Considering it is the month of Valentine’s, roses are an appropriate subject to discuss. Not bouquets couriered to various locations all over town, but bushes in the landscape that have been strategically neglected over the winter. Now their time has come; pull on the gloves and get to work.
February is the perfect time to prune rose bushes. Pruning is a step that is required to maintain healthy roses. When roses are pruned, new growth is promoted by removing dead, broken or diseased canes. Pruning also allows the gardener to give their plant an attractive shape and encourage flowering, which is ultimately the reason roses are planted!
Deciding which roses to prune will depend on their class. Hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses are repeat bloomers and need a moderate to heavy annual pruning this time of year. Some old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom only once a year should be treated differently and pruned immediately after flowering. They set their buds on old wood from the previous year’s growth; therefore, pruning them would remove most of this year’s blooms. An exception to this would be dead, diseased or damaged wood on any rose bush or canes that are crossing and rubbing. This should be removed immediately upon notice.
There are certain techniques that should be used when pruning any type of rose, no matter the time of year. Any pruning shear, saw or lopper you use should be sharp and sterile. Always wear protective gloves when dealing with roses, unless you don’t mind coming back bloody and mangled.
Crown gall and canker can be spread between gardens and individual plants by dirty shears. To prevent the spread of disease, always disinfect pruning shears when beginning to prune with a 5-10% bleach or 20% rubbing alcohol solution, especiallly if they have been used in any other garden. If crown gall or canker has been found in one’s own garden, shears should be disinfected between each plant, no exception. This should also occur when bringing new plants into the garden, until they have been observed to be disease free.
The first step when pruning any rose is to remove dead, damaged or weak stems leaving only the most vigorous, healthy canes. Try to cut the stems one inch below darkened areas, making sure to cut back to green wood. Always make your cut at a 45-degree angle; this will keep water from sitting on top of a stem and causing rot. When pruning try to open up the center of the rose bush. Pruning like this will increase air circulation and help prevent diseases.
Since roses send out new growth from the bud just below a pruning cut, try to make pruning cuts above a leaf bud facing out from the center of the plant. Make your cut about ¼ inch above the bud and at the same angle as the bud. If any rubbing or crossing branches are noticed, the weakest of those branches should be removed.
Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, can also be done at this time of year. When deadheading, remove the flower by making a cut just above the next five or seven-leaf branch down on the stem. This will allow for a strong and healthy cane to grow in its place. If no live buds remain, remove the entire cane.
Modern reblooming roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras) should be pruned just as the buds begin to swell, which is around mid to late February. When practicing hard pruning, try to leave about four to eight large, healthy canes the diameter of your finger or larger on the shrub. For a more moderate approach, prune shrubs as discussed earlier and cut them back to about 12 to 24 inches from ground level. Generally, any cane thinner than a pencil should be removed.
Don’t worry about pruning recently purchased new roses. Newly purchased roses have most likely been pruned, and no further cutting is necessary. Hopefully with the help of this article you can make a date to spend some quality time with your roses this season. The price of neglect is overgrown roses that are not nearly as attractive.
Article written by Taylor Vandiver with additional content about sanitation by Matthew Orwat