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Back to How To....    |   How To Prune Roses

Pruning your roses is easy, but it's like so many things in life, you need to do it regularly, every year in fact, to see results.

In the last few years, I have seen some people just shear their roses about half way down and leave it at that. The problem with doing this is that you have not removed old dead wood, or suckers, or cleaned out built up debris, and in time, I think, you compromise the health of your plants and the quality of your flowers.

So skip the short cuts, and prune your roses properly and you'll be rewarded with really gorgeous flowers.

The following steps will help you properly prune any of the bush or standard roses such as hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas.

1. Wait Until Your Roses Are Dormant

The climate where the following pictures were taken is very moderate, so roses rarely go into a full dormancy or completely lose their leaves. These roses have, however, been through several hard frosts, are in a slow-growth mode, and ready to be pruned back.

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2. Clean All Debris Away From Plants

Clear away grass and leaves, anything that might harbor insects and diseases.

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3. Remove Dead, Old Dieased Wood

Start by cutting out all dead wood and all canes that are diseased or damaged. Any canes that are old and striated (showing deep furrows) also need to be removed.

Open the bush up by removing all branches that cross through the center. Cut out very thin canes, and remove any branches that cross or rub together.

Keep the nice green healthy canes.

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4. Don't Keep Green Canes On Old Wood

Here is an example of new canes growing out of an old, striated cane. Remove any cane like this. Keep only new green canes that are growing out of the bud union.

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5. Make Flush Cuts

When removing an entire cane, make the cut as flush as you can to the bud union. If you leave a stub, it can die back into the bud union allowing entry for disease and pests.

You may need to use a tree saw to get the final flush cut.

As the center starts to open up, remove any leaves or debris to keep insects and diseases at a minimum.

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6. Cut To a Leaf Bud

Make all cuts above a leaf bud that points towards the outside of the plant.

Make all cuts clean. Try not to make any ragged cuts, as this will allow insects and disease into the plant and open it up to infection.

Always prune to a healthy bud. Make sure your cut is at a 45 degree angle going away from the bud.

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7. Cut Just Above The Bud

Always cut just above the bud. You don't want to cut it too close or too far away. If you cut it too closely, the bud is damaged, if you cut too far away, you can have die back and possible disease.

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8. Cut Surface Should be White Not Brown

If it is brown, cut back further until the plant tissue is white and healthy.

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9. Remove Any Suckers

These are long, slender, flexible canes that originate from below the bud union. If you find a sucker pull it down and off the plant. If you just cut it off, any undeveloped growth eyes left at the sucker's base will just produce more suckers in the future

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10. Go For Vase Shape

Your goal is to have an opened-centered bush when you are done and your plant has a "Vase Shape."

That vase shape might be very wide or narrow, depending on the plant. Both final plant pictures below show correctly pruned rose bushes.

Sometimes a perfect Vase Shape cannot be achieved because of what needs to be removed,
but keep in mind that the vase shape is what you are after and do the best you can.

You should now have only healthy stems, with an open center.

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11. Final Plant Height

Moderate Prune:
Cut back the stems that are left to one third their length, this is considered a moderate prune. A moderate prune is shown here, and it what is recommended for nearly all established bush and standard roses in regular soil.

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12. Final Plant Height

Hard Prune:
You can prune it back even harder so that only 3 or 4 buds are left from the base of the plant, but that is recommended only for newly-planted bush roses, or is sometimes used for established roses grown only for the production of exhibition flowers. Hard pruning can rejuvenate old and neglected roses, but you are better off with moderate pruning.

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13. To Finish

You should paint all cuts with a sealing compound because the plant is not actively growing and can't defend itself as well against diseases and pests. If you want to make sure your plants stay healthy, painting the cuts takes just a few minutes.

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14. You're Done

In the spring when the plants begin to break dormancy, give them some fertilizer to help them get ready to flower.

Keeping your roses pruned properly every year will ensure healthy plants, and big, beautiful, fragrant flowers, which is why you have roses to begin with!

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The writer is a professional landscaper who has written for gardening publications such as "Seed Trade News" and "Houseplant Magazine". She also has been a professional public speaker and educator in the gardening industry for over 20 years sharing gardening information and tips to as many people as she can.

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