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Everything you need to know about pruning roses

(Credit: Garden Detective)

I get a lot of questions about how to prune roses. There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer that will fit into a print column, unfortunately. But the beauty of the internet is that it allows me to ramble on for as long as I want.

I'm no rose expert, but my friend Stephen Scanniello, an internationally renowned rosarian, former curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Cranford Rose Garden, author of "A Year of Roses" and "Roses of America," and president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, stopped by today to offer expert tips for pruning roses. It comes in handy to know people in high places, doesn't it?

That's a picture of one of Stephen's gardens at the top of this page. If you'd like yours to look similar -- heck, even if you'd just like your one lone rose bush to survive, you'd better heed his advice.

With the forsythia in full bloom, it’s time to prune your roses. A daunting task that make the bravest of rosarians quiver in fear, pruning is simple if you keep a single thought in mind while oiling up your pruners: Among the worst things you can do for a rose is to not prune it.

Pruning revitalizes the plant, encourages new growth each season, and creates an attractive-shaped bush for the garden. Spring pruning helps prevent the spread of diseases and discourages undesirable insects. Consider pruning as “health care” for roses.

It’s absolutely essential that the cuts are clean, and to do this you must have the right type of pruners or secateurs. Use only secateurs that cut like a pair of scissors. Any other type, such as the anvil pruners common among florists, will not cut a rosebush properly. Anvil pruners will damage the plants, often crushing the stems as they cut. A crushed cane will allow more chances for water to get into the wound, beginning the deterioration of the rose cane.

Here are Stephen's rules for pruning as well as a detailed analysis of the various rose classes suitable for gardens in the northeast.

Basic Pruning Rules for All Roses

• Hold a cane (the rose stem) in your gloved hand. First notice its texture and color. Not all roses have green canes – some have purple, red, or even a combination of colors. Cane color should be fairly consistent within a plant. Those canes with unusual discoloration or severe looking blotches should be removed. If the cane has a shriveled, prune-like appearance instead of a smooth finish, or if the wood snaps easily when bent, the cane is dead. Besides being unattractive, dead wood is an open door to insects and disease. Remove it.

• Take out weak, spindly canes and any crossing branches from the center of the plant. (This should become second nature to you when you start pruning.) These create clutter, hindering the circulation of air through the bush, and provide a perfect breeding place for unwelcome pests or diseases.

• The remaining canes should be shortened.

• Each cut should be made above a bud eye (growing point). Bud eyes are located along the length of every cane. They are in a spiral arrangement as you go down the cane. Bud eyes should show a slight swelling or even a distinct red color at pruning time. They eventually develop into new branches that will terminate with a flower. The further down the cane (away from the tip) the bud eye is located, the stronger and larger the new bloom will be.

• Select a plump bud eye and make the cut about one-fourth of an inch above. Cut at an angle with the bud toward the top of the slant. Bud eyes point in the direction that new growth will occur, and those closest to the cut will become the main growing points, so it’s important to prune to a bud pointing away from the center of the shrub.

The final outcome of your pruning exercise – how tall, short, or wide the final pruned plant should be – depends greatly on your garden, how you intend to use the plant. Also, the mood you were in when you started might have something to do with the huge pile of compost you’ve just created! Are your still afraid to prune? Wait until you are having a bad day. Then go to the garden and take out your frustrations on your roses! I always feel better after a long pruning session with ‘Dr. W. Van Fleet’.

Pruning Details for Rose Classes best suited for Northeast Gardens

Once-Blooming Roses (roses that only bloom in spring or early summer) The most severe pruning for these roses is done after blooming.

Rose class: Species

Habit: There’s a wide range of growth habits among species roses.

• Tall arching shrubs

• Long-caned climbers

• Compact upright shapes

• There are a few that have a tendency to grow out of bounds through root suckering and self-seeding.

• After bloom, remove a few older canes to make room for new growth; do not remove too much or you may lose your hip display.

• In winter, after the hips have rotted or have been eaten by birds, thin out one-third of the oldest wood to give the shrub a clean look.

• Prune/remove suckers when they become invasive

Rose class:  Gallica

Habit:  sprawling shrubs

• freely suckering growth habits

• some could make interesting ground cover plants.

• majority are medium height shrubs, though there are some capable of being trained as climbers and a few that are of a dwarf habit

• After bloom, remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve the hip display for autumn and winter.

• During winter, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

Rose class: Damask

Habit: sprawling shrubs

• some with tall, long arching branches that tend to fall over from the weight of the large roses.

• several varieties could be coaxed to climb with a little bit of persuasion

• After bloom, remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve the hip display for autumn and winter.

• During winter, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

Rose class:  Alba

Habit:  Mix of tall and medium sized, sprawling shrubs

• Some varieties have lax canes, can be trained onto pillars

• After bloom, remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve the hip display for autumn and winter.

• During winter, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

Rose class: Centifolia

Habit: The plants are upright medium sized shrubs

• weight of the fragrant roses cause many varieties to sprawl.

• After bloom, remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve the hip display for autumn and winter.

• During winter, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

Rose class: Moss

Habit: some varieties are quite tall

• short growing varieties

• others sprawl from the weight of the roses

• After bloom, remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• Some old blooms may need to be shaken off or trimmed.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve the hip display for autumn and winter.

• During winter, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

Rose class: Hybrid China, Hybrid Bourbon, Hybrid Noisette (Fantin Latour, Blairii #2, Variegata di Bologna, Madame Plantier)

Habit: Vigorous shrub roses with long canes

• suitable for for training onto fences, or wrapping around pillars.

• As freestanding shrubs will create a mound.

• After blooming, remove some old wood to make room for new growth, but best to do most of the pruning in the autumn

• Some old blooms may need to be shaken off or trimmed.

• Do not prune too much of hip producers during the season to preserve

the hip display for autumn and winter.

• In autumn, shorten all canes to various lengths to eliminate crossing and rubbing; trim back all side shoots to three or four bud eyes.

• Re-train to pillars or structures during winter.

Rose class: Ramblers (Dorothy Perkins, Excelsa, Veilchenblau)

Habit:  Many long, very pliable canes annually from the base of the plant as well as from points along the older canes.

• If trained to structures, will grow very tall and wide

• As free standing shrubs will create a huge mound

• After bloom, remove old wood (canes that bore blooms) unless the rose is a hip producer. Then save the old blooming wood for a hip display.

• In late winter, remove deadwood and clutter along with faded hips.

• Re-train to structures after pruning or during winter

Rose class: Large-Flowered Climbing Roses (Dr. Van Fleet, Silver Moon, American Pillar)

Habit:  Long canes, some more pliable than others

• Trained to a sturdy structure, some varieties easily cover fifteen to twenty feet.

• If left as a freestanding shrub, they have a mounding habit of six to eight feet

high.

• Non-hip producing – after blooming, remove enough old wood to make room for new

• Hip producers – leave as much old wood as possible; prune old wood in winter

• Re-train to structure

• Shorten all shoots that bore flowers to two or three bud eyes

Rose class: Ever-Blooming Roses (Roses that bloom from late spring to frost)

These roses benefit from a severe pruning in spring, and again in late summer.

Rose class: Species Rugosa and rugosa hybrids

Habit:  Upright, slightly spreading habit of medium height, with a tendency to sucker freely.

• Remove old wood and crossing branches; trim to desired height in spring.

• If you are growing these roses for hips, do not prune after blooming; instead thin out during winter after the hips have rotted or fallen

Rose class: Rosa moschata

Habit:  Tall growing shrub, at times an arching shrub that could be espaliered or trained

to a fence.

• As a freestanding shrub, this is more upright than mounding

• Remove crossing branches.

• Remove some old wood to create room for new growth.

• Trim to desired height.

Rose class: Bourbon

Habit:  Climbing, arching, and compact habits.

• Prune to shape, removing twiggy growth, crossing branches, and dead wood.

• Remove old wood during the season to make room for new growth.

• Knock off faded blooms during the season

• During the season shorten blooming shoots to strong bud eyes

Portland (damask perpetual)

Habit:  Shrubby, upright

• There are a few varieties with a vigorous spreading habit

• Shorten all twiggy growth; remove clutter and dead wood.

• Cut tips of all canes

• Deadhead during the season to promote re-bloom by shortening blooming shoots to strong bud eyes.

Hybrid Perpetual

Habit:  Medium upright to very tall with a lanky habit.

• Some of these could be trained as climbing plants for pillars or fences.

• Shorten all lateral growths to three or four bud eyes, trim a few inches off all long canes, remove dead wood and twiggy growth, and remove clutter.

• During the growing season, deadhead faded blooms, remove old growth to make room for new, and trim to fit design.

• During the season, between blooming cycles, shorten all shoots that bore flowers to two or three bud eyes

Rose class: Hybrid Tea

Habit:  Upright plants; rather stiff in habit

• Range from short to very tall shrubs

• Remove dead, one-third of old wood, and shorten remaining canes by half.

• Do not leave thin canes

• During the growing season, deadhead faded blooms and remove old wood to make room for new growth.

• When deadheading, shorten all blooming wood to at least five leaflets

Rose class: Floribunda

Habit:  Upright; often wider than tall

• Range from very short to very tall

• Remove winter damage, remove one-third of old wood, and shorten remaining canes to random lengths.

• Twiggy canes are acceptable if they are free of clutter

• During the growing season, deadhead faded blooms and remove old wood to make room for new growth.

Rose class: Grandiflora

Habit:  Upright; wide and tall shrubs

• Remove winter damage, remove one third of old wood, and shorten remaining canes to random lengths.

• During the season, deadhead faded blooms and remove old wood to make room for new growth.

Rose class: Polyantha

Habit: Short upright shrubs; There are climbing sports of these roses as well.

• Remove winter damage, remove one third of old wood, and shorten remaining canes by half.

• Most canes will be thin, remove clutter

• During the season, deadhead faded blooms and remove old wood to make room for new growth.

Rose class: Shrub Roses (Meidiland, Flower Carpet, Carefree series, English Roses, hybrid musk, Knockout series)

Habit: Shrubs of all sizes

• Upright and spreading habit

• Warm climates: strip in January; start pruning in February

• During winter or at the end of the dormancy period, remove damage and deadwood, remove one third of old wood, and shorten remaining canes to random lengths.

• During the season, deadhead faded blooms and remove old wood to make room for new growth.

Rose class: Miniature

Habit:  Most average from six inches to eighteen inches in height

• Upright

• There are climbing forms as well

• Shorten to desired height

• Remove clutter and deadwood

• All canes are thin

• Climbing varieties should be pruned in the same manner as large-flowered climbers

Rose class: Large-Flowered Climber

Habit:  Long canes, some more pliable than others

• Trained to a sturdy structure, some varieties easily cover fifteen to twenty feet.

• If left as a freestanding shrub, they have a mounding habit of six to eight feet high.

• Shorten all branches that are shorter than arm’s length to three or four bud eyes, trim tips of all long branches, remove clutter and dead wood, and remove one-third of old wood to make room for new growth.

• During growing season, deadhead all faded blooms and shorten all canes in the same manner as spring pruning, remove old wood to make room for new growth, and remove clutter.

For more from Stephen Scanniello, visit heritagerosefoundation.org.

Tags: roses

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