Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2001
Regional Report

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A sharp pruner, sturdy gloves, and a little knowledge are all you need to prune your roses.

Rose Pruning

Get your clippers ready - it's time to prune your roses. Yes, I know some of you still have flowers on your plants, but they're as deep into dormancy as they get here along the coast. Here's how to get started.

Rose Tools

The tools you need for the job include a pair of sharp by-pass pruning shears, a fine-tooth pruning saw, and lopping (long-handled) shears. Anvil-type pruners are not suitable for roses because the blade may crush the stem. Use the lopping shears for any branches larger than 3/4 inch in diameter so that you don't ruin the blade of your hand-held shears. Keep a small file on hand to keep your clippers sharp.

Pruning Steps

The first step in pruning roses is to remove any dead, diseased, or injured wood. Dead wood has dark brown bark, and inside, living wood is green. When removing a branch, make your cut close to the nearest bud scar. Sometimes the bud scars are difficult to detect. Look for a dark line with a small bump on the upper side of the branch. Make your cut 1/4-1/2 inch above the bud scar.

Remove Suckers

Remove any suckers (growth that comes up from below the graft - that is, the swollen part of the main trunk - or through the soil at the base of the plant). These suckers are sprouting from the root stock, and, if left on the plant, they will form vigorous, nonblooming branches that will eventually replace the desirable blooming portion of the plant. Cut out suckers as close to the base of the plant as possible.

Keep the Center Open

The next step is to remove any branches that cross through the center of the plant. Roses need maximum air circulation to prevent fungus diseases such as black spot from forming, and by removing the crossing growth, you open the center of the plant so that air can move freely through the foliage, keeping it dry and less likely to be infected.

Prune for Shape

Now it's time to prune for shape. For hybrid tea roses and grandiflora type roses, the desired effect is a vase shape, leaving 5 to 7 main branches, 18-24 inches tall. The more vigorous the plant, the shorter it should be after pruning. If the branches are left too long after pruning, the plant may eventually grow to a tremendous height. By keeping the branches short and close to the ground, your plant will remain compact.

To develop larger flowers on hybrid tea roses, disbud the new branches along a main stem, leaving only the terminal (top) bud as new growth begins in the spring.

Pruning Standards

Standards, sometimes called tree roses, should be pruned in the same manner, with 5 to 7 main branches remaining at the top of the trunk. Always try to prune to an outward-facing bud so that the new growth doesn't grow back toward the center of the plant.

Pruning Shrub Roses

Shrub roses and miniatures should be cleared of any dead, diseased, or injured wood and then given a general grooming. Cut the sprawling branches back to within the bounds of the planting bed. Roses grown in hedges can be cut to a height of about 2 feet.

Post-Pruning Care

After you have finished pruning, rake up and remove all debris. If any leaves are left on the plant, strip them. Make sure that the soil under your plants is clean and free from fallen leaves and flowers. Fungus disease is spread by water splashing back up onto the foliage. To ensure that your roses remain fungus free, spray them with a lime-sulfur spray after pruning.

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