each other like scissors as opposed to anvil pruners, which have a blade that meets a flat surface. "The sharper the better," says Jana Larson of Ray's Garden Center in Ashland. Anvil pruners tend to crush the stem. You might also need long-handled loppers if your roses are quite large. But, most important, you will need long-sleeve, THICK gloves to protect your hands and arms from sharp thorns.
Then consider what type of roses you have. "There are 50 different types of roses, but basically you can categorize all of them into three or four basics," says Janet Inada, owner of Rogue Valley Roses in Medford. Hybrid teas are not pruned like climbers, floribundas or shrubs.
"Here in the Rogue Valley, we can usually start in late January and February and be done by March," she adds, unless we still have harsh freezing weather. The idea is to "beat the budding out," she says. Her best rule of thumb is an amusing, but helpful quote from Linnea Clark, consulting rosarian for the American Rose Society: "3-D COW," which stands for "dead, damaged, and diseased; crossed, old and wimpy." If you remember that, you'll probably do a good job.
Climbers and shrubs are pruned mostly for shape and training, not cut severely back like hybrid teas. Let climbers grow a year or two before pruning so their canes can harden. New canes are soft and may snap off if you try to train them on a trellis or post.
"If you need to remove a cane reaching across a sidewalk, remove it at its point of origin rather than cutting it in half or third," says Inada. When you've gotten the climber's structure established, prune across canes only when they are too long.
"Hybrid teas should be cut back one-third to one-half of the previous year's growth," says Larson. Remove any criss-crossing branches and try to open up the middle of the bush to promote good air circulation. Be sure to remove dead and diseased stems and foliage completely, because they harbor more disease and bugs.
"Prune hybrid teas before they have approximately 3 inches of new growth," says George Jennings, master consulting rosarian. Otherwise the rose has wasted all that energy and has to start all over. He prunes for "exhibit" roses, leaving three to five canes which produce fewer, but more spectacular, flowers. However, your garden roses can have more canes and more flowers. Miniatures are pruned the same as hybrid teas.
All pruning cuts are made at a downward slant, approximately 1/4" above a bud, whether inward or outward. Trimming too close to the bud will kill it and too far away will leave a "dogleg" stub. Rip out any suckers — canes from root stock rather than the grafted variety — with a "jerking down" motion to eliminate the bud eye; otherwise it will just re-sprout, says Inada. It will not hurt the rose.
Your trimming efforts should pay off in gorgeous roses come May. Don't forget to take credit for them!