The Q&A Archives: When should I cut back my Roses?

Question: When should I cut back my Roses and how much do I cut back?

Answer: Winter, when roses are dormant, is the best time to prune roses. For much of the country, January and February are ideal months. Where winters are very cold and hybrid teas require winter protection, it's best to wait until late winter or early spring to prune. By then, you can prune without worrying about the threat of further cold damage to your plants.

Here's what you'll need to prune your roses (for younger plants, you may be able to get away without the saw or loppers):

A sharp pair of by-pass pruners. They provide the cleanest cut.
Pruning saw for older canes and dead wood.
Long-handled loppers for larger canes.
Thorn-resistant gloves.

Begin by removing dead or damaged canes. Prune out shriveled or diseased branches.

Remove suckers. Prune out any canes that arise from below the bud union (the swollen area on the lower trunk). Cut them back as close to the main stem as possible.

Select flowering canes. Select the healthiest canes (they're nice and thick, and bright green) and remove everything else. These will be the canes that produce flowers this spring. Try to choose canes that are evenly spaced around the plant, leaving the center open for good air circulation. With young plants, you can leave about 3 to 5 canes. Leave more with older roses. If an older cane has become thick, woody and unproductive, remove it completely, leaving a new cane to take its place.

Cut-back flowering canes to 12 to 24 inches high. Cut to an outward facing bud as shown in the illustration. In cold winter climates, you may have to cut back even further to remove all the cold damaged wood.

Clean-up. Dispose of all pruning debris, making sure to rake up all leaves and stems. Good sanitation will help prevent diseases next summer. For further protection, apply a dormant spray (a combination of copper and horticultural oil).

Best wishes with your roses!

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