House & Home

View from the Garden: I Never Promised You a (Pruned) Rose Garden

After a good winter diversion (not a rest for me as I work in my art studio in winter) my co-workers and I will return to garden work tomorrow. Ow! The switch is so difficult for about three weeks until my body adjusts. Spring work is the most intense and I feel like I’m jumping into the deep end of the pool and must paddle hard to make it to safety…. for about three weeks, that is.

I like to leave gardens mostly uncut in fall to accommodate insects and birds so spring cleanup begins with the cutting back of ornamental grasses, but not because they NEED to be cut back first. They probably don’t look very good right now and cutting them back makes a garden look fresh right away.

Next roses get pruned and they NEED to be pruned now. Some gardeners prune roses in the early winter; I do it now. This year they are farther along than usual at this time, so I will go to every house that has roses and prune before finishing any more of the cleanup at any other properties. Rose pruning is as much art as it is science. If you have roses, do some research before pruning. You will need to know what kind of rose you have, as they are all pruned differently.

This is the way I do it:

One of the significant reasons to prune roses is to keep air moving through the plant, which helps keep funguses in check. Always keep this in mind when doing your pruning. Dead and injured canes are removed first. Any canes smaller than a pencil get removed from all kinds of roses. All cuts on all roses are made just above a bud facing the outside of the plant. Any canes growing into the middle of the plant get cut back to the intersection from which they grow. Tea roses get reduced by at least a third. Shrub roses can be reduced a lot or a little, depending on the size you want them to be when they flower.

Climbing roses are more difficult. Remove all dead or injured canes and any smaller than a pencil. Assuming that the form of the rose and its place to climb have been determined, remove any canes that are not conforming to plan. Remove old canes that have finished their job and are tired-looking. Be sure to tie in new, fat canes produced last year and any old ones that need retying. Cut the side laterals on canes that bloomed last year to two buds and be sure the last bud faces the outside of the plant. I don’t like climbing roses to be thick with canes on their supports so I might even remove good ones to keep the layer thinner.

Rambling roses are another matter. They really need only minimal pruning assuming they have been planted where they can, indeed, ramble. I might remove some canes and even some larger ones to help open up the plant. They are supposed to be rather wild and sprawling with long canes and are tied only enough to keep the plant in place. Fairy roses are also rather wild growing so I remove tiny and small canes and reduce the plant by a half.

Supposedly Knock Out roses don’t need to be pruned but I do remove any dead or injured canes as well as small canes and canes growing into the middle of the plant and I reduce the plant by a third to half.

I enjoy the challenge of rose pruning and the pace of concentration it requires.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067 or visit

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