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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois
A red rose in the garden

Six Spring Rose Pruning Pointers

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Spring is an annual process of renewal for gardeners and for roses. Don't be afraid to prune your roses. Roses are tough plants and will even survive your pruning mistakes. The main goal in rose pruning in the spring is to open up the center of the plant to increase light and air circulation. The following are a few tips to guide your pruning.

  1. Purchase some good thorn-resistant gloves. Use sharp bypass pruners. Bypass pruners will cut stems up to 3/4 of an inch thick. Avoid anvil type pruners because they tend to crush the stem. Consider using long-handled loppers and a pruning saw for thicker stems.
  2. Spring is a prime time for pruning roses. The flowering of forsythias is a signal from Mother Nature that it is time to prune roses.
  3. General pruning tasks: Remove any dead or diseased wood, remove "twiggy" growth from the center of the plant or branches that rub each other, remove weak or thin stems, cut back above a bud at a 45 to 60 degree angle that faces the outside of the plant. This will promote new growth out from the center of the rose bush. Prune to shape the plant.
  4. Pruning hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas: These types of roses flower on the current season's wood, so it is important to cut out all dead and small canes. Try to leave 3-5 healthy canes spaced evenly on the plant. Cut the healthy canes back leaving at least 3-5 outward facing buds on each cane.
  5. Pruning climbers and ramblers: These types of roses may require little or no pruning for the first two or three years of growth. Prune just to shape the plant and cut out dead canes. Climbing roses should be pruned in early spring and ramblers should be pruned after they flower in early summer. To generate more blooms it is recommended when pruning to cut back the side shoots to 3-6 inches long. In the summer remove all faded blooms.
  6. Pruning shrub roses: Repeat flowering shrub roses may need very little pruning the first season. More extensive pruning will be needed as they get older. Prune to maintain the shape. After two to three years, prune using the "one-third method. Cut out one third of the oldest canes in the spring. Pick out one third of the youngest, healthy canes that grew the previous growing season to keep and remove all other canes.

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