To the beginning (I’m trying very hard not to say “budding”) gardener, pruning rose bushes can seem quite the intimidating task. But really it’s not like you’re going to kill your rose bush if you do it wrong. Unless you lop it off all the way down to ground level, and even then the rootstock would probably produce new growth.
Pruning should be done when the rose bush is just coming out of a dormant phase. For most varieties of roses, the best time to prune is in very early spring, after any snow has melted, when the buds have swollen, and when new growth is just starting.
Armed with a pair of thick gloves, a pair of by-pass pruners, and a pair of long-handled loppers, follow these steps to successful pruning:
1. Clear away all debris around the rose bush, such as grass, leaves, burlap, rose cones, or mounded soil.
2. Cut away all dead wood, and all damaged or diseased, old and striated, canes. If it is black in the center when you cut it, you haven’t cut enough. Cut more until you get to where the wood is white on the inside and a healthy green on the outside. If cane is green and in good shape like that, but it is growing out of old, striated cane, don’t save it. You still need to cut that old cane.
3. Cut away any spindly, twiggy wood thinner than a pencil, unless it’s the best the bush has to offer at this point.
4. Cut away any branches that rub against each other or cross each other.
5. Cut more in the center. Clear away branches that cross the center. Aim for more of a vase shape that is open in the middle to maximize access to sunlight and air circulation.
6. Make your cuts just above a bud that faces outward. Don’t make the cuts straight across, but at a 45 degree angle, sloping inward toward the center of the bush. Make clean, non-ragged cuts.
7. If cane borers (little parasites that drill into the ends of freshly cut canes and lay their eggs in there) are a problem in your area, seal the cuts with Elmer’s glue or a similar sealing compound.
8. Pull down and off the plant any long, slender, flexible canes (called “suckers”) that originate from below the bud union.
9. Remove any remaining foliage.
10. Happily contemplate how awesome your rose bush is going to look when it’s in full bloom, now that you’ve become an expert rose pruner.
Kitty Belendez, “Demystifying the Rose Pruning Process.” Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society.
Marie Iannotti, “Roses – How and When to Prune Roses.” About.com.
Hilary Rinaldi, “How to Prune Roses.” Weekend Gardener.
“How to Prune Roses.” eHow.