Rose pruning is such a satisfying task – you go from a tangled icky mass with thorns everywhere to a lovely clean set of sturdy stems – yet too many people are intimidated by their roses.
There’s no need to be shy! The worst thing you can do is not tackle them at all, since without pruning, the stems become too spindly to hold up roses, and the plant harbors more disease than one that is cleaned up once a year.
This quick BBC slideshow gives the basics of pruning roses.
Ready to see those concepts at work?
Check out this charming Rosarian, Muriel Humenick, in action! I agree, Muriel – down with the anvil pruners!
Climbing roses are even simpler than the Hybrid Tea roses in the video:
First take out any dead wood (it’s obvious because it is a crusty dark brown, very different from the live stems with a hint of green to them).
Then prune back any flowering or side shoots by two-thirds. The side shoots are the ones which have likely grown 2-3’ this year and are sticking out from the main body of the plant in every which way.
But what if you have a weird rose?
No worries! I promise – they’re easy, too.
Groundcover roses like the Flower Carpet line just need a quick shape-up with the hedging shears once a year. I bring them back to about 2’ around, then prune out a few of the very spindliest stems and take out anything dark brown and dead.
Don’t get caught up going for perfection here; you won’t get it. They naturally grow tangled and in every direction, and that’s OK – they are tough as nails and do great with minimal fussing.
Mini roses are pruned just like the usual Hybrid Tea roses, only more proportionate to their size. I leave a few more stems on and don’t worry about the branches being too skinny since the roses they’re supporting don’t weigh much.
Large shrub roses like ‘Sally Holmes’ (which can top 6’) get pruned much like the common Hybrid Teas.
I just leave a larger framework – 3-4’ tall – and leave more stems throughout the bush since it’s a much wider-growing plant than your average rosebush.
The same basics still apply – at the end, you should have a number of stems cut to an outward-facing bud or eye, nothing too spindly to support those big rose clusters, and each branch should be spaced out evenly so that there is good airflow and no stems rubbing or crossing each other awkwardly.
Still need some encouragement?
Dr Leda Horticulture is the hands-down funniest garden writer ever, and she tackles our fear of rose pruning head-on in this column from 2004: (Edit April 2nd – Dr Leda’s article was taken down recently, but I’m talking with Regan Nursery to see if I can reprint some of her hilarious columns here at NCG, so stay tuned!)
Never Prune Roses in the Nude
Check her out!