Pruning Rose Shrubs

To have strong, healthy roses, it is essential to learn to prune them.? Pruning is a process that continues throughout the growing season.? With new plants, pruning should be kept to a minimum.? Many rosarians remove the first blooms, allowing only the second blooms to fully develop.? Doing this gives the bush more canes and stronger growth for the summer, as well as for the remainder of the year.


When shopping for pruning shears, do not stint on price.? Poor quality shears can damage your rose bushes.? Do not buy anvil shears.? These crush the cane.? Other pruning shears go by several names:? scissors-type, hook-type, or secateurs.? The secateur type, if kept sharp, will give a clean cut.? Hold the hook edge above the cutting blade.? This way, if any of the cane is crushed, it is cut off above the blade and not left on the remainder of the cane.


On the crown, a new cane, called a basal break, may form.? This can happen throughout the year, but generally happens when the bush breaks dormancy.? On some bushes, the basal breaks may only grow to two feet tall.? On others, they may grow to four feet.? You may prefer to pinch the top out when the cane has reached a certain height, say 15-18 inches.? Doing this should make the cane more stout and encourage it to put out more canes.


On hybrid tea roses, a cluster of blooms forms from the basal breaks as well as from the new canes that break from older canes.? These form what is known as a ‘candelabra.’? Flowers produced from these canes are small and usually have short stems. ?You can prevent a candelabra by removing the side buds, which appear below the top terminal bud, just as the buds begin to grow.? Grasp the bud between the thumb and forefinger and snap it off at the leaf axil, while holding the cane just below this point with the other hand.


After the bush has bloomed, the next step is to remove the spent blooms.? This is called ‘deadheading.’? On new bushes, cut the bloom (using the pruning shears) at the stem, about one-quarter inch above the first pair of five leaflet leaves.? Some roses bushes may have two or three pairs of three-leaflet leaves below a five-leaflet leaf.? Where this is so, cut off the stem above the second pair of these leaves.)? If you want more blooms, continue this practice as your bushes grow older.? However, if you want longer stems, particularly on hybrid teas, then you should cut the stem back to the second set of five-leaflet leaves after the first cycle of blooms.


Pruning is also essential to two-year-old or older bushes.? Dead canes must be removed.? You will also need to remove damaged or broken stems what have crossed over the center of the bush and are rubbing against another cane.? First remove canes less than 3/16 of an inch in diameter.? Stems growing from pruned canes will grow no larger than the cane from which they were cut.? Prune the remaining larger canes to approximately 18 to 24 inches in height.

When a leaf drops off, or is removed, it leaves a crescent-shaped scar.? This scar produces a swelling from which a new cane will form, called a ‘bud eye.’? The first cut should be made as high as possible on the outside, or outward-facing eye.? Cutting to an outside eye gives the bush a better shape and prevents canes from growing in the center of the bush and rubbing other canes.? It also allows sun to get to the bud union, aids aeration, and keeps fungus and diseases away from the plant.? Depending on the plants health, you will want to retain 3-6 young canes.


When pruning, be sure to check the pith, or center, of the canes you are cutting.? If the pith is white, your cane is healthy.? If your pith is brown, cut a little more off the top, continuing until you have a white center.? Some rosarians will not cut all the way to the white center, especially after a severe winter.? Instead, they cut back to a bud eye where the center is slighly colored, or a very light tan.


After pruning, be sure to protect against borers, by sealing the cut cane.? Several things may be used:?? fingernail polish, Elmer’s glue, carbolated vaseline, or a tree-wound compound.


When pruning is finished, the bush should form a bowl, with the canes radiating from the center like spokes from a wheel. This leaves the center open to sunlight during the year and encourages basal breaks? from the bud union.? Prune out all poorly growing basal canes.? Canes that grow on the inside can be left if they are not rubbing or crossing other canes.? If a bush is spreading too much, cut it back to an inner eye.? This causes the new cane to grow straight up.


Unwanted eyes may grow in the wrong place, the wrong direction, or too close together.? If you remove them early enough, you can rub them off with your thumb (this is called ‘thumb pruning’ because you do not use shears).


Always clean up all debris and old leaves to keep diseases from spreading.? It is a good idea to spray the bushes and ground with fungicide at this time, to kill any dangerous fungus spores present.


Coming March 15 – Pruning Climbing Roses

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Starting Your Rose Garden


Do not plant rose shrubs too close to existing trees and other shrubs. Roses need at least six hours of full sunlight per day and close proximity to trees and shrubs may interfere with this need. If there is a choice between morning or afternoon shade, afternoon shade is more beneficial. Morning shade slows the evaporation of moisture which can cause various fungi that roses are susceptible to. Afternoon shade protects from too much heat and drying of the soil.


Neutral pH is 7, the pH for pure water. A higher number indicates a more basic soil, and a lower number indicates a more acidic soil.?Roses prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. They will grow, however, in slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 7.5. A pH of 6.0 is also tolerable.

Your local garden center can help you to determine your soil type and can advise you on how to increase or decrease your pH level. To raise your pH level, you can add agricultural lime or dolomitic limestone. To decrease your pH level, you can add sulfur. Always be sure to mix your additive into the soil well, preferably with a garden tiller.


Roses will tolerate many kinds of soil, but poor drainage and lack of aeration will cause your plants to weaken and die.

If winters in your area are damp, and the springs are very wet, it is advisable to wrap your rose beds in plastic in the fall. Doing this will keep the bed dry enough for planting in the spring.


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