I just came back from vacation this afternoon and was able to put an hour or so working in the garden. Spring has sprung! The blooming of that yellow-flowered shrub called Forsythia is the harbinger of spring for us rosarians and so our season begins. Some rosarians start early which is not such a bad idea especially if you have plenty of roses to prune and I happen to have around 200 rose bushes to attend to. You can always cut more later but you have a head start.
Pruning our roses is a rite of spring for us. We prune our roses for several reasons - to keep our roses healthy, to control its excessive growth and to shape your bush for a better display.
Before we rush out there in the garden, make sure you have all the right equipments. There are two kinds of pruner. A bypass pruner has two sharp blades that slice like a scissors, while an anvil pruner has one sharp blade that slices against a broader flat piece of metal. Both can cut woody stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter. A good pair of bypass pruner preferably Felco. No. 2 is recommended. Keep your pruner very sharp. A sharp pruner is less taxing to your hand and creates less bruising on your roses. For cutting larger canes, a lopper is a better choice. Their longer handles make it easier to cut through thicker canes. You should also have a pruning saw for those extra thick canes.
Also, of utmost important is to wear gloves. A good leather glove is a must to protect yourself from too many scratches. Long sleeved shirts or jackets will protect your arms and wrists. Hat is also important to protect your face from the sun and to protect your head if you are balding. My favorite is a pith helmet.
Your first agenda is to cut the dead, diseased and damaged canes. Cut until you see the white or cream colored pith. If necessary, you can go down to almost near the bud union. Roses will bloom on a dark colored pith but once the weather warms, the canes die back or become unproductive. Don't get crazy looking for white pith on "Peace" rose. It does not have white pith. After getting rid of the dead and diseased canes, begin cutting the longer canes first and get them out of the way. Pay close attention to what you are doing. Work from the outside in. Remember that you are surrounded with thorns so be very careful.
Cut above the leaf with five leaflets to about 1/4 inch from the bud. If longer, the cane can die back and if shorter, new growth might break off in the wind. Cut to an outward facing bud so a new growth will face outward too. With few exception, like roses that tend to grow sideways, cut in the direction you want the branch to grow. Roses like "The McCartney Rose", "First Prize", and "Just Joey" tend to sprawl so prune them to an inside facing bud. Always remember to aim at an open space in the bush. Make the cut on a slant so water drain off. Seal with Elmer's glue to prevent the cane borer from burrowing into the newly cut canes.
You also want to open the center of the bush for good air circulation to ward off diseases. Cut long and straggly canes and canes that are crossing or touching each other leaving the stronger canes. I usually cut to about a foot high except for the shrub types which can go from 18 inches to 24 inches tall. Leave three or four good healthy canes. If only one cane is available, cut it lower to encourage new growth from the bud union.
On Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, and some Floribundas, remove stems smaller than a pencil because they will not produce good blooms for cutting. For exhibitors, cutting back to 6 to 12 inches length will produce stronger canes and good quality blooms. Miniature roses are pruned the same way as the big ones. If you find this too tedious, you can go drastic and use a hedge pruner and prune to 5" high. Mother Nature is very forgiving and usually corrects our mistakes so don't worry too much. Climbers and ramblers bloom from the 2-year old canes so cut the dead wood only and trim to desired shape. Old Garden Roses also bloom from the second year wood so cut only the dead wood in spring and prune drastically after flowering to promote growth and improve its shape.
Remove all blind shoots. These are branches that taper down to almost nothing. Remove spurs. These are short growths only a few inches long that have hardened off and taper down to a point. They will not flower.
Prune to desired height you want for your rose. Some rosarians want their roses tall. I want my roses short and compact looking. I can also look down at them instead of stretching my neck to appreciate their beauty. After you are done pruning, remove every leaf. These old leaves are the reservoir for black spot and mildew. You might also want to start your spraying program with dormant oil to take care of the overwintering insects. Also spread a cupful of Epsom salt around each bush for better growth. Then you can relax a little bit while waiting for the new growth to arrive.