The fact is that rose bushes are quite sturdy plants and can withstand all manner of abuse. I have witnessed rose bushes sliced to ground level, buried under rubble for years, snapped by falling athletes and covered in plastic by ignorant landscape gardeners! All these poorly tended bushes returned to full size and, for all I know, will continue to bloom profusely.
Rose bushes are almost pruner proof! Don't worry, there isn't much you can do to destroy them.
That's not to say that there isn't a preferred method, but that pruning rose bushes should not be the daunting task it seems to be. There is no secret society of rose bush pruners! (...well I'm not a member anyway.)
There are in fact Old Growth Roses growing quite happily, on there own, un-pruned and untended for decades, and they have survived very well, so pruning is not an absolute necessity FOR ALL VARIETIES.
Pruning is done for a few reasons which are mostly to do with the health of the bush and the development of bigger and better blooms. Late fall pruning is usually to shorten the canes so they do not get blown around in the wind and break, or get laden with snow and snap at the base.
Fall pruning for climbers is undertaken in order to get control of the growth and training the runners by pinning and tie-ing without disturbing the new buds which will arrive in the spring.
Tea roses are pruned to remove unwanted wood, open up the center to air circulation and maximize the quality of the blooms by removing all but the biggest and best. Single flowering shrub roses need very little pruning: usually just to shape and control the size of a spreading bush.
So there are several reasons for pruning, depending on the type of rose bush and whether it is a single or multi flowering variety.
There are other reasons which include pruning for shape as you would with a miniature rose or pruning down so you are able to reach the top blooms You may also want to prune to promote spring growth in a certain direction and away from a fence or window for example. Spring pruning almost certainly promotes spring growth.
So, much like your family pet, you need to take charge. Show the leadership. Show them who is the boss: your rose bush will not be upset although I have heard about them “sulking” a little!
At the very least you should have a pair of by-pass hand pruners (seceteurs?) and a larger pruner, lopper or sharp pruning saw. Some gardeners dip the blades into a weak solution of bleach between cuts to avoid carrying disease from one plant to another but I never have.
The most important part is the “very sharp” part. Get them sharpened or sharpen them yourself, with a hand sharpening stone, just before you begin.
Protective gloves are important and perhaps eye protection, for those big, high Old Growth Roses that love to make contact. Have you had a Tetanus shot recently?You are going to get scratched by a rose thorn (it's called a “prickle” officially!) we all do, so be prepared. (This may be the secret handshake of the rose pruner:- scratched hands!)
Shorts and bare arms are not a great idea either. Take my word for it!
I wish I could just say "...next Tuesday at 2 o'clock" but it's not quite that simple. It's also not exactly crucial.
Generally it's springtime after the last frost which, in the U.S., is sometime after Presidents Day in late February and on. The best way of timing it is to have a Forsythia bush in your garden. When the yellow forsythia blooms then it's time to prune! This takes into account not only your local climate but your own gardens mini-climate.
After the frost and before the first growth of spring although even if there have been some shoots produced on old canes, pruning should take place.
Cut at a slight angle, a little above a node. (swelling) Cut out everything that is dead, broken, thinner than a pencil or crossing another main cane. Also open up the center so the rose bush has air circulation and vaguely resembles a vase shape.
Cut down from the top depending on the variety:
Tea Roses for show and maximum bloom production, cut down to knee height.
General shrub roses grown for garden show and a general mass of blooms can be trimmed by about a third, remembering that the main reason is for control of space and a nice shape.
Miniatures get a haircut by trimming a third all around.
Try and remember where you made the pruning cuts last year and how high the bush got. Was this the right height or would you like it higher? If you keep records you can adjust for your own requirements each year.
Don't forget finger pruning. No tools, just your fingers. Removing buds that will form canes that grow inside and across the center of the bush. Keep the outside ones and remove the inside ones, and your bush will keep it's shape and the center will never be overcrowded.
When in doubt, ask the local Rose society or a friend that grows roses or get on the computer and ask!
Pruning Rose Bushes should not be difficult. Have fun, after all, it's the start of a new season!
Video by Alek Glennfox.
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