Now Is the Time to Prune Roses

Posted On February 15, 2016— Written By

Q:  When and how do I prune roses?

 A:        Roses have been a long time classic with gardeners. Roses come in every color imaginable with single, semi-double, or fully double flowers. Gardeners can find roses with bicolor, multicolored, or striped flowers. Along with all the flower possibilities, a gardener cannot help but to enjoy all the unique and creative cultivar names.

Roses can have many uses in the landscape. Roses can be placed in mass plantings, used as screens or hedges, as a single plant, or planted next to fences or arbors and allowed to climb. There are several classifications of roses. The hybrid teas are bush-form plants characterized by large flowers on long stems that are good for cutting. Floribunda roses have flowers typically smaller than the hybrid teas, but produce more flowers on each stem. Grandiflora roses originated from crossing hybrid teas with floribundas to produce a larger flower but with fewer flowers than floribunda. Climbing roses are not true climbers in that they do not grip or wrap around an object but the roses send out long shoots or canes which can be trained over fences, trellises, and arbors. Shrub roses, like knock-out roses, are large shrubs that can be used to fill large spaces with color.

Pruning is one of the most important practices in growing roses. When to prune depends on what type of rose you have. Repeat blooming roses like hybrid teas and floribunda roses (also called modern roses) are heavily pruned in late February just before bud break. Old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom once a year are to be pruned immediately after flowering.

There are some common practices to follow when pruning any type of rose. Prune out any dead, damaged, or diseased canes. Also prune out any canes that are weak or show any signs of discoloration. When pruning, look at having canes evenly spaced or distributed to improve air circulation within the plant and reduce disease problems.

Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and Grandifloras are heavily pruned by selecting three to five strong canes and completely remove the rest. The remaining canes should be cut back to a height of 18 to 24 inches. Make pruning cuts at a slant, just above a large, strong bud that is preferably facing outward. Old garden roses are not heavily pruned like modern roses are. These old type of roses are pruned by removing no more than one-third of a bush along with removing oldest stems that are no longer flowering.

Climbing roses are pruned by leaving five to seven strong canes untouched because flowers are produced on stems at least one year old. All weak or damaged stems, along with older canes should be removed without damaging healthy stems.

Knockout roses are treated differently in that they do not have to be heavily pruned every year since they are intended to be large shrubs. Knockouts can be lightly pruned to control the size of the shrub in late February. You can heavily prune it every few years to control the size when necessary.

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Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Horticulture program information can be found at Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to