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Pruning Roses for Health and Beauty

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Roses look better and tend to grow healthier when they’re pruned correctly. Here’s how to prune the most popular types of roses.

pruning roses

WHY should you prune a rosebush? To remove diseased canes and deadwood caused by winterkill; to shape plants and open up their structure to allow in more sunlight; or to keep them from looking like a tangled mess. WHEN should you prune a rosebush? The best time is in early spring, before buds open. Exceptions: Prune dead or diseased canes at any time (disinfect pruners with a 10-percent bleach solution between cuts). Also, wait to prune old garden roses (which bloom on the previous year’s growth) until they finish flowering.

four pruned rose stems

WHERE TO MAKE THE CUT: Three of these four stems show an improper cut. From left to right: The first is a rough cut that won’t seal easily; the second is badly angled, directing water toward the bud; the third shows a cut made too far from the bud, leaving a large portion of the stem to eventually die back. The fourth stem is pruned correctly -- the cut is located within 1/4 inch of the bud and angled in the opposite direction.

deadheading spent blooms

DEADHEADING: Deadheading -- or removing faded flowers -- is done from late spring to early fall. Cut back to a strong, outward-facing stem, preferably one with five leaflets. The plant will look neater and the cut will encourage new growth and even repeat blooming on some varieties.

pruning inner branches and suckers

GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS: In spring, before new growth starts, remove dead, damaged, and diseased stems. It’s also a good time to repair any structural issues, such as stems that are growing inward, crossing, or rubbing against each other. In summer, remove any suckers (stray shoots arising from the base of the plant).

cutting modern rose back by half; before

PRUNING MODERN ROSES: So-called modern roses are grandifloras, floribundas, and hybrid teas. Each spring, remove one-third to one-half of the plant’s height. This will cause the plant to put out healthy new growth covered with blooms. On old-time roses that bloom on older canes (such as species roses), wait to prune until after flowering.

cutting modern rose back by half; after

And here’s what a modern rose looks like after pruning.

Trimming outer stems and removing old wood of shrub rose; before

PRUNING SHRUB ROSES: Shrub roses are popular due to their disease resistance and easy maintenance. That easy maintenance carries over to pruning, too. Shrub roses generally don’t need much pruning, other than removing weak, spindly, or old stems. Lightly prune outer stems in early spring to maintain a compact size. On old shrub roses with a crowded habit, remove thick, older stems that are no longer productive.

Trimming outer stems and removing old wood of shrub rose; after

Here’s what a shrub rose looks like after being thinned out.

Pruning climbing rose; before

PRUNING CLIMBING ROSES: Leave newly planted climbers alone for the first two or three years, tying stems to supports as the plant grows. Climbing roses bloom on stems that are two years old, so aim to keep a balance of new and old wood to ensure current and future blooming. Pruning climbers is best done in fall so that you can easily recognize both new and old growth.

Pruning climbing rose; after

Here is a climbing rose after pruning.

Pruning rambling rose; before

PRUNING RAMBLING ROSES: As with climbers, avoid heavy pruning the first two or three years so that plants can become established. Let canes grow freely the first year, then tie them to supports at the start of the second growing season. In early spring of the third year, remove at ground level all canes that bloomed the previous season. Leave new growth in place to supply this year’s flower show. Repeat annually.

Pruning rambling rose; after

Here’s what a rambling rose looks like after being cut back.

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