It's Time to Prune Your Roses

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With all the attention on natives and more exotic plants, we sometimes forget how interesting roses are, and how well they fill a garden. They’re incredibly easy to shape and keep healthy with a modicum of work. If you can just remember to feed them twice a year and prune them, you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of blooms every year. This is the last call to prune this year, and while you can just lop your roses to the ground, learning how to prune them the right way can help you shape your roses for the future. 

Let the roses tell you it’s time to prune

Generally speaking, early spring is when you do a heavy cut back of your rosebushes. Once the last frost has passed, look to deal with your canes. If you’re still unsure of timing, pay attention to when the plant starts filling out with buds and leaves. This is a green flag to grab the loppers and bypass shears. 

Clear away old growth before shaping

The overwintered plant may have pests hanging on, so the first step is to clear any old leaves off from last year. Use your bypass shears to clip off any that you see. Next, look at all the canes—they’ll either be brown or green. Clip away any brown canes—the dead wood—with your shears. 

Create good airflow 

Any stem or branch that aims in, towards the center of the plant, should be pruned away. The same goes for canes that cross any other cane, no matter what direction they go in. Any particularly weak or thin canes should be cut away, too. You should be left with strong canes that all reach out and upwards. 

Shape the bush by identifying buds

With clean pruning shears (spray them with vinegar or bleach between bushes), you’ll want to make cuts at a 45-degree angle, away from the buds on your canes. The angle will determine the direction of growth; the bud eyes will determine where the growth will take place. On a rosebush, a bud eye is a small outward growth, like a bump, on a cane.  In spring, you can cut the canes all the way back, as much as two thirds of the plant, but don’t just chop the whole plant to the ground. Remember, you can now determine where and in what direction the plant will grow, and you want to encourage the rose to continue growing upward and up. 

Aftercare is important for roses, too

Most of the time roses are self-healing, but you can protect your canes from rot and possible rose borers by using a pruning sealer, which you can pick up at your garden center. Clearing away all the debris from your pruning is a good way to help keep pests and disease away. Spring is the right time to feed your roses, too, and there’s fertilizer specifically for roses available at your garden center, or online

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