UC Master Gardeners

Pruning tips: Start with roses, they’ll forgive you

UC Master GardenerDecember 11, 2013 

If you don’t know much about pruning, start with roses. They are tolerant of mistakes and aren’t as tall as trees.


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    Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or e-mail mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu.

Now is the time for all “good gardeners” to start thinking about pruning.

Begin with roses. They are tolerant of mistakes and you can apply the principles of pruning to larger shrubs and trees, without getting out your ladder. Roses should be pruned around the time of the last frost and before they start putting out new growth.

It helps in pruning if you know the types of roses you have:

  • Hybrid teas produce large, single flowers on plants that can grow 2 to 4 feet. Prune four to six canes to 1 to 3 feet depending on the size of shrub you desire.
  • Floribunda roses produce many flowers on each stem. Floribundas are generally smaller than hybrid teas and are pruned by heading back the canes to about one-third of their length.
  • Shrub and old roses have a twiggy growth habit. Minimum pruning is desirable as they flower on old wood.
  • Climbing roses and ramblers are best left to climb and ramble the first few years after planting. Limit the number of canes to about four to six. When mature, prune the lateral shoots that develop from the main cane back to two or three growth buds.
  • Tree roses need only to be pruned on the grafted bushy head. Prune it according to the type of rose that has been grafted at the top, following the directions above.

If all of this seems too complicated, just use your instincts. Take out weak or damaged wood. Don’t worry too much about “five leaflet leaf sets,” etc. Too many rules will frustrate you. Keep it simple. As a rule of thumb, don’t reduce the height of a rose more than one-third. If you planted a tall rose in a space where you’d like a short one, move it and plant one that is the appropriate size.

Approach rose pruning with confidence. It’s hard to make a mistake. A rose is forgiving and roses grow back quickly. Get out your gloves and clippers and get started.

For more details on pruning roses, visit www.ucanr.edu and search for “rose pruning.” You’ll find tips on pruning roses of all types.

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