The Q&A Archives: Pruning roses after first season

Question: I have planted 3 new rose beds this year. I have shrub, climbing, tea, floribunda, grandiflora. How aggressive should I be in pruning and preparing for winter? I have heard that you can safely bury the plants by turning sideways and covering with 6-12 inches of earth. Should I prune the plants to within 6-10 inches from the bud union this fall, or wait until spring to prune? Is covering the roses with straw and styrofoam cones good enough?

Answer: Don't do any pruning now. Pruning this late in the season will encourage new growth, which won't have time to harden off before winter arrives. Major pruning can be done in the spring, just as the buds begin to swell on the canes. To avoid winter damage from canes whipping around in the wind, you can tie them together. Or, you can wait until the plants are completely dormant and prune everything back enough to keep stems and canes from rubbing together and causing damage during winter storms. The best winter protection you can give your shrub roses is to mound soil up over the center crown to protect it from freezing and thawing repeatedly, and against super cold temperatures so that not all of the shrub above ground will be winter killed. Do this in late fall when the plant is dormant, probably sometime in November, but before the ground is so frozen you can't dig up soil to make the mound. Alternately, you can place a cylinder of chicken wire over the entire shrub and fill the cylinder with straw, compost, shredded leaves, and/or soil. This will protect the graft plus 8-12 inches of canes. Next spring you can remove the cylinder and use the organic matter as mulch by simply spreading it around the soil beneath your roses. If your climbing rose is grafted, be sure to protect the grafted area, as well.

Spring pruning typically consists of pruning shrub roses down to 12-18", removing spindly canes and old gray canes, leaving 3-5 of the healthiest canes. Climbing roses bloom on new shoots which are produced on old branches. You can reduce the height of the old branches in the spring, which will encourage new laterals (flowering stems).

Best wishes with your roses!

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