70524thumb+The main problems with roses locally are not related to climate, soil, insects or disease. Warm and semi-arid climates of California happen to be some of the best places in the World for roses. Sure, many roses have problems with insects such as aphid, and diseases such as powdery mildew, but primarily because such pathogens proliferate among roses that are not pruned properly.

Yes, the main problems with roses are a direct result of improper pruning. Without adequate pruning, roses become overgrown thickets that shelter the pathogens that afflict them, but also lack the vigor to be resistant to damage. Like so many other domesticated plants, they were bred for maximum production of unnaturally big flowers, at the expense of natural resistance to pathogens.

Pruning eliminates superfluous growth and improves air circulation, which interferes with the proliferation of most types of pathogens. Most pathogens overwinter in fallen foliage that should get removed in the process. Pruning also concentrates growth of the next season into fewer new stems, which stimulates vigorous growth that hopefully grows faster than the pathogens that infest it.

Roses should be pruned while dormant in winter, after defoliation, and before buds start to swell at the end of winter. Hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses should be pruned back to only about three to six canes that grew from the base during the previous year. Older canes should be removed. Remaining canes should be only about two feet tall, and cut just above a healthy bud. Any growth below the graft union (where the basal canes originate) are genetically different suckers (from the understock or rootstock) that must be removed.

As growth resumes in spring, well pruned plants will produce fewer stems and blooms that are significantly more vigorous than those of inadequately pruned plants. Overgrown and inadequately pruned plants must spread their resources thin amongst more but significantly weaker stem growth that is much more likely to be damaged by pathogens. Aggressive pruning now pays off later.

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15 thoughts on “Prune Now For Roses Later

  1. I did mine on Sunday and as usual started timidly but was soon in the swing taking out all the inward growing growth. Here’s hoping I got it right, it’s been a mild winter in the UK and there was already sign of new growth.

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    1. They happen to do very well for us, but I can totally understand why they are less popular in other climates where they are more susceptible to diseases and insects. Really, I can not understand how they ever became as universally popular as they are! They are not for everyone.

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      1. I was not around back when they became popular, but I have seen marketing do weird things with plants that are not so practical. Poinsettias are a classic example, although I was not around for them either. There is absolutely no reason for such a worthless plants to be so popular as a forced potted plant, but they are.

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  2. Your post is well-timed, Tony, as I am about to ask my husband (eeeek) to prune my Abracadabra rose which is growing in a pot.

    ‘Roses should be pruned while dormant in winter, after defoliation, and before buds start to swell at the end of winter.’

    While it is winter here we still have a few blooms and leaves are still growing. Would it be okay to still prune?

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    1. Yes. In some regions, roses do not defoliate completely. Modern cultivars, particularly the cheapy carpet roses, almost seem to be evergreen. Except for the hybrid tea roses, the roses that I just pruned were not defoliated. In the Los Angeles region, even the hybrid tea roses stay partly foliated, and might even be blooming when they get pruned. Winter is when they get as dormant as they are going to be. The buds in the leaf axils really are getting ready for next year, even if the leaves are not convinced that their time is up. I probably should have mentioned that in the article. Space is limited.

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    1. Well, this is only a brief description of pruning. Space is limited in my gardening column. It explains only the basics. I will stress though, that it is better to be more aggressive than not. There is not need to be as severe as I get with mine, but you do not want to leave too many canes or too much superfluous growth.

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    1. Yes. I think of ‘shrub’ roses as including hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses, but it also includes the modern carpet roses. However, carpet roses are not grafted, so do not need suckers removed. Pruning is also not as important for them. If they get crowded, they just shed some of their own stems. If I could, I would cut ours to the ground. We must leave a few canes so that they do not get trampled.

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