Green Thumb: Winter pruning invigorates roses
by Angela Swenson
Feb 06, 2014 | 2444 views | 0 0 comments | 270 270 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roses have been around for centuries. The earliest use of roses as landscape plants in the United States goes back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. So, why does pruning seem so daunting? Hopefully, after reading this, you will feel better able to take on this task and your roses will be much healthier.

Let’s take a look at what shapes your rose plants can have. Landscape roses are available in three growth forms: upright, mounding shrub and groundcovers.

Upright plants grow up to be medium to large plants. They can be used as borders, screens or vertical accents in your landscape.

Mounding shrub roses ramble more. Use them as borders or for mass plantings.

Ground covers are good for sloping banks or paths or to cascade over walls.

What do you need to prune roses? Just a few basic suggestions, sharp equipment and some excellent gloves. I use leather gloves, but denim might do the trick, too. Your hands will thank you.

Roses need to be pruned to thrive. Take a look at your roses and decide how you want to shape them. Ideally, think of pruning your plant into a vase shape with three to five canes. Canes are the woody stems of the plant.

The Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture, a resource of the University of California Cooperative Extension, recommends that we:

• Remove all broken or damaged canes.

• Eliminate places where two canes rub together.

• Remove spindly canes or those smaller in diameter than a pencil.

• Make clean cuts a quarter-inch above a bud or shoot that points toward the outside of the plant.

Dispose of canes, leaves and debris in the trash. Rose canes do not compost well, and the leaves might harbor pests or diseases.

When planting bare-root roses, the tops should be cut back 12 to 15 inches.

Get ready for your hard work to pay off with beautiful, healthy blooms.

•The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. Certified master gardeners are available to answer questions at 953-6112 or

Reading list

Angela Swenson, a UC-certified master gardener, referred to these sources for suggestions on rose pruning:

• “California Master Gardener Handbook,” by Dennis R. Pittenger

• “Pruning Garden Roses,” by Donald R. Hodel and Dennis R. Pittenger (

• “Our Rose Garden,” University of Illinois Extension Urban Programs Resource Network (

• “Roses in the Garden and Landscape: Cultural Practices & Weed Control,” by J.F. Karlink, (

• “Ten Principles of Rose Pruning,” by Robert B. Martin, American Rose Society (

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