March 2018, What to do in the garden

How to Prune Roses


I often get asked how and when to prune roses. Roses can be a little daunting, that is true, but once you know the general principles of how to prune them, you should be able to tackle almost anything. And many of the principles of rose pruning apply to pruning other plants, too, although you should read up on what it is you want to prune before diving in. Anyway, the most important thing to know about pruning roses is that it will be fine. Most roses are very forgiving. We all do a butcher job at one time or another, and seldom does it result in death.

The main reasons to prune roses are as follows:

  1. To cut out diseased, crossing and damaged growth
  2. To maintain a pleasing shape
  3. To allow for a healthy amount of air to circulate within the plant.

That’s it, really. You want to get rid of any dead bits or bits that are black or distorted from disease. You also want to get rid of branches that cross so close that they rub against each other. When they rub each other’s bark away, they leave openings for disease to get in. You also want a rose bush that has a pleasing shape. So you might end up cutting off a perfectly healthy branch because it messes up the symmetry. That’s ok. And finally, roses are prone to diseases, so if you can cut out stalks that clog the interior of the plant, you will allow more air to circulate in the middle and that will help keep those diseases away.

That’s WHAT to cut. Now, WHERE to cut.

Remember that every time you make a cut, the plant will react to that cut by sending growth hormones to that spot. So if you cut your rose above a bud that is facing outward, that bud, being the last bud on the stem, will now be told to grow, and it will grow the way it is facing. So it stands to reason that, if you don’t want the branches to grow inward, (see reason to prune #3) you should cut just above an outward facing bud. Are you with me so far?

Next, HOW to cut. For this, it’s easiest to show pictures. It all has to do with the angle of the cut in relation to the bud. Here goes:

WRONG. This cut points toward the bud, so rain etc will roll right down the cut and onto the bud, making it vulnerable to disease.
WRONG. This cut slants the right way, but it is too close to the bud, and so doesn’t give it enough support. Thus, it will always be a weak place on the plant.
WRONG. There isn’t anything horrendously wrong with this cut, but it’s a little too far from the bud and cut straight across. An entire rose bush pruned like this will have a stumpy appearance.
rose right.jpg
This cut is just right. It is angled away from the bud, and not too close, yet far enough away to give the new branch support.

And finally, WHEN?

I usually prune my roses in late winter, while they are still dormant. At least, I do the main prune then. I will sometimes shape them in the summer, or cut off a branch here and there. The main thing is not to prune when winter is coming and there is about to be a long period of cold. Since pruning tells the plant to react, you don’t want it to send out a lot of new growth, only to have it killed by a frost.

Hopefully this has demystified things a bit. If you are confused about anything, please post a comment on this blog post and I will try to help make things more clear.

Happy Pruning!