Pruning roses

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For pruning roses I hope this page can help you. Novices often are unduly worried when the time comes to prune roses, thinking they may prune too much or too little. It may help to remove this mental hazard, so far as Hybrid Tea Roses and related kinds are concerned, when it is known that there are two widely divergent schools of thought—one believing in severe pruning, which involves cutting the plants down to within a few inches of the ground each year, the other insisting that this is a barbarous practice and that the better plan is to cut the bushes back as little as possible.

Good results for pruning roses are obtained by both methods. Much depends on the objectives. If exhibition roses are required, severe pruning is usually needed; if a large quantity of flowers is preferred for garden display, light pruning is indicated. Personally, I am on the side of the moderates, believing that the bushes will be healthier and live longer when the pruning is not too drastic. With these preliminary observations, let's get down to business and assess the job in general and in particular.

Pruning roses

Pruning when planting

Many nurserymen prune Roses before shipping so that they are ready to plant when received. If this has not been done, the first step is to cut off the mangled root tips—preferably with a sharp knife. Then cut off weak, twiggy shoots about the base. Further pruning in the case of Tea, Hybrid Tea, Dwarf Polyantha, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Hybrid Perpetual Roses consists of cutting back the remaining canes to between 6 and 12 inches from the base of the plant, the severity of the pruning depending on the vigor of the plant—the weaker it is, the more it is pruned.

Climbing Roses of all types should have twiggy growth removed and the remaining canes cut back to half their length. Shrub Roses need broken branches and those which spoil the symmetry of the bush removed, and one-year-old shoots should be shortened about one half.

Around the year with a moderate-growing Hybrid Tea. Top, in the spring the newly planted bush was pruned back to stubs. Center, strong growth (black) quickly developed from buds on stubs and flowered in the summer; also, one strong shoot and three weaker ones grew from the base of the bush at ground level or below. Bottom, the bush pruned early the next spring.

Pruning established roses

When? In the spring for most classes (exceptions later) when new shoots are about 1/4 inch long. The questioning beginner may ask, "Do not these shoots use food materials stored in roots and stems, which is lost when they are cut off?" The answer is "Yes," but Roses start to grow too early for their own good, and the new shoots are sometimes killed by late frosts. If they are pruned before growth starts, the lower buds are forced to grow, and if these are killed, there are few or none to take their place.

How to prune roses

How? First cut off all dead and injured wood. Dead wood is brown and dry; the inner bark of injured wood may be green, sappy, and apparently normal on the outside, but the pith is dark brown and shriveled. The buds on such shoots may make a growth of several inches and then suddenly collapse.

Pruning to a bud. Left, correct; center, too close; right, too high.

This is a common occurrence, which usually can be attributed to winter injury undiscerned at the time of pruning. If you live in the North, when you have cut off dead and injured wood, your pruning will be finished, so far as the varieties (Tea and Hybrid Tea) least resistant to severe freezing are concerned. When there is a lot of top growth left after dead wood has been removed, further procedures are regulated by the class to which the rose belongs and the purpose in view.

When shortening canes, make the cut just above a bud pointing in the direction you wish to have the shoot grow. Usually an outward-pointing bud is chosen to avoid crossing branches. The cut should be about 1/4 inch above the bud and slope slightly away from it. When removing old, worn-out branches from near the base, cut as close as possible to the parent branch.

Strong-growing Hybrid Tea Same bush after light pruning Moderate pruning Prune bush severely
Strong-growing Hybrid Tea. Most of first year's growth (black) from base. Same bush after light pruning (dotted lines) for many flowers. Stubs removed. Moderate pruning results in somewhat larger, but generally fewer, blossoms. For real exhibition-size blooms, in reduced numbers, prune the bush severely.

Tea and Hybrid Tea

First take a good look at the bush. If there are branches which are rough and gnarled and carry none but thin weak twigs, cut them off close to the parent branch. Except when dealing with old neglected bushes, there may be only one or two of these, or maybe none. Then cut off any thin, weak shoots and cut back the strong remaining shoots one third of their length if your objective is many flowers; one half to two thirds if you prefer large but fewer flowers.

Climbing Hybrid Tea

These are vigorous sports of the bush-type Hybrid Tea Roses. Pruning should be kept to a minimum. All that is necessary is to cut out dead and worn-out shoots and to shorten or remove weak, twiggy shoots.

Dwarf Polyantha and Floribunda

Ordinarily these need but little pruning beyond cutting back, lightly, the shoots that have bloomed and occasionally removing near the ground line some of the oldest and least vigorous branches. There are some who practice cutting back the Small-flowered Polyanthas almost to the ground every year when they wish to keep them within a certain height.

Hybrid Perpetuals

There are two distinct methods of handling this group. One is to treat them essentially in the same way as Hybrid Teas, except that because of their usually more vigorous growth they are seldom cut back more than one third. The other method is practicable when the variety has the habit of producing new canes from the base and the bushes are widely spaced. It consists of taking the long shoots which grew the preceding year, bending them over in a wide arc, and fastening the tips to pegs driven in the ground. The semi-horizontal position forces buds to grow which otherwise would have remained dormant and results in a large number of blooms. Future pruning consists of the removal at the ground line of a sufficient number of the oldest canes to make room for the new shoots. A saw with a narrow blade (a keyhole saw) is a handy tool when cutting off old gnarled branches.

Rambler roses

These blossom best on short side shoots (laterals) developed on the long, unbranched canes which grew the preceding year. They bear small flowers in large clusters and can be distinguished from the group to which the name "Climbers" is applied by numerous strong shoots originating at the base of the bush which at blooming time are 3 feet or more long. (Dorothy Perkins is perhaps the best known Rambler.) I prefer to prune this group just as soon as the flowers have faded, by cutting off at the ground line all canes which have flowered. The strong young canes, as many as are needed, are then tied up on the support. The remainder, if any, are cut off. If this was not done during August, it should be done in the fall or in the spring, and any shriveled cane tips cut off.

Climbing and pillar roses

These have a more permanent superstructure. Strong new shoots seldom grow from the base of the plant but instead come from branches several feet from the ground. Spring pruning, in the case of old, well-established plants, consists of the removal of worn-out branches (recognized by rough, dark bark and weak, twiggy growth) by cutting them back to the ground or to a strong shoot. The side branches which produced flowers last year are cut back to a length of 3 to 9 inches. Summer pruning consists of shortening new shoots which are exceeding their bounds. The necessity for this should be avoided as much as possible by planting strong-growing Roses, such as Dr. Van Fleet, only where there is plenty of room for them to develop.

Shrub and species roses

These include the Sweetbriar hybrids, the Rugosa hybrids, and species such as Rosa hugonis (Father Hugo's Rose), R. rugosa (Ramanas Rose), R. spinosissima (Scotch Rose), and others. Little pruning is necessary or desirable beyond the removal of dead branches. If the bush becomes unduly crowded, a few of the older and less vigorous branches may be removed, either by cutting them off at the ground line or by cutting back to a point where a strong new shoot is growing. The method chosen depends on which best serves for the maintenance of the natural habit and symmetry of the bush.

Summer pruning of roses

Pruning bush roses during the growing season is chiefly concerned with the removal of flowers for decoration and exhibition and the thinning out of their buds. This is a case where it is essential to know something of the habits of Roses in the various groups. Tea Roses and the Hybrid Teas that were introduced twenty or more years ago usually produce their flowers on fairly long stems with one to three flower buds on each. If there is one flower almost open and the buds are showing color, it is better to leave the largest bud, pinching out the other one. Roses for indoor use should be cut with the stalk long enough to serve its purpose as a cut flower and at the same time leave two or three growth buds.

If, however, the Roses are intended for exhibition, all the flower buds except one in each cluster are pinched off as soon as they are large enough to be handled. This must be done early; otherwise the wounds can plainly be seen and the judges will mark them as demerits.

In the case of those varieties which make candelabra-like flowering stems (many of the modern Hybrid Teas and the Floribunda and Dwarf Pciyantha groups), the central flower in the cluster is the first to open. This should be removed, usually with about 2 or 3 inches of stem. The buds remaining will open almost at the same time, making a good show in the garden.

The length of the stem to be cut when pruning in the growing season depends in part on the purpose of the pruner. If he wants a good showing in the garden, he should not cut the flowers with long stems, but if he wants quality rather than quantity, they should be cut with fairly long stems, leaving no more than two or three growth buds on the current shoots.

When garden roses are budded on Rosa multiflora, Ragged Robin, or Dr. Huey during July or August, some of them may start into growth the same season the bud was inserted. In this case the understock can be cut off right away. Usually, however, the scion (bud) remains dormant over the first winter. In the spring the understock is cut back as soon as the scions are showing new growth. Be sure it is the wanted Rose that grows and not the understock.

In preparing Roses for winter, if they are exposed to strong winds it is advisable to prune those which have made heavy shoots to sho. ten them; otherwise the constant whipping by winter winds may abrade the stems where they emerge from the ground.

Preparing roses for winter

  1. Composted manure, plus peat moss or leaf mold if the soil is heavy, is dug into the bottom of the hole.
  2. Prior to planting any Rose, examine roots for dead and broken portions. Cut off cleanly to live white wood. Spread roots well over a mound of soil and sift soil among them.
  3. Arrow points to one typical weak stem that should be pruned back to strong main cane. In general, only three or, at most four, good canes should be left at planting.
  4. If main canes of thinned plant before planting are in good condition above point indicated by arching broken line, they may be only moderately trimmed. Otherwise cut back to point of line.
  5. In the process of filling around roots with good fertile soil, make sure that swelling of "bud" or graft will be just below final level of soil after plant is firmed in place.
  6. Roots must be put in very firm contact with surrounding soil. Hence when they are well covered, step into planting hole to pack soil. If job is done right, "bud" will be in correct position.
  7. After tramping soil, fill rest of hole with water if ground is dry at planting time. When hole has drained, fill with loose, dry soil to final level.
  8. Final step in planting is mounding up base of canes to depth of from 4 to 8 inches with clean soil, free from large lumps. If planting in spring, leave in place for at least ten days, then pull it away from canes gradually. In fall planting, it is left until the spring.
  9. After ground is thoroughly warm and plant established (mid-to-late May), it is helpful to mulch surface with peat moss or similar porous material. This keeps down weeds, keeps roots cool and moist during heat.
  10. In cutting Roses for the house, or after blooms have faded, leave at least two sets of five-part leaves for later bloom. The more foliage you leave on plant, the healthier it is likely to be, this year and after.
  11. Some gardeners cut back plants at approximately this line after peak of June bloom. In general this gains nothing, may be harmful. However, straggling growth should be removed before winter winds and snows.