People have so many questions about rose pruning and are often very nervous about the process. I too used to be afraid of making mistakes and once remember hyperventilating as I faced the many canes on an Iceberg rose! Well, I've had lots of thoughts about pruning since then and decided to document what I've learned in hopes that it might be helpful to you.
The photos here were taken on pruning day in a hillside rose garden I designed for a client in Lafayette, CA. The limited space maximizes roses and their many varieties- climbers, shrubs, hybrid teas, species. Good pruning allows more than sixty tightly planted roses to happily coexist with a rich understory.
Before we take a look at the garden, here are a few pruning basics to keep in mind.
Rose Pruning Basics
Growth buds look like these when the're dormant and are known as bud eyes. Take a look at your roses if this info is new to you- search out the eyes- for they are the key to rose pruning.
A good pruner takes direction from growth buds. If she wants a cane's growth away from a path, she'll cut above a bud facing opposite the path- if growth needs to move toward a fence or lattice, she'll cut accordingly.
Most pruning cuts are made a quarter inch or so above a bud eye. For years, so-called experts advised us to make pruning cuts at an angle, but you can see it results in a bigger wound and no real benefit to the rose. If I could count how much time I've wasted thinking angle, angle...
COLOR OF THE CUT
Into the Garden
Experts also advised us to elimanate crossing stems. Come on. Let them cross if it works for the look you want.
YOUR ROSE LOOK
Some rosarians build castles in the air, meaning they prune lightly, or not at all, and live on acres in the country. Others like a tidy look to their roses, some plant three of a kind close togther, merging canes. Me, I like all kinds of pruning styles, even severe if that's what is required. I especially like to experiment and my favorite way to grow roses is huge, if space allows that is. Even a city garden can make way for one massive rambler or shrub.
Are you wondering why I'm talking aesthetics and not the health of the roses? Gregg Lowery has written a wonderful article on the history of rose pruning that debunks the notion that pruning is for rose health. It's a thrill to read his elegant prose and, he has so much to offer that I don't have space for here.
Now let's take a look at some results.
Hours later, with roses pruned, you can now see the garden's bones, which consist of three tiered beds retained by moss rock. A pathway runs along the base of the top terrace, which is six-feet deep along the center. Climbing roses cover the fence.
My general pruning style is to remove about one third of a season's growth, hoping that my cuts will be on new canes. Paying attention to growth bud direction is especially important in a tight garden like this. I don't want one rose to block another, each rose should shine, yet be a part of the whole. I'm after a fluffy free-form look. The shot above is 6 to 8 weeks after pruning.
Whenever there is new cane length on a climber, I always work with it, almost never cutting it. Arching or curving it through the lattice encouages eyes to break into new laterals and more blooms. When pruning, I leave two or three buds per lateral.
In this "before" image, Evelyn is reaching for light, which only enhances her climb. In this case I topped the canes, as you can see in the image above this one. Next year I might train the canes to cover the shed roof. It's fun to think of options for experimentation.
In this shot, note how nicely the shed blends into the fencing. The client wanted it barely noticeable. The steps lead to the top tier. The rose Phyllis Bide is pegged on the fence to the left of the shed. See below for a better look.
Notice those elegant arching canes along the fence. Before their tips were attached to wire trellis they were gangly and out of control, flailing in the breeze. With pegging, the tied canes have burst all growth buds for maximum bloom to come.
I'm sorry to say I didn't manage a shot of Phyllis in full bloom. Since this is not my garden, I don't have the luxury of catching each opportune moment. But what a pleasure it has been to capture its progress over the years.
If you have comments or questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comment box below.
If you grow roses in a colder climate, ask your local nursery when the time is right for pruning.