Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Rose bushes are a lesson in balance and survival. They are strong, steadfast structures that will continue to seek sun and space even after they have been mistreated or damaged by less caring, less knowledgeable hands. Working mindfully with your roses will yield happy, healthy plants that will flourish for decades.
We often find rose bushes have been improperly hedged and trimmed harshly by landscapers, as if they were any other bush that could just be hacked into place and be fine. The longer this abuse occurs, the more likely your rose bush will become diseased, gnarled and eventually die. On that path, she will also stop blooming as prolifically as you wish! She needs a confident and gentle woman’s touch, a sharp set of pruners and some space to breathe!
Supporting the survival of your rose bush may be achieved in a few simple steps:
1. Remove the dead. When cut, dead wood is brown inside. You should remove all dead branches and stems, to the base of the bush.
2. Create space and shape. You must let the plant breathe. You may already be achieving this by cutting back all dead growth, but now is the time to remove problematic criss-crossing branches. There is strategy involved in choosing which branches stay and which must go. At the end of this stage, the goal is to see upwards-reaching branches, reminiscent of a vase-like shape (narrow bottom, wide middle, open airy top).
3. Prune. Now that you have the desired structure, you can approach the remaining stems; locate an outward-facing bud and cut about half an inch above it. Doing so encourages the plant to grow outward, promoting the strong-yet-airy growth we desire.
When pruning your rose bushes, note that the most significant pruning should occur in early spring (after the last frost, at the earliest) as the plant starts to bud (a term to describe both the place where a leaf connects with a stem, as well as the action of becoming pink/red in preparation for new growth).
At the onset of autumn, however, after the first frost, trim back thin, weak stems to prevent snapping due to winds or snowfall. Any intersections where stems or branches are crossing, rubbing, and creating friction should also be cut back to alleviate stress on the plant and reduce the potential for disease and instability.
There are some general rules that apply when pruning your roses:
-begin from the ground up
-use pruning shears, wear thick gloves, cover your arms
-cut on an angle (45 degrees) as to not create a divot that allows for rot
-remove thin, new suckers/shoots from both the ground and old growth as they pull resources from the rose bush
Always remember that roses are survivors, and will almost always outgrow mistakes with the right care. Let us know if you would like help or a friendly lesson! Happy pruning!
Written by Olivia M, Edited by Kat N and Kendra H