It’s Time to Prune the Roses

If you were to ask me why I enjoy pruning my roses more than any other shrub in the garden I wouldn’t have a good answer. The job is challenging and you rarely get through it without getting scratched and stabbed by thorns, but there is no plant whose appearance is more determined by how well it is pruned. The art and science of pruning roses has its rewards in the beauty of the blooms and the shape of the bush.

This bush is ready for pruning. Note its height and the number of canes and branches.

This is the time to do it…mid April (or earlier if the last frost comes sooner in your area). The goal is to end up with a plant that is one third to one half shorter and which has four to five sturdy, healthy canes that take the form of an urn. For older plants, this may be difficult because there are fewer healthy canes to choose from and the most you can do is to leave the best of what you find.

The process is simple. First, remove the dead, damaged, and diseased canes and those that cross and rub against others. These canes should be cut right down to the ground. Then cut down all remaining canes. Now you can step back and assess the shape of the bush. Remove weaker canes and those growing in the center until your bush looks more like an urn. That is all there is to it. Oh yes, one more thing. When you shorten the canes, make the cuts just above an outward facing bud (which may already be leafing out) and at a slight angle.

The same bush after it was pruned.

To finish your spring rose chores, break down and spread the mulch “volcanoes” used to protect the plant’s roots during winter and put down a good 10-10-10 fertilizer at the drip line. You may also want to add some Epsom salts (magnesium makes the canes stronger) and a systemic insecticide, especially one that protects against thrips.

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