Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Rose Pruning 101

We share a motley row of shrub roses with our next door neighbor. The roses are actually on our property, they were planted by our neighbor before we purchased the home. The row has been fortified over the years by this neighbor, possibly as a prickly barrier against my dogs and children.  My neighbor and I share the responsibility for the roses' care. 

There was no design in the selection of these particular roses; I believe they were the variety featured that week at the local hardware store. The shrubs are spaced unevenly, of varying types, sizes and structure and in a rainbow of colors:  deep red, coral pink, silver, white, orange, lavender and yellow.  

In spite of their lack of refinement, I love the blooms, using them in loose bouquets during the spring, summer and into the fall.  Realizing this past season that my pruning techniques were likely not helping matters...I decided that I needed some expert advice.

January is the month most gardeners prune their roses in our zone (Sunset 15/USDA 9). February already starts to see new growth, which we don't want to prune off.  There are many free rose pruning demonstrations throughout our county during January.

So, this weekend I attended my first official winter shrub rose pruning class, held at the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center in Santa Rosa and hosted by the Redwood Empire Rose Society, a lovely group of knowledgeable and generous men and women who are passionate about roses and willing to brave the chilly morning in unselfish service to others.  Their advice was extremely helpful and I learned, like many gardeners, I have been waaaaay too conservative in my pruning.

Here are my notes from class...

Pruning is intended to remove old, non-productive wood and encourage new canes to establish.  But, don't do what I've done and mistake a cane for a sucker. As roses grow older, their old wood produces inferior canes are what keeps the rose producing great blooms. A sucker, if left alone, will quickly grow much taller than the rest of the plant, and the leaves look different.

First step, remove all dead wood and weak twiggy branches.  If an old cane produced only twiggy growth, remove that cane at the bud union. 

The cut should be made diagonally at a bud union to avoid creating dead wood above, as nutrients will only go up as high as the last bud union (see photo below).  Buds facing toward the outside of the plant are ideal to maintain the plants shape.

A good bud union cut

After pruning a branch, look at the center of the cut branch's wood. You've cut down far enough if the center is clear, with no dead tissue visible. 

Dead tissue visible

A clear cut

All branches crossing through the shrubs interior should be removed. The idea is to leave the center of the plant open, with blooms on the outside of the plant.

A rule of thumb is to prune shrub roses at about knee height.

Finally, remove leaf and debris buildup at the base of the rose and surrounding area.

Methods and timing of pruning particular types of roses (Old Garden Roses, miniatures, climbers, etc.) vary greatly.  I will list some of these specific recommendations in a later post. 

Thank you to the Redwood Empire Rose Society rosarians for your expertise!  And thanks for the hot chocolate!!!


  1. It is nice to know how to cut the roses.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for visiting! It was helpful to watch an expert prune - my roses will be much happier next spring.

  3. Thanks for sharing this info, it's always good to learn new things. I've always been a little leery of trying to grow roses..a lot of work to get the perfect bloom! Love the post on grape jelly. Great blog!