Winter Pruning Tips for Lovely Spring Roses

  • (Lenkin Design Inc: Landscape and Garden Design/Houzz)

  • (Janet Paik/Houzz)

  • (Janet Paik/Houzz)


After the threat of frost has passed, hit the garden armed in your toughest clothes and sharpened pruners for the annual task of reducing emissions of the roses. While gardeners may share different insights on the art of rose pruning, one thing is certain: While roses’ winter dormancy persists, it is time to prune, so that there is a fertile flowering and healthy plants in the spring and summer.

Cynthia Chuang, chairman of the Santa Clara County Rose Society in California and an ardent rosarian since 1994, is of the opinion that this routine is essential for the health of her award-winning roses. Most of her January days are spent outside, pruning and tidying up her 200 roses. And every May she and the environment to enjoy the bounty.

Why prune? Pruning is regenerative. It stimulates new growth and can improve and open the form and shape of the plants, Chuang says. It also removes dying or diseased portions that can damage the overall health of a garden. Roses are tough and forgiving, and will be healthier plants. While you may not prune perfectly every time, it is always better to prune than not to prune.

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When to prune. Prune roses during their dormancy, before they will send a new growth. In mild climates, this means mid-December to February. In more extreme climates, wait until the last threat of frost has passed. Otherwise, you run the risk of damage to the spars.

Tools and equipment. Chuang spends about 20 minutes pruning each shrub. Make sure that you are comfortable and well equipped. You want to enjoy the time you spend outside in preparation for spring.

  • High quality rose pruners (sharpen often; Chuang, apply WD-40 per week)
  • Loppers (for larger diameter of the sticks)
  • Pruning saw (for old sticks, and the sticks are too large for loppers)
  • Scissors (for detail work)
  • Heavy gloves
  • Protection of the eyes
  • A long-sleeve shirt and pants made of a sturdy material
  • Knee pads or bench (optional)
  • Pruner holster (optional)

Tip: Disinfect tools with alcohol after contact with sick plants.

Make the cut. Rosarians may disagree about how much to prune, when to prune and what to prune, but they are unanimous that the cut itself is important in promoting rose health.

  • Cut 1/4 inch above an outward-facing button eye. Look for an outward button eye on a thick, healthy cane. A bud eye, just above the junction of a leaf (Chuang suggests five-leaflet leaves) and the sugar cane, or on a dormant eye. The sleeping eye is where a leaf used to be and looks like a swelling of the band. Leaving the leaves of the shrub until the end of the pruning makes it easier to identify where to cut. The cut signals the bush to send water and nutrients to that part of the bush. New growth will come from the bud eye in the direction of the cut.
  • Cut at an angle of 45 degrees with the direction of the leaf growth, away from the germ eye. This is the direction in which the new growth will emerge, so you will be promoting an open and outward-facing shrub. The angle of the pipe also juice and water away from the bud eye, and, of course, seals the cut. (Some rosarians suggest sealing cuts wider than a pencil with a kit such as Elmer’s Glue to prevent drilling.)

How to Prune Roses

While expert demonstrations, extensive reading, and planning a useful preparation for pruning, nothing informs you like hands-on experience. You may prune too much or too little, but roses are resilient, and they will grow back.

Leave healthy, major canes. First, cut off dead or dying canes to their origin. Get there with the saw if necessary, says Chuang. The sign of a healthy cane is a rich, green cap, and a solid white core. Older rosebushes may get woody, so choose the canes that you want to keep. The American Rose Society suggests leaving four or five major canes for hybrid teas and grandifloras; more for floribunas. Cut off dying canes, even if healthy canes shoot off.

You want to ensure a healthy rose plant, above all. Then you will want to think about form. Chuang says she’ll cut canes smaller than the diameter of her pinkie finger. New growth will be thinner than its origin, so thin stems will have thinner, weaker stems, unable to support the weight of the rose.

Tip: If you cut healthy canes, put the stem in the ground and ring. The stem can sprout roots and form a secondary plant.

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Remove suckers. The roses are grafted onto the root stem of another rose type. Beneath the joint (bud union) is the root stalk, and above is the rose variety you are growing.

Every once in a while you see a powerful straggler growing directly from the root, the stem — these are suckers. Morons have several leaves and a different form than the bush and need to be yanked from the base as fast as possible. Otherwise the rose bush will waste precious energy on the unwanted sucker.

Tip: When pruning, keep an eye out for the Y-branches. Chuang used these as spacers between the stems that are close to the cross as a guide for open growth.

Maintaining an open form. During pruning, think about the final shape of the rosebush a sincere, open hand or vase. You want poles to radiate in and out from the center, so that airflow and movement, and prevent mildew and disease.

Sticks, which about the middle of the plant or cross another, healthy cane should be pruned. Thin parts of the plants that are too close, while the recall of the pinkie rule and the outward rule. This is your chance to guide the shape of your plant.

If there are too many stems coming from the same part of the reed (Chuang says three or more), or if you notice that there are too many bends and earlier cuts in the reeds, cut them back.

Avoid too much of the rosebush in the shade, even his own shadow. Ideally, plant rose bushes 3 to 4 feet apart. Think about the sun pattern, when pruning; if you have to choose between keeping one of the two sticks, cut the one that will spend more time in the shade.

Cut a third or a fourth from the top. Although there is not a steadfast rule, Chuang says that she wants to cut off a third to a fourth of a bush, and the total height is when to prune.

She says she often sees roses cut too short, which can inhibit the bush’s ability to grow or regenerate, because too much of its energy is removed. As an alternative, if you prune too little, the plant will rejuvenate, and you’ll end up with a spreading, bushy plant that does not produce.

Band leaves after you prune. Some rosarians band leaves before pruning, but Chuang says leave them on until after the pruning makes it easier to find the direction of the growth when making your cuts. Removing the leaves prevents pests or diseases that can grow on the plants. If you notice rust or mildew later in the year, just strip the leaves in order to prevent the spread.

Cleanup. Remove all fallen leaves and surrounding plant debris. Rose-waste is usually not composted, as it does not break down quickly, and the remaining disease and fungi can still live on the leaves. Throw away the junk as soon as possible to prevent the spread of infections.

What to Do After the Pruning

Spray. Chuang says two sprays following pruning are the key to a healthy plant during the winter and in the spring. Spray the sticks heavy all the way to the ground and even the surrounding ground. Spray from the top down and let the spray of the dean of the bush.

  • Apply a dormant spray when you have at least three days without rain and at least 24 hours without freezing. Dormancy oil is a horticultural oil that smothers pest eggs that are on the last year of the leaves, twigs, and the surrounding dirt. Follow the instructions on the packaging. While it’s not necessary to spray immediately after pruning, the sooner you do, the faster you will eliminate possible diseases and pests.
  • A week later, apply a mixture of dormancy oil and sulfur. The sulfur will smother fungus spores.

Fertilize a month later. Chuang places a ring of a fertilizer blend around the base of each bush, consisting of:

  • Alfalfa pellets
  • 3/4 cup slow-release fertilizer
  • 4 to 5 cups chicken manure

Water after fertilizing.

RELATED: Watch Your Roses Bloom From the Porch

The first flowers come in Chuang in the garden in the middle of April, with the big show coming in mid-May. If you continue to lightly prune throughout the year, Chuang said, you can expect up to five repeat blooms per rose to a year, depending on the breed.

Tips for Specific Rose Types:

  • Climbers: Bend and tie the canes, slightly below the horizontal, during the rest period. This will lead to more fertile flowers. Follow the pinkie rule and don’t cut back the main canes if they are still producing.
  • Old garden roses: If they are single-blooming species, prune after flowering. Repeat blooming roses can be pruned, also to the modern roses, but more light.
  • Miniature roses: Clean up the inside, creating an open, bright shrub to promote good ventilation and air circulation. The stem-diameter rule does not apply, but the removal of a thin, spindly branches.

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