By pruning rose bushes and cutting away damaged, dead and diseased wood and pencil thin stems, you can promote new and healthy growth for your rose bushes and flowers. Your bushes and flowers won't have to make food for and support weak and unproductive growth.
Pruning is a gardener's way of shaping and sizing their rose bushes. Think of pruning as your way of helping your roses focus on healthy new growth.
Take Heart and Take Your Time
Pruning rose bushes is not a race. Take it one step at a time. If you get it ‘pretty right’ you and your roses will flourish.
Below is a good video on how to prune rose bushes to maximize your blooms. The video is from the San Jose, California Municipal garden. If you live in colder zones, you will likely have to prune more of your roses because more canes and height will be dead or damaged from frost and/or freezing cold.
When to Prune
Prune rose bushes after danger of frost has passed and the buds on your roses are beginning to swell. Swelling buds are a sign that your roses are waking up and ending their dormant stage.
For those of you in warm climates, your time your to prune rose bushes will generally be from late December to mid January. For those of you in cold climates like the Midwest and Northeast, April is generally your month.
For old and species roses, like albas, gallicas, centifolias and musks, you will want to wait to prune rose bushes until after these roses have bloomed and their flowers have faded. The flowers on these roses grow on “old wood”, the wood that grew during the season that just passed. If you cut this wood away before the roses bloom, you will not see any flowers this year.
Modern roses, like hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras, you can prune before the plants begin to grow leaves and flower buds. New wood, canes and stems that grow this year, support these roses blooms. This means, most of your modern roses have flowers on what grows this year after pruning season.
What to Prune
When pruning rose bushes first focus on the 3 D’s”- the dead, diseased and damaged growth.
Dead canes are generally black or have no signs of life—nothing grew on them for the last year. Damaged and diseased canes may have holes in the center of their canes. This generally signals a pest has drilled into the cane and made it’s home in it.
Healthy canes have pith (the soft wood inside the canes’ bark) that is creamy white of green. If the pith has brown flecks or is completely brown or black, this portion of the cane is unhealthy.
Some roses have a color code that will tell you what canes are healthy. Red canes are generally new. Green ones are about a year old. Black, Brown or White and scaled canes are too old to host new blooms and growth.
Prune stems that are thinnest. These are twigs that will draw down the nutrients your rose bush needs to make glorious flowers.
What to Prune Beyond the 3 D’s
Prune the canes that are growing into other bushes or across walkways.
And in all but the hottest climates, it is generally recommended that you cut canes that are growing across the center of the rose bush or rubbing up against and growing into healthy and younger canes. By removing these canes you help the air circulate through your roses and this is a smart way to make it harder for mold, mildew and pest to establish themselves. In the hottest climates, a few canes in the center of your bush will allow for leaves that will shade and protect canes from relentless sun.
After all this cutting the best advice is Pruning Rose Bushes Lightly is generally the best option if you want to maximize the number of blooms you have in your garden.
If you are a novice pruner or unsure what type of rose you are pruning, I would stop pruning after getting ride of diseased,dead, damaged and thin stems. You can always cut more later but you can't glue back growth if you cut too much.
I like to see how the bush does during its new growing season, learn more then forge ahead verses cut against a rose’s nature (e.g. cut a Queen Elizabeth down to a few feet and it will not bloom until it has reached about 4 feet because that is her nature).
On the other hand, if you are experienced or think more needs to be done, most roses are hearty, generous and forgiving and will bounce back this or next season.
For Different Types of Roses- General Pruning Guidelines for Healthy New Growth
Hybrid teas and miniatures
Cut about 1/3rd of healthy growth. For floribundas, grandifloras and polythanous, cut a bit less than 1/3rd.
These roses appreciate a light touch and most experienced gardeners remove only their tips.
Generally good practice- leave all health growth alone for the first 2 years after after planting a climber. Because climbers tend to start out in a more vertical in their first few years, they have a harder time blooming. As they spread out laterally, it is easier for them to bloom and they can then be lightly pruned.
After the first 2 years,hybrid climbers (those that bloom all season long) can cut back 2-3 buds on each stem. This will encourage spectacular blossoms.
On climbers that are old or species roses that bloom one time a year, cut them back after they have bloomed. Old roses that bloom more than once a year may be pruned at the same time you prune your modern roses.
Climbers that are ramblers
As for ramblers, because they are very vigorous growers, as a general practice you can be aggressive with ramblers if you like. They will quickly get very large if you let them.
These roses can be treated like hybrid teas, just try to make them symmetrical because their height and slender trunk make them stand out in a garden.
Carpet, landscape and hearty shrubs
About a third of new growth can generally be pruned away. If these roses are in a hedge, they can be trimmed with sheers. Best guide is to cut back only those shoots that are beyond the general shape of the hedge. Be careful not to force a diminutive shape on a hedge that by nature wants to be bigger.
Where and How to Cut
When pruning roses bushes, if you need to remove an entire cane, cut it off at the bud union.
When cutting a stem, the perfect cut is made at a 45-degree angle, above the dormant eyes facing about a ¼ quarter inch the bud you want to grow. Generally, slant the angles lower side toward the center of the bush. The new growth will start on the high side of the cut and from the highest remaining bud.
You may angle your cut with the high side toward the center of your bush if you want it to fill the center.
Helpful Pre-Pruning Steps
If you are new to pruning rose bushes or want to help yourself plan before you cut, here are a few suggestions I found immensely helpful. If you’re an old hand at pruning may want to skip cutting off all remaining rose leaves.
Cut away any leaves that are still on your bushes. It is best not to tear them off. If most of your leaves are on the end of pencil thin stems you can cut the stems off with the leaves.
Pick-up and throw away all of these leaves and stems. You don’t want to toss these remains into your compost pile because they likely have traces of mold, mildew and bacteria you don’t want to see on this year’s roses.
Take a moment and walk around your garden and roses and see your garden exposed.
When you garden is bare, you can more easily see your soil, the health of your plants and condition of your irrigation system.
How does the ground look? Most years, gardeners mulch in the spring and make sure the sure the topsoil is loose. After you prune, you can take care of getting your soil in good shape.
With gloves on, brush away any growth or mulch from the base of each rose. Sometimes you will see that a rose has suffered serious infestation at its base. You may decide you are better off removing that rose now. Do you see any sports that are trying to take over a bush?
Clean and sharpen your pruning tools.
I have 3 cutting tools I use- shears, loppers and a wonderful pruning sword.
I learned the hard way good gloves are a must. I generally put on some latex gloves-2 pair first. I’m not allergic to latex so I have this option. Then I either use a tough pair of garden gloves or go for the leather ones if I am dealing with a rose bush that has huge thorns.
As for clothes, I go for something I don’t plan to wear if I want to look nice. Avoid anything that snags. I stick with jean, an old cotton shirt and a canvas jacket.
Take it one rose bush at a time and enjoy your precious time in your garden with your plants.
Remove Suckers When Pruning Rose Bushes
Pull off all suckers. Suckers are shoots that start below the bud union. Suckers are usually easy to identify because they look different than the rest of the rose bush. A flowerless loose thin climbing canes that starts below the bud union is almost certainly a sucker.
If the sucker starts above the ground pull it down and off the plant. If they start below ground, pull or dig back the soil back until you find the place where the sucker starts and then remove it from the rose bush by pulling them off in a downward motion. Let the wound (place where sucker was) air dry before you replace the soil.
The reason you pull downward when removing suckers is that this is the best way to remove the sucker’s growth buds that will produce new suckers even after you remove the suckers you can now see. In the worst case, you make have to remove the entire bush to find and remove these intruders.
Here is a good video from the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden that shows you how to identify suckers and how to remove them quickly.