Roses should be pruned before the end of winter. Here where winters are so mild, they can get pruned early.

Just like most of the modern fruit trees that were bred over the past few centuries to produce unnaturally large and abundant fruit, almost all modern roses have been bred for unnaturally large flowers. Production of such large flowers takes quite a bit of work. An excess of these large flowers is more than overgrown rose plants can keep up with. This is why roses should be pruned so aggressively while dormant in winter.

Pruning should be done before buds start to swell at the end of winter. Some people prefer to wait until the end of February. However, because winters are so mild here, buds are already starting to swell, and some are even beginning to grow. I actually prefer to prune early, as soon as roses are dormant and most of the foliage falls off easily when disturbed.

The objective of pruning is to remove as much superfluous growth as possible, in order to concentrate growth into fewer but more productive stems and flowers. Without pruning, roses naturally develop into rampant thickets of abundant but less productive stems. It is also good horticultural hygiene to remove all foliage from last year, since that is where fungal and bacterial pathogens overwinter. Leaves should be plucked from stems and raked from the ground.

Hybrid tea roses get pruned severely so that there are only three to six canes about two feet high. Healthy canes that grew from the base last year are the best. They should have fresh green bark, and preferably lack branches below where they get pruned. Older canes that are developing striations (rough bark texture) should be pruned out. Most floribunda roses can get pruned almost as severely, so that they have only five to a dozen canes.

Some grandiflora roses are allowed to get significantly taller. They develop most new canes on top of canes that were pruned during the previous winter, instead of from the base. Consequently, some stems can get quite old and tall before new basal canes develop to replace them. Climbing roses are likewise pruned less aggressively, since new canes grow from old canes.

Like most fruit trees, most roses are grafted. Therefore, ‘suckers’ (shoots from below graft unions) must be removed. Tree roses should not be pruned below the graft unions on top of their main trunks. Most carpet roses are not grafted, so do not develop suckers; but then, they do not require such specialized and aggressive pruning either.

3 thoughts on “Prune now for roses later.

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