Pruning Techniques for Roses

Early each spring, dedicated gardeners take out their pruning shears, pull on their gardening gloves, and prepare to prune their rose bushes for the coming bloom. If you live in a milder climate, however, you don't have to wait until spring. You can prune in late fall, as soon as the plants go dormant.

Almost every dedicated Rosarian has their own unique philosophy and technique for pruning roses. Every rose is different, so before you begin to prune, take the time to figure out what kind of roses you have, if you don't know already. Even so, there are certain guidelines you can follow for almost any type of rose plant.

Remember that the objective of pruning is relatively simple and straightforward. You want to remove or reduce parts of the plant that are not necessary, and which will increase air circulation, sun distribution, and improve the overall health, beauty, and bloom of the plant.

Rose Pruning Methods

Here are five proper pruning techniques that will work for nearly any kind of rose:

Start by cutting away dead wood and removing any broken canes, or canes damaged by insects, weather, or disease. Using a good pair of hand shears, cut away any dead wood and canes. Sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish between live wood and dead wood.

Live wood is usually a healthy green hue, but winter frost may turn it black so it resembles dead wood. To determine if the wood is alive or dead, make a slight cut on one of the stems. If it's alive, the wood will be white.

Cutting away dead wood prevents against disease and allows the plant to grow with more vigor. You should also remove any wood or canes that are thin and spindly so that the plant can expend its energy on healthy stems. As a general rule, you should also cut out any branches that cross and are rubbing against one another. This will also help prevent your rose plant against disease, and give your plant a more appealing shape.

Make all pruning cuts just above buds. Buds are the small nobbles that grow along a stem. This is where new shoots will grow, so be careful not to remove the buds! When determining where to cut, choose buds that are facing outwards. This encourages new growth to develop outwards.

If your rose bush grows outward, it will receive better sun distribution and air circulation, and have a more attractive shape. When you've located buds that are facing away from the middle of the bush, use good pruning shears to make a clean cut.

Ragged or incomplete cuts can become susceptible to disease and insect borers, so make sure your cuts are done as sharply and cleanly as possible. Angle the shears so that they are at a 45 degree angle, and pointing toward the middle of the rose bush. Make the cut approximately ¼ inch above the bud.

Part of the pruning process should include removing suckers and any trace of rootstock or dead cane that may be emerging from the ground. These attract pests and disease, so it's important to remove them when you're doing your pruning. Be sure you don't leave the rose debris on the ground surrounding the plant, and don't put it in your compost pile. Throw away Rose debris to ensure it does not attract insects.

For significant cuts, consider sealing the cut with white wood glue. Most cuts that are wider than the diameter of a pencil are considered significant, and are good candidates to be sealed. Sealing the cuts speeds up the plant's healing process, and makes the process of pruning less traumatic for the plant. Most importantly, sealing protects against any insect borers that may enter through recent cuts.

Throughout the year, practice proper pruning techniques even during the active growing season. Inspect your blooms for vigor. If you find canes that are poorly positioned (growing inward rather than out), remove them once their bloom has faded. Practice deadheading. Deadheading refers to removing dead blossoms from the plant. For roses, you may even want to cut part of the stem where the dead blossom has grown to direct future growth.