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Spring Pruning Roses 101…..An Annual Ritual


By: Richard J. Anthony

The timing of spring pruning in the Tenarky district is predicated on where you live as well as weather conditions in your specific microclimate. The tried and true rule of thumb is that when the Forsythia blooms, it is time to prune your roses. This typically occurs sometime between early to mid-March to early April with rosarians in Memphis pruning as much as two weeks before rose growers in Nashville. Pruning too early is not recommended as pruning stimulates growth. If you do prune too early you may inadvertently cause your roses to suffer from dieback beyond where the rose was cut back to initially if a freeze is experienced. This happens when the bud-eyes push out new tender growth that is killed by freezing temperatures. Cutting sometime after the optimum time to prune your roses is typically not an issue as you will easily be able to see where the new growth emanates from.

The most important aspect of pruning is that of pruning shears or secateurs which more often than not are either categorized as by-pass or anvil pruners. Bypass pruners are similar to a pair of scissors with the anvil counterpart having a straight blade that strikes against a fixed surface that may or may not have a slot in it where the blade hits. While anvil style pruning shears are typically much less expensive than bypass pruners, we do not recommend your using them; the reason being is that anvil shears tend to crush the canes rather than cut the cane plus they do not stay as sharp as bypass pruners do. Lopper’s, which are very large by-pass type pruners may be necessary for canes over an inch or more thick.

Ideally, all experienced as well as new rosarians will use a good high quality pair of bypass pruners. We have tried many different types of bypass pruners and highly recommend either Felco or Corona brand: both are very good at maintaining alignment and keeping a sharp blade for a very long time. Both brands offer replacement blades which should be considered after a year or so of pruning. The websites are highlighted below along with friends that would be pleased to satisfy your pruning needs……………
http://www.felcostore.com or http://coronaclipper.com and to shop at our friends………..
http://rosemania.com or http://www.harlane.com

Chances are if you ask three different rosarians about how they prune their roses you just might get three different versions for accomplishing the same objective. For all intents and purposes there are two schools of thoughts regarding pruning roses; some advocate light pruning while others strongly encourage hard pruning. Many exhibitors and most of our northern neighbors are proponents of hard pruning either to promote stronger but fewer canes which will often result in bigger blooms or as a result of winter die back in the Northern regions. Other rosarians that advocate light pruning typically support the theory of building the bush. Both methods typically work just fine and it is suggested that you might want to experiment trying both to see what works best for you.

In some areas of the country, winter more often than not will determine for you just how much your rose bush will need to be pruned. A cold harsh winter with severe and frequent temperature swings may tend to suggest very hard pruning down to 2 or 3 inches from the bud union or graft but if your microclimate does not render severe die back to your roses, you might want to consider removing one third to one half of your bush. No matter how much you cut off of your bush it will grow back. Cutting back your rose bush will rejuvenate the plant and make your rose enjoyment that much more.

In addition to a good pair of pruning shears, it is highly recommended that you wear long sleeve clothing and a good pair of leather gloves when pruning as prickles will work their way through cotton gloves with ease. Pruning large roses like Hybrid Teas, Floribundas and most OGR’s is not rocket science but, it does involve a few common sense tactics. It is common to eliminate all canes that are less than pencil thickness and to cut out completely any canes that are diseased or damaged leaving about six strong healthy canes that you can begin to prune. Your purpose should be twofold; rid the bush of thin spindly growth and to open up the center of the bush. If you have four to six canes growing out from the bud union and one or two right in the middle you might want to excise the center canes as they will curtail air circulation once the bush begins to grow and leaf out. The actual pruning cut should be made about a quarter inch above a bud-eye and approximate a 45 degree angle as it slants away from the bud-eye. The logic for slanting away from the bud-eye is that rain will flow away as opposed to flowing over the bud-eye itself. Keep in mind that the cut area of the cane should be completely white; if there is brown or a hole in the cane find another outward facing bud-eye and keep pruning until the hole is removed is completely white.

As I mentioned earlier, pruning large roses is definitely not rocket science and it is almost impossible to harm a rose bush by pruning. You might want to consider dipping your pruning shears in a weal bleach solution to disinfect them after each cane is cut especially if your garden was hit hard by black spot or another fungal disease the prior Fall. Do I do this………….NO, but keep in mind that I grow over 1,000 rose bushes so I look for economy of scale as much as possible. I also am not overly concerned about an outward facing bud-eye and I do not seal the end of each cane with Elmer’s Glue or Clear Nail Polish after cutting either but perhaps I should be. One thing I do not skip is to spray all of my roses prior to the bud-eyes pushing out with a Lime Sulfur spray. I have found from trial and error that doing this really aids you in having disease free roses all year long when combined with a regular weekly spray program of alternating systemic and site specific chemicals in your spray program.

Pruning miniature, miniflora and polyantha roses is very similar to pruning large roses. Your objective when cutting for the Spring cut back of smaller roses should be to remove all signs of diseased canes along with dead as well as spindly canes that are too thin to support queen quality blooms. Obviously, all crossing or rubbing canes should be cut out. Canes that are thicker than a pencil are ideal for the smaller roses and should be kept. My suggestion…….if in doubt remove it.

Climbing roses are unique in that they tend to bloom off of seasoned wood. As such, your spring pruning of Climbers and once blooming OGR’s should only be directed towards anything that is diseased or obviously dead wood. Other pruning should occur after the bush flowers. Another thing to consider and this is advocated by a few top exhibitors is to selectively remove one third to one half of all canes each year affording the bush an opportunity to rejuvenate itself with healthy vigorous canes capable of producing award winning blooms. One final note is to spray your roses after pruning and to continue to do so regularly. It is alright to miss a day due to rain but do not miss a regular spray and keep in mind that in order for your spray material to maintain effectiveness it is necessary to alternate spray material. I use Banner Maxx and Compass and always include the powder equivalent of Mancozeb in each weekly spray. This assures me of having healthy plants that are disease free.



Are You Ready To Exhibit?……It All Begins with Planning Thank You!!!!!!!!!
Are You Ready To Exhibit?……It All Begins with Planning
Thank You!!!!!!!!!

Comments to “Spring Pruning Roses 101…..An Annual Ritual”


  1. In South Carolina, minis/minifloras grown on fortuniana root stocks are a spring pruning challenge. Follow the H.T. guidelines and remove all shoots smaller-than-a-pencil girth and reduce height down to say, 2 ft– and all you will get in the spring will be many candelabras and sprays (which will give you a beautiful spring cycle) with very few to no blooms to show!
    If you let the bush be quite tall and prune lightly, you will have a lot of blooms on reasonable stems. But you have to do a drastic cut-down following the spring blooming cycle. Then the bushes will put forth a lot of new canes and sprays, which will be ready for a light pruning for the fall shows.