Ok, it’s that time! If you are one of those people who have wondered through the year when you should be pruning your roses, the time is now. I look for green stems by St. Patrick’s Day, a good way to remember what time of year roses should be pruned.
To prune roses, start with sharp trimmers cleaned with alcohol so you are not spreading last year’s diseases. I use old socks soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe down my trimmers. I also make sure the trimmers have been sharpened so the cuts are clean; using dull trimmers will cause stem tissue damage to the plant and invite diseases as well as slow down growth.
Now pruning anything can be nerve-racking. The good thing to remember is that most plants, including roses, are forgiving so take a deep breath.
The second tip is to take your time. When I first started pruning, I tied pieces of yarn and old bread ties where I was thinking of cutting. I would adjust the cutting plan before actually making the cut. If I made a cut and didn't like it, I would remind myself of tip number one.
After trying several different approaches, here is how I start. I first remove any and all dead stems, that usually gives a better view of what's left behind and what you should trim next. Go slowly; some branches that are dead may only be dormant. If in doubt, first scrape the branch gently with your fingernail to expose what's underneath. If it's green, that branch is still alive.
Some branches may be yellow green; that means it may be dying but it could rally with a little help so don’t give up on it just yet. Definitely mark that rose for a little extra soil conditioning and give each plant ¼ cup dried coffee grounds, half to one banana peel and 2 tablespoons Epsom salt mixed together. I also add crushed egg shells and dried orange peels when I have them. Feed once a month through the growing season.
You want to keep a shape that leaves air circulating through the center so remove branches that crisscross or are in-growing.
Now that the dead branches are gone, and then the criss-crossing ones have been removed, what is left is almost done.
Look carefully at what is growing where. Find the pink nodes facing outwards, that’s where the plant will grow. Cut the branch 1/4 inch above the swollen bud at a 45 degree angle, that will encourage the branch to grow outward.
In general, also follow the following guidelines:
If you want your rose bush to be about the same size as it was last year, cut it down by half.
If you want a smaller shrub, prune to one third of its original size.
If you want something larger, prune to two thirds of its original size.
If this is your first year growing roses, prune much lighter at first; I usually wait until at least the second year before doing any pruning.