To prune or not to prune? When to prune? How much to prune? Rose growers could talk about this until the cows come home and still not agree on all details. I prune, for reasons to be explained below, but as I drive around Albuquerque in the spring and see huge bushes that have probably never been pruned and look beautiful from a distance, sometimes I wonder, “why bother going to all that work?”
Rose exhibitors will virtually always prune, and rather severely. There is no question that pruning produces larger blooms and usually with better form. It seems to me that pruning also increases the number of every rosarian’s delight, the elusive “basal break,” the new canes from which the best roses in a given year come. Here is an example from the miniature rose Salute, with a beautiful basal break appearing two weeks after pruning.
Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.
At the time of pruning, I nearly always add a handful of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) to each rose. It is part of rose lore that this helps stimulate basal breaks. I haven’t kept track of numbers when I do and do not do this, but it is definitely my impression that it works for me. If I did not have time to add phosphate in the fall I do it at this time, and also add a top coating of peat moss. Any other fertilizing will come after April 15, when the danger of frost is – supposedly – past. Only one year since I have been growing roses was that not true, but that’s another story.
Pruning also allows you to “clean up” your roses. Here are some as-yet-unpruned roses, and you can see that not only are canes and branches intertwined, but dead leaves are still on some branches abd at the base if the roses. Getting all of that cleaned up is important to reduce the pests that may have overwintered. After pruning and cleaning up, I usually spray with Neem oil. That doesn’t prevent everything, but that is about the strongest chemical I will use.
The most severe form of pruning is what is only half-jokingly referred to as “spade pruning,” or completely removing a rose from your garden. Sometimes this is done to make room for a new rose, and friends and neighbors are usually happy to take the older rose. Every now and them, however, I spade prune a rose that I never offer to anyone, beause it did not do well for me, here in Albuquerque. It might do beautifully elsewhere, but if I couldn’t grow it here, I don’t want to give it to someone else here. One example of this for me is Neptune. Most Carruth roses seem to have been created for Albuquerque, but this grandiflora just did not do well in my yard. The roses had a truly wonderful scent, and the roses that were produced had good form. But not many roses were produced, and any that came after the first bloom of spring were smaller than many mini-floras. It never produced a new basal, and a major cane died this winter. That was it. Neptune got spade pruned. It was rreplaced by a Tucker mini-flora that had outgrown its previous spot, Conundrum.
Here are some pruned roses. Check back on the “Pruning Roses” page throughout the spring and summer to see their transformation through the growing season.
This site has a lot of information about pruning roses.
Finally, one more picture of a basal break, something to warm the heart of any rose grower:
Do you have thoughts on pruning? Please leave a comment and share your knowledge!