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How to Prune Roses
by Jerry Yoneda


This Series of 'Jerry and June' articles was written to show that there is more than one way to perform each and every task in rose growing. The format is a humorous dialogue between two members of the Utah Rose Society, who have VERY differing views on rose growing. With a bit of experience, The novice will eventually develop his or her own unique way of growing roses. As the old adage says: "There is more than one way to skin a cat". And from the point of view of the long term rose grower "...if it ain't broke don't fix it."


Jerry: Well June I am here to try the prunes and thanks to you I have all these banana peels. Maybe you can use then as a source of organic phosphorous.

June: I can sure use the banana peels, but I did not call you over here to discuss prunes, we were to talk about pruning for this month's topic. And why do you have so many banana peels?

Jerry: Well, its part of the misunderstanding, you know what prunes can do to you and bananas are supposed to cause constipation and so I decided to try to counteract the forces of nature. Besides it is an organic solution and I felt that would have some appeal to you.

June: Not with the puns again this month.

Jerry: Sorry I slipped. You have to understand that a pun is considered the lowest form of humor, and at my height what do you expect.

June: Well let's get on with the pruning article. First let's get into the reasons for pruning.

Jerry: That's easy it happens when you have too many plums.

June: Now I know you've gone plum loco!

Jerry: Well if my mother would have named me Robert I could be Plum Bob.

June: Back to the article. What are the reason's you prune roses.

Jerry: The primary purpose of pruning is to rejuvenate your plants and to regulate their size. This is done by first removing dead and diseased wood, then opening up the center of the bush to promote air flow and sun exposure. This will assist the rose bushes in avoiding disease and insect infestations. Next you need to remove some of the older canes, thereby forcing the bush to renew itself by producing new wood each year.

June: I have noticed that in most rose bushes the age of the canes can be determined by their color. If you look closely you will notice that the younger canes are bright green, with the older canes becoming more and more brown, and with the oldest canes have greyish white striation marks.

Jerry: That is just the opposite of my mother, the older she gets the darker her hair becomes.

June: That is not nice to say, what would you do if your mother should read this.

Jerry: I don't know, but it could be a hairy situation.

June: When should someone who lives along the Wasatch front prune?

Jerry: Well the old wives tale says the proper time to prune is when the forsythia blooms. But forsooth, my forsythia bloomed the 20th of March which is nearly a month too soon. The exhibitionists, err I mean exhibitors, say to prune about 8 weeks before the rose show. So in an average year those who plan to participate in the rose show should prune around the 17th of April. Although a lot of books tell you not to prune before the average date of our latest spring frost, or about the 30th of April. But by the time spring rolls around we are chomping at the bit so most of us usually begin in mid April. Perhaps now would be a good time for you to tell us why you prune.

June: Well the most basic reason to prune is to rejuvenate your rose bush. Proper pruning will leave your bush healthy and productive for many years.

Jerry: I wonder where I heard that before. Did you know that the Greeks advocated burning a rose bush to the ground in spring as a means of rejuvenating a bush? Of course this only works if you have plants growing on their own roots.

June: As I was saying, proper pruning involves first removing all dead and diseased wood. Then one should remove any canes crossing through the middle of the bush. This will allow for better air circulation and, therefore, less fungal disease. Next one should count the remaining canes and determine how many she and/or he wants to leave. For an average to poor growing hybrid tea or floribunda that should be three to four canes, and for a vigorous cultivar five or six canes should remain. These canes should be evenly spaced around the bush and should be more than a pencil's width in thickness. When removing canes if you have a choice you should remove older canes first, as a younger cane will have more years of productivity. As you said earlier on most bushes the canes are color coded with the youngest being smooth and green and the oldest brown with striations. Next you must trim the canes down, normally you prune to an outward facing eye to promote growth away from the center, although if the cultivar tends to sprawl like ‘Pristine' you may want to prune to an inside facing budeye. The length the canes are pruned to will determine the size and number of blooms. If you consider your rose as a bloom factory that can only produce a fixed amount of bloom, the larger the blooms the fewer in number there will be.

Jerry: I don't mean to raise cane, but does that mean if you have more blooms they will be smaller? In other words each rose will devote a certain percentage of its energy to reproduction. Therefore, the more roses it carries to maturity the smaller they will be. However, you can actually have your cake and eat it to. What I mean to say is that roses are heavy feeders, and whether you prefer to use organic, inorganic or both types of fertilizer you can increase bloom production and rebloom by increased fertilization. In other words even though your rose may still use the same percentage of energy for reproduction with more energy available that will be a larger number. And if you want to know more you just happen to be in luck, as that just happens to be next months topic.

June: I find one good axiom to remember is that when in doubt don't prune, as once something has been cut it cannot be put back.

Jerry: I find a better axiom in what one of our rosarians told one of our members at a pruning demonstration. The pruning cut should be made at a 45 degree angle slanting away from the budeye. Which is well and good advice, however, his reasoning left a little to be desired. His next statement was not like his cutting angle , which is acute, in fact it was very obtuse. I doubt if the steepness of the cut will cause insects to fall off the end of the cane. Unless of course they heard the statement and couldn't stop laughing.

June: To be frank with you I hope you're done spreading the news. Well be getting back to the subject of pruning lets talk about how to prune hybrid tea roses. If you want to exhibit your roses you should prune to 12" to 18", if you want lots of blooms with the chance of a few exhibition quality blooms prune from 18" to 24", and if you want lots of smaller blooms prune from 24" to 36". Again the vigor of the bush must be taken into account. Floribundas should be pruned a little shorter with a few more side branches left on to produce more flower power.

Jerry: I hear that there is a pretty good new floribunda.

June: What are you setting me up for now?

Jerry: No joke here, I have heard some nice things about the new pink blend Kordes floribunda ‘Bloominkogen', ergo ‘Flower Power'.

June: Perhaps the trickiest roses to prune are miniatures. They come in all sizes from ‘Si', which is less than 6 inches tall, to Innocence , Jean Kenneally, etc. which can get four to six feet tall. So even though the rules for pruning a miniature are pretty much the same, you need to find the height the miniature is comfortable at and prune it accordingly. If you try to force it to be too small, it will spend all it's energy growing back to its comfortable size at the expense of blooms.

Jerry: We should probably tell everyone that certain roses such as Peace and Queen Elizabeth resent heavy pruning and so restraint should be shown or they will use all their energy to get back to a confortable size.

June: Next we should cover climbers and pillar roses. If growth is too heavy to see what you are doing you need to untie these roses and lay the canes along the ground. You need to prune these so that you have about 6 major canes left when you're done. (More robust climbers and ramblers i.e. New Dawn, Dorothy Perkins, American Pillar can support more wood). So first remove the very oldest canes first. Than shorten the lateral growth to 4-6 budeyes. Then the canes should be tied as laterally as possible. If you make the canes grow laterally then the new growth, laterals, will come from each leaf access. This will give you more bloom and bloom along the whole length of the cane. If you grow the roses vertically they will produce almost all the blooms on the ends of the cane. So even if you are growing a rose around a pillar you should wind the canes around the pillar, this will cause more lateral growth. Also the climbers that only bloom on old wood should not be pruned until after they bloom in mid summer as they will only bloom once on the previous years new growth.

Jerry: Next we come to the old garden roses that are once blooming. These too bloom only on old wood and should not be pruned until after they have flowered. The beauty of these roses is in their arching shrub like growth and they should be pruned by 1) Removing dead and diseased wood (this can be done anytime), 2) removing the oldest growth, 3) removing canes that cross and grow inward, and 4) remove wood to shape the bush. The total amount of wood removed should be approx. 1/3 of the bush. This will mean in three years the bush will be totally regenerated. Now everything else the repeat blooming old garden roses, modern shrub roses (Including Austin's), and repeat blooming hybrid species roses (hybrid rugosas, kordesii's, etc.) should be pruned in the spring in the same manner described for the once blooming old garden roses.

June: Finally we come to the modern shrub roses. Since you want these roses to look like bushes.

Jerry: I want mine to look like the first lady, she is one of People's 50 most beautiful people.

June: The way you can twist my words always seems to amaze me. What I meant is that these roses should be pruned so they grow with long arching growth. Therefore, they should not be ptuned until they reach the size you want or their fully mature height. Then you again begin by removing old and dead wood, crossing canes, and finally reduce the remaining canes by about 1/3 their height.

Jerry: That's why I started growing roses. It's one of the few things where their is an advantage in raising cane.

June: Only if you're able. Well, we have another month of our column finished, I hope you and the readers will be satisfied.

Jerry: All I can say is if you follow this advice you too can be like June, a bloomin' idiot.

June: Sigh.... You see what I have to put up with?

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