Home Grounds Blog

​Q. Last fall, I purchased a home with a very beautiful, established landscape.  While I am pretty confident about my abilities to tend to most of these plants, I have two prominent areas that contain a plant whose care is totally foreign to me – roses.  SO, with that said, I could use some help with rose maintenance tips, most specifically, pruning.  Can you tell me the when’s and how’s of proper rose pruning? 

101_3696.JPGA. Caring for roses may seem like a daunting task, but don’t get discouraged.  In my opinion, this plant is definitely worth any additional effort that it may require.

Pruning roses improves the size, quality, and color of blooms, and should be done after the danger of frost is over.  In our area, that is typically in late February or early March.  However, don’t sharpen your pruners just yet.  Before you get started, it is important to know exactly what type of rose you have because the amount of pruning varies with the variety. With that said, however, the first pruning of any rose, no matter the type, should remove dead, damaged, or weak growth. 

Pruning can also regulate the number of flowers produced. Leave longer canes if more flowers are desired. If large show-type blooms are desired, cut back to a few canes and head the remaining ones back to 12 to 14 inches above the ground. 

Now, let’s discuss specific types.  We will start with hybrid teas.  As referenced earlier, any canes killed by canes killed by cold, diseases, and insects should be removed first. Next remove all suckers growing below the graft union. Cut all the remaining canes back to 12 to 15 inches above ground or to a bud 1 inch below any damaged part of the cane. Be aware of any cold damage or disease cankers. Cold damage will appear as a browning of the stem and, most often, a brown pith or center of the cane. Cuts should be ¼ inch above a bud and made at a 45-degree angle. On most varieties, it is best to cut to an outside bud.  This action encourages growth away from the center of the plant, thereby increasing air movement and light penetration within the canopy. 

Floribundas and grandifloras are treated a little differently.  These roses should not be pruned as heavily as hybrid teas. Often these roses grow to a considerable height and produce more blooms. Cut back an inch below any darkened area to remove any dead and diseased wood. The entire branch should be removed if it is badly diseased or dead. Three to five strong, healthy canes should be left.  Next, any canes having weak growth or those growing toward the center of the plant should be removed. Any remaining canes should be cut 18 to 24 inches above the ground, depending upon the plant’s vigor.

What about KnockOut™ Roses?  This type of rose grows vigorously, so you may prune just as vigorously.  In fact, KnockOut™ roses can be pruned by one-third to one-half, and will flourish the following growing season.  Because of this energetic growth habit, it is recommended to prune them back to about two feet below the height that you want them to reach during the next period of growth.  To maintain a more uniform appearance, you can prune these roses for shaping purposes throughout the growing season. 

The last type of rose to be mentioned is the climbing rose.  Many of these roses bloom in early spring and need pruning at the end of flowering. Any new canes that have developed should be left since these will produce flowers the next year. Cut all old canes back to the ground immediately after flowering.  Some varieties of climbers will continue to bloom throughout the growing season. These varieties produce new canes from old canes rather than from the base of the plant. It is best to leave five or six strong healthy canes and o remove the older canes at the ground. Sometimes these remaining canes produce heavy branching. To control growth and encourage flowering, these lateral branches should be kept headed back. Faded flower clusters should be removed too.

Now, there is one more point to mention.  No matter the type of rose or the pruning time, it is imperative to properly disinfect your pruning tools.  Be sure to wipe the cutting surface with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution.  This is your first line of defense in decreasing spread of disease. 

I hope this information is helpful.  Happy Gardening! 

written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  For answers to these and other garden questions, call the Helpline at 877-252-4769 (877-ALA-GROW).


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