Prune roses now for better blooms this spring

February 27, 2013 

One of our dogs is very energetic -- almost hyper. She is fun. I can pet her back and head and talk to her, and she gets so excited that she races off around the yard. It is like winding up a toy and letting it go.

Roses are “hyper” growers. Pruning them now revs them up for blooming later. My friend Frank Watson, extension agent in Wilkes County, shared a few tips on pruning roses that I want to pass on. Most roses, except climbing roses and Lady Banksia, bloom on new growth. This means that pruning now prepares the rose bush to produce more and healthier growth and more flowers this year.

Prune roses before spring growth begins. You may see some new growth, but prune as soon as possible. Although the type of pruning varies with the type of rose you have, there are some basic principles to follow.

First, select your tools carefully. Select or buy a bypass pruner, not an anvil pruner. Bypass pruners have blades that pass beside one another like a pair of scissors. These will leave a cleaner cut, and clean cuts tend to be healthier.

Cut out and remove all dead and diseased canes (branch or stem). Diseased canes may be partially dead, discolored or have cankers (sore-like wounds). When cutting a cane, if the pith (center of the cane) is brown or black, keep cutting it back until the pith is green or white. In some cases you may need to remove the entire branch. Dip your shears in rubbing alcohol occasionally to clean them and to prevent disease spread. Remove the pruned material from the garden to keep diseases from spreading from the pruned branches into the healthy roses.

Roses come in several types. I will not have time to explain in detail all information concerning each type, so identify your rose type and look here for detailed instructions:

Hybrid tea roses typically produce the large, long-stemmed flowers we buy from the florist. Floribunda roses are smaller and have clusters of smaller flowers on short stems. Grandiflora roses are 5-6 feet tall and are intermediate in flower size.

Climbing roses grow fewer very long stems that need a trellis or something to lean on. Shrub roses are bushy with lots of stems and flowers. They bloom over a long period of time and often have better disease resistance.

Hybrid tea roses are often difficult to grow in Middle Georgia. One major problem is a disease called black spot. The disease develops as indistinct black spots on the leaves. Badly affected leaves yellow and fall off. Some roses are so affected that they languish, stop blooming and die.

Black spot control requires good sanitation (removing affected and fallen leaves), proper watering (water only when the soil dries and then between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.) and fungicide sprays beginning as the first leaves emerge. Another way of managing black spot is to move from growing very susceptible varieties (like many hybrid tea roses) to growing more resistant varieties, particularly the shrub roses like the Knock-Out series, Flower Carpet and The Fairy. See this article for more information on disease resistant shrub and ground cover roses:

The amount of pruning you do will be based on rose type, but in general you want to remove crossing branches and those that grow inward. You want to open up the center of the plant and direct growth outward. Remove older, less productive canes and leave three to six young but thick canes to bloom this year. For fewer but larger blooms, prune lower (18-24 inches). For more but smaller flowers, prune higher -- up to 3 feet high. Cut a quarter inch above an outward facing bud to encourage the branch to grow outward.

Shrub roses (Knockouts and others) are pruned more like shrubs. Reduce their size and shape them with shears. Remember to prune them smaller than you want them to be since they will grow. This is the time of the year to cut them aggressively if needed.

Prune climbing roses after they bloom the first time, removing old dying canes and cutting back remaining canes by one-third.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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