In most cases, the best time to prune roses is late winter. The specific time recommended by most rosarians is mid February. During this time, the last frost supposedly has past thus avoiding cold damage. In reality, more freezing weather can happen after this date, especially in the north. Others offer that pruning shouldn’t begin until the buds have begun to swell in the early spring.
In my opinion, the timing isn’t that critical and roses can be pruned whenever the need is there. Roses are much tougher than many people think. For maximum individual flower size on certain varieties, the late winter pruning may help, but I prune my roses whenever I have time and whenever the need it – and they do very well.
Here are some basic guidelines for bush roses whenever you do the work. Begin by pruning out and removing dead and damaged canes. They are usually shriveled, blackened or just brown in appearance. In contrast, a live healthy cane will be green outside with a cream or green color in the center of the cane. If only part of the cane is damaged, try to prune as close to the bud union as possible removing only the injured tissue. Use good pruning shears and if you clean between cuts or between bushes, use hydrogen peroxide, not bleach.
On grafted plants, which most the hybrids are, suckers can be a problem. Suckers are new plants growing up from the roots of the old plant (host plant). If left alone, they will suck vital nutrients from the host plant and hinder its growth process and they will be different plants than the tops of the bushes. Prune any remaining canes that are thinner than a pencil, cross or rub against each other. Crossing or rubbing of canes creates spots where diseases can get started.
For the canes to be left, select four to six canes and prune to create the desired shape, leaving anywhere from one to four feet of cane depending on personal preference.
For old roses, the process is quite different. These are roses that are growing on their own roots. All I recommend for these roses is to prune for size and shape. You can carefully pi-prune or shear the plants. Climbing roses, whether hybrids or antiques can be managed this same way.
The bottom line is that roses are tough and much easier to manage than many people think. I recommend everybody plant some and of course use the natural organic program. Here are the details on the overall program. Organic Rose Program LINK. If you run into any serious disease issue, here’s the newsletter I did on curing rose rosette. click here
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