In the Central Valley, roses can be pruned in January and into mid February. For our area this is the time the roses are the most dormant. During the dormant period the roses have been storing all of their nutrients for the new growing season. Therefore by pruning at the end of the dormant period the bushes are encouraged to start their new growth for the new season. Pruning roses helps encourage new canes to develop which you want to produce the best floweres. Pruning also controls the growth of the plant which can be beneficial if you want height control.
You will need some basic equipment for pruning. Some type of gloves are neded for protecting your hands from canes
and thorns. If you have large rose bushes and climbing roses you will want to have two sizes of pruning shears. A small pair
will take care of most canes on floribundas, grandifloras and hybrid teas. Larger shears will be needed for climbing roses and bushes that have larger, older canes. The shears need to be
sharpened by using either a file or whet stone. Shears that are not sharpened will not give a clean cut. Canes that have a clean cut will heal over faster. A small, folding hand saw can be used to get hard to reach canes.
Objectives of Rose Pruning
The objectives when pruning roses are to cut out all dead wood, remove older canes and shape and shorten the bush. This will encourage new canes and give you the choice of how tall or short you want your bush.
Generally people want hybrid tea roses to have large flowers so hybrid tea bushes would be pruned leaving less canes-usually 3-5 canes coming from the bud union. Floribunda roses are usually planted for their abundance of bloom and when pruning them you would leave more canes for more flower production but smaller flowers.
Standard roses or tree roses can grow very tall by the end
of the season. Canes on tree roses need to be pruned back to 12-18 inches from the bud union. They can even be pruned back shorter if you want the bush to stay shorter. Leave more canes for more, smaller flowers and less canes for less but larger flowers. Tree roses have two grafts on the bud union. This means that both sides of the bush has canes to make a better shaped plant. Usually six canes centered around the bud union
will give the bush a round shape and lots of bloom.
Shrub and grandiflora bushes are pruned using a combination of both methods described above. Grandiflora
roses have more flowers than a hybrid tea but the blooms are
smaller, so you may want to leave more canes than if pruning a
hybrid tea. Shrub roses have become very popular for landscaping. There are planted for their blooming ability and would be pruned with more canes for producing more flowers.
Shrub roses have many different heights, so the length of the canes will be determined in how tall you want it in your landscape.
Old garden roses that bloom only once a year should have had their main pruning done after their bloom in May or June. Now you can prune out dead canes and shape the bush lightly. For other old garden rose that bloom more than once, they can be pruned now like the modern shrub roses.
Miniature roses can be pruned like hybrid teas or floribundas
but it is a lot of work if you have a lot of miniatures. You can prune miniatures easier by simply using electric shears or a weed
eater by cutting them back to the desired height. Miniatures grow from 6 inches to four feet tall, depending on the variety.
But you can keep them short by pruning them shorter. If you use this method of pruning you should still prune out all dead wood
and as much growth in the center to keep it open with hand shears. For more blooms, leave more canes with side branching and for less but larger blooms leave less canes without side branching.
Climbing roses are pruned differently than other roses. If you don't have climbing roses secured horizontally along a fence or support you can do that now. Climbing roses bloom at their highest point, so if your climbers only have canes vertically secured you will only get blooms on the top of the canes. By securing the canes horizontally you can get bloom along the length of the canes.
Climbing roses are pruned similar to the way grapes are pruned. It is called spuring. When secured horizontally, canes
will grow upward along the length of the cane where they are bud eyes. When pruning, cut back these vertical canes to about six to ten inches leaving three or four bud eyes. By leaving several vertical canes along the length of the horizontal cane, you will get bloom along the cane. Two or three canes secured horizontally on each side of the bud union should give enough bloom. Sometimes it takes two years for climbing roses to produce flowers. So if you dont' get bloom the first year give the bush another year.
In most parts of the Central Valley by the end of the blooming season the rose bushes have gotten tall. To make it easier to
see what canes you're going to prune cut the top of the rose bush down to about four feet. Now you can see how many canes you have and decide which ones you will leave and which ones you will cut out. You will want to keep the newer canes and cut out the older canes. Older canes will look more brown and sometimes have graining like tree bark. The newer canes have a smoother look and will be more green in color. Cut out the older canes to the bud union leaving no stubs. The number of canes and side branching off of the canes will be determined by how you want your bush to bloom. The height you leave the canes is determined how you want the bush to grow in your landscape.
In the picture below you can see how tall roses can grow in the Central Valley. When the pruning is finished on these roses they will be from two to three feet tall. I will have an "after" picture
for you to see later in the month. I will also have more "before" and "after" pictures to let you see that even if roses grow six to eight feet tall, you can prune them back to two to three feet and you still will have lots of bloom and growth.
When cutting back the canes cut about 1/4 inch above an outside eye on the cane at a 45 degree angle with the high side of the cut on the outside of the cane. By cutting to an outside bud eye new growth will grow to the outside of the bush. You do not want to prune to inside bud eyes as new growth will
grow to the inside of the plant. If there are any canes in the center of the bush they aso need to be removed. You want to keep the inside of the bush open and free from growth to let air circulate through the bush. This can help to prevent fungus diseases by giving the plant good air circulation. When you finish pruning you ideally will have three to five canes coming from the bud union equally spaced to form an urn shape. A lot of times you don't have that many canes to work with. Also, they may not be spread around the center of the bud union and will be growing to one side. In cases like this, still prune to three or four canes. Eventhough your bush will look one-sided new growth will soon cover up the open space and no one will probably notice the bush being one-sided.
After you have finished pruning an important part to good rose care is to clean up all old leaves and pruned canes. This includes all leaves on the pruned bush. The leaves can have disease left on them and by removing the leaves encourages the new growth to start. If the leaves did't come off when you were pruning you can gently pull them off the remaining canes.
After the rose beds are cleaned it is recommended you dormant spray your roses. This will help kill disease spores that may be left around your roses and help control some fungus problems that can come back when the spring weather comes. There are several types of dormant sprays to use. If your buds eyes have already popped out and started to show green leaves you will not want to you a lime-sulpher type spray. It is too late and you can burn the new growth. There are other types of dormant sprays that can be used after new growth has started. Check with your local nursery to see what types of sprays they have available. Also, if you have large canes you may want to either put a tree seal or white glue on the ends of the canes. By sealing the canes it will prevent cane borers from entering the cut ends.
If you have had gophers killing your rose bushes during the past year, now is the time you can help control their damage. If you are reluctant to use poison or gopher traps aren't affective, you can line your planting hole with wire mesh when planting bare root roses. This will prevent gophers from being able to eat the roots. They may be able to reach the finer roots but the wire mesh will keep the gophers from being able to damage the main root system.
No matter how severe it looks like after you have pruned your bushes, as long as you have left newer canes with bud eyes you have not killed the bush. Sometimes older canes and sucker canes are left after pruning. This can eventually kill the bush. Roses bloom on newer canes-that is the objective of pruning-to get rid of older canes and encourage new canes to develop.
Happy pruning. If you have additional questions please send me a message at my address below. I'll be happy to help you get through the pruning operation.
If you have any questions or comments, my e-mail address
Last updated January 18, 2016
@1997 Linda Burg