Rose Pruning - Getting Started
In horticulture, pruning is the removal of plant growth to maintain the health of the plant, to control its size, to produce more fruit or blooms or to modify its shape or the direction in which it grows. Pruning roses covers the broad spectrum of maintenance duties from removing only dead blooms (deadheading) to disbudding (reducing the number of buds to increase bloom size) to excising maverick canes which may ruin appearance and can encourage disease by chafing, to the Three Ds of cutting out dead, damaged or diseased canes. The governing principle of rose pruning is to increase light and air circulation and reduce disease by opening up the plant's center.
Successful pruning depends on proper tools, good timing, knowledge of the cultivars to be pruned and finally, practice. Of these, only the tools will represent a significant expense. Common sense either genetic or acquired will take care of the others. Now for a brief survey of each.
Pruning shears (secateurs), lopping shears and a pruning saw are the cutting instruments essential to rose pruning regardless of other devices which promise "carefree" pruning. The best quality available will ultimately prove to be the most economical. The largest, most comfortable-to-handle hook-and-blade pruning shears (also known as curved bypass shears) will be the most useful for rose culture. Avoid anvil shears which can crush stems thus making them vulnerable to insects and disease. Long-handled, heavy-duty, short-bladed lopping shears are needed to cut the
thick canes of old garden roses and climbers. When loppers are inadequate, use a large-toothed pruning saw with a long, curved blade. Think of these as surgeons' knives which must be kept very sharp and clean. Dirty blades can cause serious rose disease. The old practice of pruning rose plants to 6 or 8 inches after a hard freeze is no longer recommended. Before winterizing, prune out only those canes which are diseased or injuring other canes. Leave the rest of the pruning until spring unless it is necessary to shorten canes so they will not whip in the wind.
Here in the Midwest, April 15 has about a 50% chance of marking the late freeze which often destroys the roses which easily survived the winter. Established bushes should remain in their winter cover at least until the end of March unless they can easily be re-covered. If weather permits, roses may be pruned from the beginning of April.