Roses are one of the most popular plants in Oklahoma gardens, and most of us have at least one rose bush in our landscapes. For those who have rose bushes, March 15 has always been a milestone each spring for pruning, but that may be too late. Our springs seem to be arriving earlier, and we often see early growth on our roses, even in late February. Here are some general guidelines for pruning.
For roses that bloom on new growth, like floribundas and many hybrid tea roses, you should prune just before they break dormancy. You can tell that it is time when you see leaf buds begin to swell. One interesting piece of advice is to prune when forsythias begin to bloom. No matter when you decide to prepare your garden roses for the coming growing season with an annual pruning, here are a few important tips about pruning these lovely flowers.
There are three primary reasons for pruning: we remove damaged and unwanted canes, promote optimum blooming and reduce the size of our plants, if it is needed. Every rose bush will benefit from pruning, no matter which type you have, because pruning also stimulates new growth. Pruning is not difficult, but be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves to avoid the thorns!
Roses have an interesting trait -- they are willing to break out buds on old wood; they often send new shoots out of old branches, even if they are very large. This is great news for the novice pruner, because it is nearly impossible to kill a rose by over-pruning. It also means that you can rejuvenate older bushes by cutting them back significantly, even nearly all the way to the ground.
First, remove winter mulch and any covering you may have on roses as soon as you see new growth on your plants, but keep them handy for quick protection just in case we get a spring freeze. Next, assess your plants for dead, diseased or damaged canes -- this is called dieback. Remember that even the hardiest roses will suffer some cane dieback, some years more than others, and it is a natural occurrence. Damaged canes will appear brown or black; cut any badly damaged or dead canes down to the base of the plant, but cut slightly damaged canes back only to healthy tissue. Be sure to cut back to an outward-facing bud so that new growth will occur toward the outside of the plant. The goal here is to ensure good air circulation around the plant, which will help prevent disease infection. Cut on a slant, which helps water run off the wound; it is generally not necessary to put anything on this pruning wound. After you make your pruning cut, the rose will direct its growth to the closest bud, and send out a new shoot.
If you have climbing roses that are ever-blooming, (they flower throughout the entire growing season,) they should need little pruning during the first few years. But, as with all roses, remove any dead or weak wood, and as the rose ages, remove the oldest, longer canes that have become unproductive. Younger canes, those that are 2-3 years old, produce the most flowers and should only be minimally cut back.
Some experts recommend that shrub roses like Knock Outs can be shaped, but should not be heavily pruned; they say to limit your pruning to removal of dead or damaged wood and thinning of excessive growth. A good rule of thumb is to prune no more than one third of the shrub.
If you follow these pruning guidelines, you will be rewarded with lovely blooms, adding beauty to your summer landscape!
Cut dead or diseased canes down to healthy tissue.
New shoots will develop on the bud just below the cut on your rose canes, just like the one on the left.
Properly pruned roses will reward with a new flush of bloom this summer.
Judy Kautz is a Cleveland County Master Gardener.