How and When to Prune Roses


One of the most enjoyable tasks of spring seems to to also be one of the most worrisome — HOW and WHEN to prune roses!  Everyone wants to have a specific date to prune and become very worried if they prune too early or prune too late, or don’t prune in the proper way.   So, let me set your mind at ease with a little guidance.


When to Prune Roses

Living and gardening in USDA Zone 5 gives us a lot of challenges.  We have dramatic weather fluctuations particularly in spring.  Our winters can extend until mid-May, but in the meantime, we can have warm, sunny days in January or February with temperatures into the 70s making us think winter is over early.  Then we can have a raging blizzard the very next day.  If we have extended periods of warmth, trees and roses begin to come out of dormancy and are stimulated to start budding out.  Then we’ll experience a hard freeze and more cold weather freezing and killing all that new growth.

People begin to worry that because their roses have begun to come out of dormancy, it must be time to rush out and prune, no matter what time of year it is.  So I have established a ‘rule of thumb’ about when to prune roses.  Tax day, April 15, is a good day to prune your roses.  In fact, if you’ll check out the Spring Gardening Calendar, you’ll know about all the tasks that should be done in the spring, around April 15.

Why Wait to Prune Roses

Pruning actually stimulates the growth hormones in roses.  Right after pruning, hormones stimulate the buds, sending out a huge surge of fresh growth.  If you prune too early all the new fresh growth gets frozen off, actually causing a major setback to the rose plant, or even death.  If you wait until about April 15, the weather has calmed down.  The freezing temperatures are less dramatic so even if there is a surge of new growth, its not likely to become frozen.  And if there is an extended warm period causing new growth early in the season, if you wait to prune it, there will be no harm done to the rose plant.

How to Prune Roses

In this video you’ll see exactly how easy it is to prune roses properly.  I think pruning is one of the most enjoyable tasks of spring because you can be very creative.

Remember you are shaping the rose as well as stimulating growth, so don’t be afraid to prune ‘hard’.  ‘Hard’ pruning means pruning back a lot of growth from the previous season, leaving a much shorter plant.  When your rose is pruned short early in the season, it becomes a stalky, and develops more branches and more flower buds.  Its sort of like trimming your hair–the shorter its cut, the faster it grows.

Always prune at an angle and prune to a bud growing the direction you want the new branch to grow.  Generally, you’ll want to prune to a bud growing outward.  The more sunlight that reaches the inner branches, the more your rose will grow and be healthy.  Do not leave any stalks above a bud as the stalk will die down to the bud.  If you have a dying stalk it can also become diseased.

Sometimes people think you need to add a dab of glue to the end of the stalk because on larger plants with thick stems, some stems are hollow in the center. You do not need to seal the end of each stem you prune.  Roses are tougher than you’d think.

When you’re finished pruning, scratch into the soil around the base of the plant, some alfalfa pellets and a little superphosphate.  Your roses are all set to start the growing season.

In sync with nature,
Tova Roseman
Earth Diva

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