(Originally published in the Sonoma County Gazette - link no longer available)
Did you miss the window of time to prune your roses while they were dormant? Was the reason because it was cold outside, wet and generally inhospitable? Did you simply run out of time? Or perhaps you are in the fine company of just about every other person who has roses in their garden: Rose pruning is scary!! Scary, as in being called to the Principal's office scary! Like the Principle, the reputation of the rose is Intimidating!
Maybe you're afraid of the thorns or that once you prune it, the rose will not make any flowers or that you'll accidentally kill the whole plant. Perhaps you tell yourself that you just won't do it "right" and therefore you will not try at all. Sound familiar?
Would you believe me if I said that roses are one of the hardiest and most forgiving of plants? It's true! Roses want to grow and they want to bloom for you. Here is the best news: you can still get out there and prune your roses, even if they have already started to push new growth. Maybe seasoned gardeners will groan at this last sentence, but better to do some pruning now than to let your rose do what it wants to do.
All pruning is a conversation between you and the plant. The plant says, "I want to grow this way" and you say, "Here's some guidance from my pruners so you'll grow this way instead." Once you learn how to prune your roses, you'll be delighted and proud of the results!
Start your conversation by finding and removing all the dead parts of your rose; this could be small stems that have died or larger branches, remove them. Even if this is the only pruning you do right now, your rose will already be healthier and look better!
Next, move on to removing any damaged stems (pruning down to undamaged wood or removing the stem completely). Now, look closely and notice where you have stems that are crossing each other; remove one of the crossing stems, leaving the stem that is growing in the most desirable direction. For crossing stems, you may be able to cut one of the stems shorter (instead of removing it completely) to guide the new growth away from the crossing section.
Finally, look for diseased looking stems. First, a note about diseased wood on your rose-sometimes a rose will keep giving you lots of blooms even though it is diseased and if you removed allthe diseased wood, you'd have no rose left. At some point though you may need to discard this diseased rose for a more disease resistant variety. Diseased wood usually looks discolored and/or parts of the stems are sunken in and even oozing. When you remove diseased wood, use alcohol to spray your pruners before the final cut on that stem so you do not spread the disease to healthy parts of your plant.
Part of the intimidation of rose pruning is that you may have heard that pruning roses is "easy" but when you've tried pruning in the past, knowing how to make the cuts did not feel "easy" at all! Learning anything new is not easy at first, that's the challenge. Forge ahead! This is where the forgiveness of the rose comes into play; even if your first attempts at pruning include some, "Oops" your rose will most likely still grow and bloom for you (at worst, you'll delay the flowering).
Observation is key to successful pruning. You will learn so much by coming back to look at your pruning cuts and what growth they have encouraged or discouraged.* Pruning of roses is an ongoing event (usually after each flush of blooms). Generally, here in Sonoma County roses only need a break from pruning after the final August or September pruning so that they can go dormant for winter.
Some of you may have noticed I have not talked about keeping your pruners sharpened, pruning to an outward facing bud, angling pruning cuts away from the buds, finger pruning or other details of pruning roses and you would be right. **
The intention here is to demystify the intimidation factor involved in pruning roses. My hope is that more people will have the courage now to overcome their trepidation and have that conversation with their roses!
*Remember, when you are trying to encourage plants to grow you need to be sure they are watered regularly after pruning.
A Few Tips for Training Climbing Roses
(Climbing Roses Have Different Growth and Bloom Habits than Bush Roses)
'Double Delight' Rose