Valentine's Day Has Come And Gone, But That Does Not Excuse You From Your Pruning Practices On Roses

Normally, we talk about Valentine's Day being the traditional time to think about the pruning of roses. But this Valentine's Day sort of fell on one the coldest days of this winter. So, I'm sure many people did or could not get out and do their rose pruning. Don't worry, because Valentine's is just the "jumping off" point. We can do all the pruning and bed-building from this point on. Plus, admit it, who actually got out and did their pruning this past weekend? Oh, by the way, while this tip sheet is mostly about Roses, don't that this is also time to finally prune (gently pruning, that is) your Crape Myrtles as well. If you need instructions about proper pruning of Crapes, please Click Here


The key to growing roses of any kind is to give them a proper home. They need a planting site that gets at least six hours of sun a day and offers rich soil with good drainage. If you've got the sun but not the soil, you'll have to do a little amending. And here's where I begin to over-simplify things, much to the chagrin of rose devotees. No homemade rose mixes here... Buy some Professional Rose Soil. It comes by the bag or bulk, and it's labeled as such - Rose Soil. This normally has a perfect mix of soil, sand and humus for a rose garden. The next simple step is to make a raised bed of the rose soil. It is recommended that it stand 8 to 10 inches tall full of rose soil. Rose roots grow laterally and shallow, so making a raised bed of the right kind of soil is key. Another trick of the trade to help abate weeds and unwanted grass, is to lay down anywhere from 4 to 8 sheets of newspaper on the ground where you make your raised bed.


Now let's care for them. And let's over-simplify this segment, too. Since I wanted to write this article about pruning, let's start there; then I will discuss the feeding, fungal controls and insect controls as well. Pruning controls the size and shape of roses and keeps the modern varieties blooming repeatedly all summer long, as they flower on new growth. Well-established varieties of modern rose bushes such as hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras should receive a major pruning each spring after the winter protection has been removed and just as the buds begin to swell. For us, that's usually about Valentine's Day (Roses -- Valentine's Day... It's a perfect correlation if you ask me). All that's needed otherwise during the growing season is to remove and destroy any diseased foliage or canes and to dead head, or remove the faded flowers, cutting their stems just above the first leaf with five leaflets.

Most old-fashioned and species roses, as well as the climbers that bloom only once a year, flower on wood from the previous year's growth. They are pruned right after flowering. Annual heavy pruning is essential to ensure the prolific bloom and long-life of a rose bush. Explaining the concept of rose pruning without a live bush to demonstrate on is difficult, so let your mind loose to help visualize the following steps in rose pruning. Pruning of roses is actually done year round. Every time you cut off old blooms and remove twiggy growth you are actually promoting new growth. There are two times a year when you prune more seriously, spring and fall. The first step in spring pruning of Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas and Climbing roses is to remove any canes that are dead or just old and non-productive. These canes are usually gray in color and scaley. To prune hybrid tea and grandiflora roses follow certain principles including:

  • High pruning for more flowers earlier or low pruning for fewer, bigger flowers later
  • Pruning to remove weak and crisscrossing canes
  • Removing growth an inch below a canker
  • Removal of damaged, dead, or broken canes back to healthy growth
  • Removing sucker growth as close as possible to main root.

    There's way too much detail regarding the ins and outs of rose pruning than I have space for in this email article. But in a way to summarize a visual that you can also make a correlation with, think of it in terms of a "vase structure." You cut back canes and growth back to a point where you have 5 to 6 healthy canes that are 12-18 inches tall and those form a "vase-like" structure. Or check out this website for visual detail-
    Click Here

    Floribundas are usually not pruned as severely as hybrid teas. Even so, be sure to remove any dead, broken, damaged, or blotched branches back to where the pith, or center of the cane, is white and healthy looking. Next, remove weak, spindly canes, canes growing toward the center of the bush, the weaker of two canes that crisscross, canes that grow out, then up, and suckers, if any. Finally, trim all remaining canes back to one-half their former height. Miniatures - In the spring it is best to cut miniatures almost down to the ground ( i.e., 2 to 3 inches). Moreover, if they are over three years old it is a good idea to divide them by cutting the whole plant in half or more. Be sure to leave some roots on each division. Old-Fashioned (Antique) and Shrubs - Remove any dead canes and lightly trim remainder of bush, removing about a third of the growth. Mass blooming is the aim with these roses. Additional light grooming throughout the year is encouraged since ever-blooming varieties bloom on new wood. Varieties that bloom only once during the season should be pruned AFTER they have bloomed since they bloom on old wood.

    Pest and Disease Control:

    Many gardeners avoid planting roses because they've heard the plants suffer from dreaded pests and diseases. To some extent that's true, but you can take steps to prevent problems before they ever start. Pest problems can be controlled with routine applications of insecticidal soap, which kills most of the insects that attack roses, including aphids, leafhoppers, spider mites and other bugs. You can also prevent many of these bugs by using a systemic insecticide (unless you're organic in your practices) or even feed them a systemic rose food, which I'll discuss later. Fungal diseases such as black spot, powdery mildew and rust can do serious damage to roses, but regular treatments with fungicides, beginning just as the buds begin to swell in early spring and continuing throughout the growing season, will prevent them.

    Rosarians in Houston do it one of two ways. Over-the-counter fungicides like Funginex are used on a weekly basis. There are others that boast they only need to be applied every two weeks, like Fertilome Liquid Systemic Fungicide and Alliette. Though there are a number of potent fungicides on the market, there's still the homemade recipe: Mix together one tablespoon of baking soda and 2-1/2 tablespoons of highly refined horticultural oil in one gallon of water. Spray a little on lower leaves before covering the entire plant, to make sure it doesn't burn the foliage. If it does, use half as much baking soda. That's it. And yes, this too needs to be applied once a week for optimum control.


    And to over-simplify the feeding too, remember this: Roses are HEAVY FEEDERS! And even though we think roses and we think blooms, don't use bloom boosters or super phosphates on roses. They actually do fine with balanced food. In fact many rose foods are equally balanced like 8-8-8. And the feeding is done once a month from March through September. Just read the label instructions for amounts. For those who don't practice "organic" rose gardening, there is a product on the market known as Systemic Rose Food, which can feed the plants and prevent the bugs in one step. And don't be surprised to find rose foods with a higher nitrogen (first number in the ratio) than what you think is necessary. Just remember that you need leaves to get blooms and the more nitrogen in the ratio, the more ability to produce green leaves. Finally, if you become obsessed with Roses to an extent that you want to learn more and more about them, and surround yourself with like-minded rose-lovers, then you need to join the Houston Rose Society. And here is their website for more information-
    Click Here

    Randy Lemmon is the host of the GardenLine radio program on Newsradio 740 KTRH. Randy has been doing GardenLine in one capacity or another since December of 1995, for all three of the now Clear Channel AM stations - KTRH, KPRC & KBME. When Randy took over GardenLine, he replaced long-time Houston radio veteran and GardenLine originator, Bill Zak. For those who remember that far back, GardenLine was a weekly radio staple on KTRH from 10 a.m. to Noon Mondays through Fridays - along with a Saturday show as well. Now GardenLine is heard exclusively on Newsradio 740 KTRH on weekend mornings.