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Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

Pruning Roses

by Michael MacCaskey

Prune in early spring and your rose can produce an abundance of cuttable flowers.

Roses are among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow. No prima donnas, they can cling to life long after lesser plants give up. Given care, they respond like gangbusters. "Care" means water, fertilizer, pest control, and pruning. Pruning is the focus here, and for most gardeners March -- just before spring growth resumes -- is the most important time to prune. Timing would be earlier in the South, low deserts, and coastal West, and later in the North.

Pruning has four main goals: remove dead twigs and branches; remove weak, damaged, and useless branches; open the plant to improve air circulation; and create an attractive shape.

Tools You'll Need

Nearly all roses are well equipped with sharp thorns, and some are very thorny. First of all, you need a pair of heavy leather gloves, preferably long enough to protect your forearms.

The next essential is hand shears. We prefer the scissors type over the anvil type for their clean, sharp cuts, but both kinds have their fans. Use shears to cut twigs, side branches, and main branches up to about 1/4 inch in diameter.

If you have older plants with many thick stems at the base, you'll also need a small pruning saw or loppers, or both.

Pruning Cuts: Some Basic Rules

Pruning Cuts: Some Basic Rules
Make cuts just above outward-facing buds.

Cut at an angle. Cut about 1/4 inch above an outward-facing bud at a 45-degree angle. Dab pruning seal (white glue will work) on the pruning cuts to seal them, especially if you live where rose borers are a problem.

Cutting above an outward-facing bud forces growth up and away from the center of the plant, improving air circulation, which reduces pest problems. Wait until early spring when buds swell and are easy to spot.

Cut back to live tissue. After you cut, examine the pithy tissue in the center. Is it white and healthy clear through? If not, cut back farther.

Remove dead branches completely. Brown and shriveled canes stand out like sore thumbs. Cut them to the base, using a saw if necessary.

Never give a sucker an even break. Suckers are vigorous canes growing from the rootstock below the graft union on grafted roses. Cut these off to the main stem, even if you have to dig away some soil to get to them.

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