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A rosarian friend once told me that miniature roses could be pruned with a lawnmower. Probably so but not recommended! All roses love and need a haircut. Removing the older, crisscrossed canes or twiggy growth strengthens plants and helps with disease protection.  The plant can breathe better, has added energy for more blooms. Circulation of air and sunlight do two things:  allow leaves and canes to dry better; plus,  spraying is easier when plants are not too thick.

What tools are needed for pruning roses?  Very sharp  by-pass pruners such as Felco ,  a  small pruning saw, large scissor pruners,  sharp pruning pole (Fiscars is great for thick canes as well as trees or shrubs). Do use long rose gloves for protection. Have ready either stick glue or wood glue to apply to cut canes.

When to begin pruning? Some say “When the forsythia blooms” usually later February or early March. Great if you only have a few plants to prune. But, if you have large numbers to do before warm weather,you can start anytime after two “killing frosts” or 28 degree weather has occurred in  early December. It’s okay to begin in early winter. Plants are dormant. Annie Owen, a Consulting Rosarian  in the Nashville Rose Society, has been a wonderful friend and advisor to me about pruning all those other kinds of roses. She knows her stuff so I will share her suggestions.  Large climbers or shrubs can be at risk with too much growth. Canes can mutilate each other with thorns that tear other canes’ “flesh”. It is best to remove the old or diseased canes in early winter before winds cause that to happen. Besides, limiting canes  puts more power into the roots. Bigger blooms, more blossoms. Choose the newer green canes to keep.

Before you begin pruning, know your roses! Once blooming old garden roses or climbers should never be pruned until after blooming in spring. Otherwise, the buds will have been cut off.  Pruning is done differently on climbers and ramblers than shrubs.  Why prune at all? For the health of the plant as forementioned. Also,we prune to reduce the size, to keep the rose under control, and to make it manageable for handling. No yearly pruning equals massive overgrown canes. Too much growth means the energy goes into cane production rather than blooms.  Spraying is almost impossible. You are in charge! Gain control of that Austin or Musk. Keep it in line by reducing its size late winter and again in late August if needed. You will be rewarded!

You are ready to begin the cutback. First, use a hand claw to gently pull back the winterizing material around the plant. Don’t forget to replace it after you are finished with that rose.  Beware of harming new basal breaks appearing from roots that are growing. Stand back and look at the total plant. Decide which canes to take off.  Remove those canes using whichever tool is best for each cane.
Also take off twiggy non-productive growth, usually anything less than the width of a pencil. Always prune canes to an outward facing bud node. Let’s consider particulars about the different varieties:

Shrubs (old, new, modern,  Bucks, etc.): the rule of thumb is to remove one-third of the existing canes each year plus one-third of the top growth. Use guidelines above.  Every 2-3 years, cut once blooming old shrubs  (OGR)  drastically to strengthen plant.

Climbers (ramblers, pillars): Know which ones bloom on old wood, new wood or both. You can tell from cane patterns. Do not prune off possible blooms . Wait until after the first flush of blooms. Then, get plant down to proper size.
Whether vertical on an arbor or horizonal in V-shaped layers on a fence, look at number of main canes. Remove old, crisscrossed or diseased wood first. Then re-tie canes spread out in the best pattern for air, sun and bloom space.
Use small hand-pruners to trim each “vertical” growth on cane to 2-3 bud nodes or apx. 6 inches. After each flush of seasonal blooms (3-4 May thru Oct.), continue to prune back those verticals for mass flower production.
Vertical climbers perform better if main canes are limited to 4-6. Otherwise, there will be two shrubs on either side of your arbor when you meant for canes to join at the top of arbor! Learn from my mistakes! Happy pruning!

Questions? Call me at 865-690-7281 or E-mail:

Peggy Tippens
ARS Consulting Rosarian , Master Gardener

* Article does not address Ht., Fl, Gr. Roses of usual pruning presentations.