PRUNING ROSES by Mike Kelly
Rose pruning is something I have written about many times. It is always an important part of growing good roses and having healthy plants that make good flowers.
Roses in our area seldom go completely dormant, mostly they just slow down; many lose their leaves while a few of the more hardy ones sometimes continue to bloom slowly through the winter. There is an old wives tale that pruning too early encourages new growth that is susceptible to being frozen back, and it is true the new growth is much more tender than older hardened wood. However, the rose will grow when it feels conditions are right and isn’t thinking of what tomorrow may bring.
While finishing up the pruning of my roses last week, many were already starting to send out shoots. I feel it is better to prune early so the plant doesn’t put all its’ energy into making new growth that will be pruned off later. And there is no need to be timid when pruning, as the rose will respond accordingly.
There are few ideally grown roses that conform to the pattern referred to by many pruning guides. In my mind, the ideal rose bush would put up several new canes from the crown each summer, and these would be saved to replace older canes. The plant would have canes equally spaced around he crown, and be approximately shaped like a vase. Unfortunately, not all roses end up looking like this by pruning time. Remember, when a rose, like many plants, starts the new cycle of growth, it starts shooting out from the top of the cane downward. So look at your plant from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
Imagine the plant being about a foot high. Then select three to five of the newest and best canes, and cut them off around a foot high, a half inch above an outward facing bud eye. Remove everything else, including anything growing inwardly, or spindly canes. Those spindly, canes, smaller than a pencil, will never get any larger, and any new growth coming from their bud eyes will be even smaller. Of the canes selected to remain, don’t leave ones that cross, and try not to leave any that are branched, though this sometimes must be done.
So, now your rose looks something like the ideal, even if the canes aren’t evenly spaced. By cutting from the bottom up, only a few cuts are necessary, one for each cane left. The prunings are easier to handle, and there will be few if any remaining leaves to be removed. This method works for both hybrid teas as well as floribunda roses, and also for most of the miniature roses.
In the case of old roses suffering from years of neglect or of not being pruned severely enough, and the plant has developed heavy, barky wood on the lower parts of each cane, there a couple of methods to remedy this.
If, by chance the rose has sent up a new cane from the crown, it can be left and an old cane can be cut or sawed off at the crown. If this hasn’t happened, then cut each of the old barky canes back to the lowest bud eye. My old friend John Menegat would take a rose in this condition and saw all those big old canes clear back flush with the bud union. His theory was it will either send up new canes and return to being an attractive rose bush, or if it doesn’t, you have lost little. In at least 80% of roses he did this to, the rose responded well.