Part One of this three-part series on rose pruning covered everything you need to know before you begin to cut your bushes. This article will cover the nuts and bolts of the pruning process: how much to cut, where to make your cuts, and how to shape your rose bushes for optimum growth and aesthetics.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for how much to take off when pruning rosebushes. Much depends on the type of bush, its growing history and whether you plan to exhibit your blooms. Generally though, experts recommend leaving four to six canes on most bushes. On healthy, vigorous growers, it is acceptable to leave more if the rosebush has proven that it can support them.
If you’re growing roses strictly for your own enjoyment, and are satisfied with less-than-exhibition-quality blooms, you can leave much more growth at pruning time. The stems will probably be shorter and the blossoms will be slightly smaller, but they will still have the same gorgeous color and heady fragrance as their exhibition-quality cousins.
What to take and what to leave
Begin your pruning by first taking out all wood that is obviously dead or unhealthy. Remove all split stems too, which are vulnerable to disease. Learn to judge the health of the rose wood from the color inside the bark. Creamy white or green is healthy; brown and black hued wood is old or dead, and won’t produce blooms. Fresh wood cuts easier than deadwood, and with practice you’ll learn to feel the difference.
Next, take out the twiggy growth and lanky little stems. A general rule of thumb for hybrid tea roses and grandifloras is to leave nothing on the bush except canes as thick as a pencil. Low-growing floribunda species of rosebushes, however, will produce smaller stems that will still support blooms.
Some rose species make pruning easier by “color coding” their wood. The main canes that grow from the bud union (at the bottom of the bush) will vary in color by age. New canes are red or a bright, healthy-looking green. Older wood is darker, grayish and somewhat scaly.
After you have removed everything but healthy wood and sturdy stems, stand back and take a look at your rose bush before deciding how much more you want to take out. You can always take more, but once it’s cut there’s no going back, so it pays not to rush the pruning procedure. Also, rose canes are often deceptive in their crossing patterns, so take a good look to be sure you’re cutting the right one.
Where to Make Your Cuts
Once you’ve decided how short you want your rosebush to be, cut the canes a quarter-inch above the new bud eyes which are pointing outward. The ideal angle of each cuts will be 45 degrees, with the downward slope toward the center of the bush. If you can’t locate a bud eye that is pointing in the right direction (outward from the center), you can make a cut slightly higher up. Later, more buds will appear and you can cut the cane again, to the height you prefer.
For additional information on rose pruning, read the last article in this series, Tips and Techniques for Pruning Roses Like a Pro.