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How To: Prune a Rose

Roses are some of the most finicky plants in the garden. They require lots of attention, and they'll prick you with their sharp thorns, whether or not you're careful. To me, however, they end up being some of the most rewarding flowers for all of their trouble. I have been growing them on and off (off while I was in an apartment) for almost twenty years, learning patience and caution in the process.


How to Prune:

Prune during late fall or early spring, while the rose is dormant. I tend to prune in early spring.

Find the small red bumps along the rose canes. These are buds for new growth. Ideally, you want them to be facing out, away from the center of the plant, so find the highest one with this orientation, and above this is where you'll make your cut. Make sure to leave canes from 10"-12" inches on newer roses, and longer on more established roses. The American Rose Society recommends cutting off the top third of your canes.

Cut the rose cane on a diagonal, above and parallel to the new growth bud, about 1/4" above it. If this is a shrub rose, like a hybrid tea rose (not a giant climbing rose, unless you're looking for some real punishment), seal each freshly pruned end with white glue (I've always used Elmer's). This will prevent damage from boring insects like carpenter bees and sawflies.

Prune at 45 Degrees to an Outward Facing Bud

Prune out any dead canes, always cutting on a diagonal (to keep water rolling off and prevent disease). Cut off any old, knarled, grey canes; they will only produce spindly growth. Prune, also, any canes or small branches that are growing toward the center of the bush. Ideally, all of your new growth should be facing away from the center of the bush.

Pull off any remaining leaves from the bush by pulling at the base of the stipule, the stem end of a cluster of three to five leaflets. Lastly, collect all of the rubbish and dispose of it in a trash can (generally not your compost pile) to reduce the risk of spreading any latent disease or pests.

Good pruning practices go a long way towards prevention of pests and diseases. Creating an open center allows better circulation through the rosebush, which discourages deleterious fungi. Capping freshly cut ends with white glue prevents borers from making a home in your rosebush and killing the canes. With these pruning practices and a little TLC, you should end up with blooms like these:

Pink Roses

Stay tuned for more posts about rose care (ie: how to handle diseases and pests).


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