The Q&A Archives: Rose bushes not looking healthy.

Question: Hello,
I have rose bushes in my backyard that are about twenty years old and not looking very healthy. The branches are growing unevenly and some look withered. They are getting enough water and rose food. I have pruned them back in the winter (although I'm never sure if I pruned them just in the right place). Do I need to replace older rose bushes? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answer: Your old rose bushes will continue to grow and perform as long as they are getting good care. Pruning isn't all that difficult. Here are the steps to follow:

You can cut out dead or diseased wood any time of the year, but roses need major pruning in late winter or early spring when they're first starting to send out new growth. The new growth is usually little red buds that will turn into new stems or leaves. When pruning, it's important to make a 45-degree cut 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud. This will ensure that the new growth will be directed up and away from the center of the bush allowing for better air circulation.

The first step in a successful pruning job is to cut out any completely dead wood, which is black or dark gray. Then remove any branches that are rubbing against others, crossing one another, or damaged or diseased. The areas where the branches rub each other can leave your plant open to disease so it is a MUST that they be removed.

Now you need to decide what to keep. Look carefully at your rose bush and pick out three to six canes as your "keepers" (with a very large rose bush you might want to keep 8-10 canes). These canes should be at least as thick as a pencil, but trim out stems that are too thick or too old. The keepers need to spread out from the center of the bush. Remove all of the other thin and spindly growth. Then cut the canes you are going to keep to a height of 1-3 feet tall (with your old rose bush you may want to prune the canes back to 3-4 feet). It may seem like drastic surgery, but the rose will survive. After pruning each plant, clean your equipment with the rubbing alcohol to prevent spreading disease between the plants.

When you are cutting some of your beautiful roses to take inside to enjoy or even when you are deadheading your roses, you are pruning your bush. This will ultimately affect the shape and health of your rose. Therefore, it's important to cut carefully and correctly. Make the cut just above a leaf with five little leaflets facing away from the center of the bush. This will ensure strong new growth at the point of the cut.

Hope this helps you make the right pruning cuts to renovate your old roses.

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