Get It Growing: Prune Roses Now For Best Results This Summer

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/16/2005 1:33:02 AM

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Get It Growing News For 01/28/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

It would be hard to dispute that the most popular summer-flowering shrub is the rose. To keep them looking their best, now is the time many of them need to be pruned.

Most roses need at least some annual pruning to maintain an attractive shape, remove dead wood and encourage vigorous growth and blooming. This generally is done from the last week of January (in South Louisiana) through mid-February (in North Louisiana).

Any time you prune, use sharp bypass-type hand pruners, which make clean cuts and minimize damage to the stems. Wear a sturdy pair of leather gloves and long sleeves, because no matter how careful you are, thorny rose bushes 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.

Now, let’s talk specifically about pruning the popular hybrid tea and grandiflora roses.

First, prune out all diseased or dead canes, cutting them back to their point of origin. Weak, spindly canes the diameter of a pencil or less also should 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.

Next, cut back the remaining canes to about 24 inches from ground level. Newly purchased roses generally have already been pruned, so no further pruning is required. 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.

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 around late August.

Old garden roses that are everblooming, shrub roses, landscape roses, floribunda roses and polyantha roses also may be pruned now. But 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.

Although severe pruning of these types of roses is not called for, they still should be checked for any dead wood, and you should prune that out. Excessively long, vigorous shoots growing out of the bush also should be headed back to within the bush to keep the shape attractive.

Other than that, how far back you cut old garden roses depends on the situation, vigor of the bush and the desired size. It is typical to cut back old garden roses, shrubs roses and landscape roses about a third of their height.

Any roses that are not everblooming, including many climbing and rambling roses (such as ‘Lady Banks,’ ‘Dorothy Perkins’ and ‘Blaze’) and some old garden varieties, 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 they 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. In addition, these types of roses should not be pruned back hard each year like the modern bush roses. Pruning climbers and ramblers is largely determined by how large and on what structure they are being trained. Pruning, when done, is more selective and less extensive.

Most nurseries already have their rose bushes in early, and now through March is a good time to plant. If you intend to plant bare-root roses, get them planted before the end of February. 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 quality of flowers, and the bush is more prepared to deal with summer heat when it arrives in May.

Plant roses in a sunny, well-prepared bed that has excellent drainage. For more information on growing roses in Louisiana, the LSU AgCenter offers an informative booklet, which is available free at your local LSU AgCenter Extension office, or by visiting the publications section of the LSU AgCenter Web site at

On The Move

Now also is a good time to transplant roses from one location to another in the landscape. Cool weather reduces the stress of transplant shock brought on by damage to the roots when the plant is moved, which increases your chances of success.

Care must be taken to disturb the root system as little as possible when moving roses. Dig plants with a ball of soil around their root systems – getting as many of the roots as possible. If the soil falls away, do not let the roots dry out. Moisten the roots and wrap them in plastic, a garbage bag or damp fabric. Then get the plants to their new location and plant immediately.

When moving roses, make sure you plant them in their new location at their original growing depth, and water thoroughly after planting to settle the plant in. In addition, be sure to water regularly over the next few weeks and then during any dry periods over the next few months.

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  A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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