Pruning roses takes no special skills or equipment

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Pruning a rose bush need not be complicated. The rose, after all, is just another flowering shrub, albeit one that inspires poets and painters, the formation of societies, and an undue amount of words on "special" pruning needs. Despite the fanfare, a rose responds to pruning as does any other shrub.

Most roses do need annual pruning, and the reasons are to keep them healthy and shapely, floriferous, and within bounds. To this end, always cut away misplaced wood, including stems that are trailing on the ground, stems that are rubbing together, and stems that are overcrowded. Also cut away spindly stems and cut back any stem that is either diseased or winter-killed, until you see healthy, white pith.

Major pruning of the most commonly grown roses -- hybrid teas and floribundas -- begins early in the season. Each rose stem grows, flowers, then gets decrepit, so prune to annually renew the bush over time. New wood, originating low in the plant, replaces old wood, which you periodically cut away. The number of young stems might also need to be reduced if they crowd each other.

Flowers of floribunda roses are born on both new shoots and on old stems, with the old stems bearing the first flowers of the season and the young shoots bearing the later flowers. Prune to preserve some new and some old stems. Shorten the older stems to about a foot, occasionally removing some of the very oldest ones completely. Prune young stems moderately, shortening them by about a third. Cut back any remaining branches to 6 inches.

Hybrid Tea roses produce long-stemmed, large blossoms, singly or in small clusters, throughout the growing season. The more drastically you prune, the fewer, the larger, and the later the blossoms, and the smaller the plant. Shorten thinnest stems the most, to about 6 inches. Shorten thick stems to 12 inches or more. Throughout summer, go over your bush to remove flowers.

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