February To-Do: Prune Your Roses
When pruning make sure to use better posture than this
As winter slowly trudges on, there are those particular days that if you walked outside, closed your eyes, and didn’t know any better, you’d swear that spring has sprung. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. it’s only late January and the next cold blast of air and rain is probably just a few days away. So what does this last stretch of winter mean for our gardens? It’s time to prune roses so when spring finally does come, we are treated to their burst of blooms.
Pruning roses can seem a daunting task. Their thick canes with thorns aplenty can frighten the most seasoned gardener. But follow these steps and by the end of the day you’ll hopefully escape the garden with little to no pricks or scars, and come mid- to late April these shrubs will be exploding with blooms.
Roses Fight Back, Dress Appropriately – Odds are that when it’s time to prune roses, it will at least be a bit chilly outside, so you’ll want to be wearing long sleeves for that, but also to protect your wrists and forearms from getting scratched by the roses’ many thorns. Gloves, especially with a long-wrist cuff are also a must to protect your hands and fingers while navigating around the shrub for your pruning cuts, as well as for clearing debris that has already been cut.
Start From the Top and Work Down - The first thing you want to do is eliminate the top one-third or so of the shrub. This is where a lot of the complex branching of the rose occurs. With either hand pruners or loppers, get rid of the top portion of the plant so you can easily access the interior of the shrub for when you will need to make your more precise, meditated cuts.
Remove Any Thin, Spindly Shoots, Inward-Facing and Crossing Shoots – Now is when your cuts will require a little thought and precision. You want to open up the interior of the shrub to improve air circulation and give the shrub somewhat of a vase shape. To do this, you want to completely eliminate any spindly, thin shoots (usually anything less round than your pinky finger or a #2 pencil), as well as shoots that cross each other and fight for space and any shoot that comes off a main cane and heads toward the interior of the plant. Cut all these types of shoots off flush against the cane from which they are growing.
Make Final Cuts - Our rose shrub is now a series of main canes, still with some foliage and minor branching, and half as tall as when we began. The last thing we must do is make a series of cuts that removes the rest of the foliage, shortens the height of the plant, and promotes outward shoots for an overall vase-like shrub shape. When we’re done, what was once a waist or rib-high shrub will be an 18-24″ tall series of canes and thorns. For the final cuts, you want to locate the buds on the remaining canes. These buds are easy to spot (they’re like tiny red fingertips) and where new growth will come from. Make sure to find an outward-facing bud (once again to promote shrub shape) and make your cut just above it, about a quarter-inch or so, pictured first below. Continute this to the remaining canes, preferably changing the level at which each cane is cut (though the location of outward-facing buds will almost do this for you) until you have you final product, pictured second below. One thing of note is that with these Knock Out shrub roses, it’s not important to make a 45-degree angle cut on your final pruning cuts like it is with tea hybrid roses. Straight horizontal cuts will do just fine and not increase any likelihood of disease.