Ten Principals of Rose Pruning

by Bob Martin, Master Rosarian and ARS President


American Rose Society President, Bob Martin, offers ten principles for pruning roses.

1. Plan your pruning from the ground up – Most rose growers start pruning from the top. The purpose of pruning is to select the strong, healthy canes that will support the new year’s growth. Get down on your knees or sit down in front of the bush and look at the bud union and the canes that come from it. Think about new growth.

2. Identify the newest canes – They are the ones that are the greenest. Then identify any older canes. If your bush is young … 2 – 3 years old, you may not have many old canes. The old canes are craggy and gray; the old ones usually have weak spindly growth and are in the way of brand new canes that are in the bud union’s dormant eyes. Use lopper or a pruning saw to cut the old canes flush with the bud union.

3. If it’s in the way, cut it away – new growth needs room and the ideal plant grows out from the center. Cut off any canes that cross over the center with loppers or pruning saw, flush with the bud union or flush with the cane. Also, if any canes are seriously crowding each other, you can wedge them apart with a piece of stem cut from the plant.

4. The height is simple – Mentally divide the cane into three equal parts and remove the top by 1/3 (only for hybrid teas and shubs, not climbers – click here for information on pruning climbing roses).

5. This bud’s for you – Bud eyes are found at the intersection of the cane and a leaflet of five. Sometimes they are obvious, other times less so. There should be several and the generally preferred ones face out. Where the canes come out at a 45 degree angle, a cut to the outside facing eye can result in a horizontally spreading bush with canes that fall of their own weight. This is particularly true of bushes that tend to naturally grow horizontally. A cut to an inner facing eye in such cases will usually produce a cane that goes straight up, the best way for rose to grow. If there are no properly placed bud eyes, find one and work with what you have.

6. When in doubt, cut it out! – Many rose growers are squeamish about pruning for fear they will harm a plant. Do not fear – a rose bush is one tough cookie.

7. If it isn’t big enough to seal, it doesn’t belong there – A stem growing from another cane will never be larger than its source. Pencil thick stems produce matchstick thick stems that produce pin thick stems. Many rose growers seal cuts with a drop of Elmer’s or any white exterior grade glue. It is fast and easy and will protect the cane from Cane Borers.

8. Leave no leaves – Strip all the remaining leaves. They are last year’s history. You want new leaves that can get a good start without catching infections or facing attack from the disease and bugs that are hanging around the old leaves.

9. Brush off the scaly, woody stuff on the bud union with a stiff brush – Rose lore says this will stimulate and provide room for basal breaks.

10. Clean up the area – Gather up all the canes, stems and leaves. Bag it up and throw it away. Get rid of the weeds from around the bush and dead leaves and dried up petals lying around. All of last year’s fungus and insect problems are laying around in this stuff waiting for the new blooms. Don’t compost this stuff. Rose canes don’t decompose well and the spores, eggs and other things will survive composting efforts. Finally, lay down some new mulch to make things look real neat.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of “Thorny Issues,” newsletter of the Acadiana Rose Society, Lafayette LA., B. J. Abshire, editor.

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