Rose bush pruning time is here season

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mid to late February is the month to prune roses here, so if you haven’t yet shaped up your rose bushes, now’s the time. Roses, like other shrubs, benefit from yearly pruning. This includes the ever-popular Knock-Out series of roses. Although they are very disease resistant, and require less care than many other types of rose bushes, they still benefit from a yearly rejuvenation.

You can simplify the entire pruning process by a few basic steps. First, arm yourself with the best tools you can buy. There’s a reason that Felco, Fiskars and other top quality pruning shears and loppers are costly. They’re well designed and help reduce muscle fatigue. This is very important if you’re pruning dozens of bushes in a day. Be sure that they are very sharp. I have mine professionally sharpened every January so they make quick, smooth cuts right where I want them. You will need several different types of pruners. Use a classic bypass pruning shear for most floribunda and hybrid tea roses. A tool belt or container is useful so you don’t lose the shears in the midst of leaves or canes while you’re working. Thick canes require a heftier tool, and that’s when you need to reach for loppers. The extra length gives better leverage.

Some canes can grow so thick that you need to remove them or prune with a pruning saw, either a folding or stationary one. Some dedicated rose fanciers use bonsai tools or scissors to prune miniature roses. But if you’re not exhibiting them, you can save time by shearing mini roses at ground level. They’re growing on their own roots and will shoot out new canes with a flourish.

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Next, protect yourself. Wear durable gloves, preferably with gauntlets to protect your arms.

Have some bleach-based wipes handy so you can wipe off the blades as you move from bush to bush. This helps prevent spread of diseases.

Now you’re ready to help your roses prepare for a new year of luxuriant blooms. Analyze the plant.

First, remove dead canes, crossing canes and weak, spindly growth that won’t produce any worthwhile flowers.

Next, shape bush according to space. If any canes are growing into a walkway, cut them back. In general, remove one-third to one-half of last year’s growth. If your plants are only a few years old and short, just remove the most spindly growth. As roses grow, the top growth is smaller than the canes just below.

You want to be sure new growth is strong enough to support flowers. If any leaves remain on the plant, remove them and cart them away.

They’re probably harboring disease spores like blackspot. But if new growth has already started to emerge (you can tell because most new rose leaves emerge red before turning green), leave them on the plant.

Also, seal cut canes with glue or even nail polish so borers can’t enter. Cane borers will devour the inside of a cane, causing it to turn brown or black and die. If you see this, cut below the dark part.

Complete the pruning by cleaning up any weeds growing around the roses. Now is the time to add a large handful of Epsom salts at the base of each bush. This helps encourage basil breaks, those healthy new canes that emerge from the bud union. Don’t fertilize the bushes until the new growth is at least two inches long.

If all this seems like a lot of work, consider how many months you will enjoy the beauty of colorful roses in your own garden.


Karen Dardick is an Adams County Master Gardener, journalist and author of “Simply Roses.”