How to Prune Garden Roses
It's no secret that roses are falling back in fashion with home gardeners. In and out of vogue since the days of Cleopatra, these days we're less crazed about the super tight, "Will-you-accept-this-rose" version of the flower and much more enamored with the garden variety—meaning old-school forms, such as those coming from the English floral breeder David Austin. Though roses have a reputation for being finicky and hard to care for, it's easier than you'd think to grow your own. Feeding during their growing season and pruning during their dormant season one the basic rules to follow. Here's everything you need to know to get the latter done.
First, Understand Timing
Roses want to be pruned just before they wake from their winter dormancy. This will be very early in the year in warmer climates and any time between January and April where it's cold.
Get the Right Tools
A clean, sharp pair of pruning shears is key. If you're working with older bushes with woody canes, you might also need a pruning saw. Lastly, get yourself a strong pair of leather gloves to protect yourself from the thorns. Roses bite.
Why Pruning Is Important
Sure, your bush might very well survive without being pruned, but over time, you'll have a much weaker, much less attractive plant. A weaker plant is more susceptible to pests and diseases. A properly pruned plant is cleared of diseased canes. The pruning triggers vigorous growth of strong canes, certain to bring you plenty of blooms come next spring and summer.
Initial Clean Up
Start with the obvious by removing any small, twiggy growth, dead, diseased, or crossing canes.
Most roses are sold as grafted plants, meaning the desired variety is inserted into the rootstock of another strongly rooted variety. Suckers refer to any canes that emerge beneath that graft, also known as the bud union. You want to remove them by digging down to their start below the bud union and pulling them off with a twist of your fingers.
Open up the center of the plant by removing any canes growing directly in the center (this will create a v or vase shape). Doing so encourages plenty of circulation, which roses greatly appreciate.
Figure Out What to Keep
Identify three to six healthy outside canes to keep, and leave three to five buds on each cane. Buds appear as tiny bumps or dots growing along the cane. Come spring, they are where branches will emerge.
Where to Prune New Growth
Since the new branch will grow in the direction the top bud points, cut to a bud that is facing away from the plant, preserving the vase shape. Cut on a diagonal 1/4 inch above the bud. This way, any winter moisture drains away from the bud rather than towards it, minimizing rot or disease.
If it hasn't happened naturally, remove any remaining leaves. Clean all leaves and debris (carriers of overwintering disease) away from the base of the plant and toss in the compost.
Time to Mulch
Two to three inches of fresh mulch go a long way for moisture retention and weed prevention. Prevent rot by keeping the mulch pulled back from the base of the rose.