Thoughts on Rose Pruning
The weather was good this past weekend, so I got outside and pruned the roses in our garden. Pruning roses used to make me nervous, but now I relax by reminding myself that roses are basically brambles. At least mine are – two shrub roses (‘Sally Holmes’ and ‘Cassie’) and two climbers (‘Darlow’s Enigma’ and the wild Rosa setigera or Prairie Rose).
Anyway, the point is that it’s hard to commit a fatal error when pruning roses. Like brambles, you can hack away at them pretty ferociously and they will generally bounce back with renewed vigor.
Not that I am recommending that you lash out blindly at your roses with sharp instruments. First of all, that wouldn’t be nice. Second, just because it’s hard to commit a fatal error doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put some thought into what you are doing.
Above is a picture I took of ‘Cassie’ before I pruned her. Kind of a tangled mess, right? Pruning improves air circulation in the center of the plant, which reduces the chances for disease. It also lets in more light and generally improves blooming.
Before starting, I like to sanitize my pruners, either with disinfectant wipes or a spritz from a spray bottle. It’s a good idea to resanitize whatever cutting tool you are using every time you move on to a new rose, otherwise you may be spreading disease.
And just in case you, like me, need to be reminded of the obvious: wear gloves! Gardening should be a peaceful pursuit that does not involve bloodshed. I generally garden without gloves, which is fine except when you are dealing skin-piercing plants. Unless you are a gardening masochist, in which case I make no judgements whatsoever.
Though not all roses are the same in that regard – most of mine are not too bad except for ‘Darlow’s Enigma’. DE boasts some truly wicked thorns, curved and sharp as needles, that have been known to draw blood even through strong gloves.
So, now you’re ready to prune. I was taught to remove everything that was 1) dead, damaged or diseased; 2) potentially rubbing against another stem; or 3) thinner than a pencil.
The place to cut on the stem is just above an outward facing bud – outward because you don’t want growth in the center of the plant to be too dense. Sometimes the bud is obvious. Other times you need to look for the latent bud, which is not hard to find if you look closely.
Here’s ‘Cassie’ after I was done pruning. I probably could have been a little more aggressive in removing stems but this is good enough.
I actually like pruning, including pruning roses. Something very satisfying about clearing out a tangled mess of stems. Do you enjoy pruning roses?
Thank you, you’ve reminded me that I need to start doing mine and I have rather a lot to do, including all the climbers on the pergola! There is something quite therapeutic about pruning roses and they always look so much better afterwards.
They do, don’t they? Glad to be of assistance.
I’ve just finished pruning an Iceberg rose that we have had for years, and it is very forgiving…and flowers for quite a bit of the year. I’ve learnt to be harsh in cutting… and I agree with Pauline, something therapeutic about it..
I think it pays to prune hard, but it can be hard to overcome the fear of cutting too much.
I pruned R. Clair Martin last week, but still need to do the others! Thanks for reminding me it needs doing now!
Happy to be of service!
Yes, I do enjoy pruning and the satisfaction of having tidy results. I must take after my Dad – my Mum lives in fear of him going out to do some ‘pruning’!
It’s a good idea to buy only those shrubs that can recover from excessive pruning.
l like pruning anything! I’ve found roses to be pretty resilient regarding how effectively they’re pruned. Even if you butcher them, they usually end up looking mostly ok. I’ve already pruned one rose and have a few more on the list. It’s one of those ‘spring is almost here’ chores that I look forward to. Your Cassie looks great!
It’s true, rose pruning makes me more cheerful because it’s something we do in spring.
I don’t mind pruning anything. I just am always unsure if I am doing it right. I read all about the how tos, the not dos and I had pruning 101 in the Master Gardeners class but still I am unsure. I don’t have all that many roses, only 4. They are not what I wan them to be. I don’t know why I keep them except for the fact that they do bloom. Something to ponder.
I know that feeling of uncertainty. However, I tell myself to plunge in because it’s hard to make a mistake that can’t be remedied in time.
Thanks for the reminder. I dread pruning but once with shears in hand the job becomes sort of fun.
So plunge in! Not literally, of course.
I like pruning. I pruned some princess spirea yesterday. But, my pruners are giving me fits so I need to do a little adjusting. 🙂
How are they giving you fits?
I have some Felco pruners that are several years old. The spring came out and my husband replaced it, but they have never worked well since. They get stuck when I cut a branch, and I have to pull the blades apart. Not exactly a good working situation. LOL I think I need to order a new pair.
I’m with Casa Mariposa — I love pruning anything. It’s like cleaning out a closet. You may not want to start but the sense of satisfaction after you’ve finished makes the job a pleasure. Shaping a plant makes me feel like I’m involved in its future. A bit like raising a child?
Like cleaning out a closet – I can see that. Only it’s much better, because I hate cleaning out closets.
Cassie is looking trim and proper now!
She says thanks!
I see you are one of those gardeners whose plants talk back!
I love pruning but not roses. there is always bloodshed!
I think when you say you might have pruned a little harder I agree. perhaps a couple of those old brown shoots at the base….?
It’s funny, when you take a picture of a pruning job and then look at it later, you can see where you could have done more.
Love those brambles!
I do not know enough about pruning in general. I always have to look up each plant, and often I find I’m thinking of it at the wrong season for the plant 🙂 I have had no luck with roses out here, either. When I first started gardening here, the Japanese beetles decimated any roses before they had a chance to bloom, so I sort of gave up. However, they haven’t been as bad the last few years, so maybe I should invest in a shrub rose.
Well, it is worth knowing when NOT to prune. As far as I know, you can prune most things in late fall or winter EXCEPT for lilacs and forsythia – those should be pruned right after they bloom. Otherwise, I don’t worry any more about pruning things “the right way”, I just start hacking.
Pruning is quite possibly my favourite garden task.
It’s fun, isn’t it?
Yes I love pruning! So satisfactory, and good to be involved in the formation of the next seasons growth. Need to do my Cornus soon 🙂
I think I’ve pruned everything I can do in late winter. Now my fingers are itching to do more, but I have to wait.
A timely reminder. Mine will be done as soon as the weather allows this month. Those thorns look lethal. Like you Jason I garden without gloves but am a bit more careful when it comes to the roses. I’ve lost count how many thorn tips I’ve had to dig out of my fingers.
I like to work without gloves but I’m not into masochistic gardening.
I’m learning to love pruning as the garden matures and my “cramscaping” ways start to backfire. Not many roses here, but plenty of other stuff keeps trying to gain supremacy.
“Cramscaping”! I love that. Mind if I use it?
You remind me that I must prune my roses amongst other things. Some great tips here, especially re cleaning the pruners, I never do that but shall now!xxx
I started doing it after taking a class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
I used to do a lot of pruning, especially of roses and fruit tree, and I always enjoyed it. It’s a very satisfying job!
I’m about to plant my first roses this summer, so I’m happy to have this primer on pruning them. Spring seems to be coming early here, so I think it’s time to get out and prune clematis and spirea next week.
I pruned my Clematis last week. They sure were a tangled mess.
I always thought I pruned roses perfectly until I had a rosarian friend tell me otherwise. I have to admit, I learned something from him and now take my time when pruning.
I’m sure my pruning is far from perfect but I don’t let it bother me too much.
Good article. The rose I hate to prune is American Pillar. Boy that rose bites back!
I think to do a good job of it you have to know your personality. I have realized over the years that I tend not to prune enough. So nowadays I prune just a bit more than I feel is necessary whhich is usually just right!
A wise approach!
Hello Jason, the roses we have don’t require heavy pruning, just a few snips here and there to tidy up and it’s done. I am so used to working around rose thorns now that when I feel a prick from a thorn, I overcome the usual instinct to pull away (thereby dragging the thorn across the skin in a long scratch) but freeze, look to see what’s happening and then carefully move my hand off the thorn without it being scratched.
You have admirable self-control.
This is exactly the post I needed. I will be pruning my messy rose tomorrow. Thank you.
How did it go?
Finally getting warmer but still soupy in the garden…but I will be pruning soon. I have special rose gloves, but I missed the obvious…..I need to be aware of diseases and clean the pruners after each time I prune a rose…thanks for the reminder Jason!
I’m thinking of adding Rosa setigera to the garden. Is it possible to prune this so it takes on the form of a tall (say 8-10 ft tall) shrub? I’ve read one review where a gardener said it arched over at about 3 feet tall unless supported?
Very nice blog post, by the way!
I think it can grow much taller than that, though I’m not sure if it would grow to 8′ without support.