Get It Growing: Prune Roses In Early February For Better Performance Later In Year

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  1/27/2007 4:23:40 AM

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Get It Growing News For 02/02/07

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Most roses will benefit from some pruning now, and some types must be pruned to perform the way we want them to.

Hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, in particular, should be pruned every year during the first or second week in February. Otherwise, these roses tend to become leggy, less vigorous and unattractive, and they won’t bloom as well.

Other types of roses, such as floribunda, polyantha, shrub and everblooming old garden roses, generally require less drastic pruning, but they still benefit from pruning to improve their shape or control their size, when necessary.

When pruning roses, use sharp bypass-type hand pruners, which make clean cuts and minimize damage to the stems. In addition, I always wear a sturdy pair of leather gloves and long sleeves, because no matter how careful you are, thorny roses can painfully puncture or scratch your hands and arms. Should you need to cut canes larger than one-half inch in diameter, you should use loppers.

With hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, first prune out all diseased or dead canes – cutting them back to their point of origin. Weak, spindly canes, which are the diameter of a pencil or less, should also be removed the same way. A good rose bush should have four to eight strong healthy canes the diameter of your finger or larger after this first step.

The next step is to cut back the remaining canes to about 24 inches from ground level. When you prune back a cane, make the cut about one-quarter inch above a dormant bud or newly sprouted side shoot. Try to cut back to buds that face outward – away from the center of the bush. The new shoot produced by the bud will grow outward, opening up the bush for light, air and orderly growth. This may seem picky, but this really does make a difference.

If you have purchased or intend to purchase new rose bushes you don’t have to worry about pruning them. Newly purchased roses have already been pruned, and no further pruning is required.

Pruning back roses takes some getting used to. Many new gardeners have a hard time getting up the nerve to cut their bushes back. If you don’t, however, the result will be tall, rangy, overgrown bushes that will not be nearly as attractive.

It is far easier for you and healthier for the rose bush if you do this pruning regularly. It is very difficult to properly prune a rose bush that has been allowed to grow for several years without pruning.

Don’t forget that we also do a second, but not as severe, pruning in late summer.

Old garden roses, floribunda roses, polyantha roses, shrub roses and landscape roses that are everblooming also may be pruned now, if desired. These roses, in general, have more pleasing shapes without severe pruning. They are only lightly shaped under most circumstances – unless there is a need to control their size.

If you do need to control the size, first cut back especially tall or vigorous canes to about half the height of the rest of the bush. Then cut back or trim less vigorous growth to shape and reduce the overall size of the bush. Don’t forget to prune out any dead or badly diseased canes, as well.

Any roses that are not everblooming, including many climbing and rambling roses (such as Lady Banks, Dorothy Perkins Cherokee rose and Blaze) and some antique cultivars (such as Seven Sisters and Marie Louis), should not be pruned now. These roses produce their flowers in one big gush during late spring and early summer on growth made the previous year and then bear few or no flowers the rest of the year. If pruned back hard now they will produce few, if any, flowers. If extensive pruning of these roses is necessary, it is best done in mid-summer after they have finished flowering.

Pruning climbing roses and ramblers is largely determined by how large you want them to be and what type of structure they are being trained to grow on (fence, arbor, trellis, etc.). Pruning, when done, is more selective and less extensive.

With climbers and ramblers, you want first to prune off any canes that are growing in the wrong direction (such as away from the support). This will make it easier to train the remaining canes on to the support you have provided for the rose.

Next, thin out the remaining canes, if needed, cutting back the oldest, woodiest canes to within a foot of the ground. Carefully remove them from the remaining growth.

Finally, do any other pruning to shorten, thin out and shape the climbing rose to train it attractively on its support. This can be done now for everblooming climbers, but wait until mid-summer – after flowering – for those that don’t repeat bloom.

Many nurseries already have their rose bushes in, and early February also is a good time to plant, especially if you intend to plant bare-root roses. Bare-root rose bushes should be planted before they begin to sprout. Early planting allows rose bushes to become established before they begin to bloom. This increases the number and the quality of flowers, and the bushes are more prepared to deal with summer heat when it arrives in May. Plant roses in sunny, well-prepared beds that have excellent drainage.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com . A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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