Pruning Prepares Rose Bushes for a Healthy Start to the New Year

Gary Jones

Thu December 29, 2016 4:30pm

Pruning and planting roses are pretty easy to do. They are such hearty plants you cannot really hurt them. If you want your roses to get off to a healthy start in 2017, then consider taking some simple steps now to enjoy a great year of growing.
It is good to have a few helpful tools on hand before you start. Gauntlet gloves — leather gloves with leather arm protectors — are highly recommended when working with roses and rose bushes. A sharp and clean pruner, such as hand clippers, is a must for getting the best results. For large stem roses and large bushes, long-handled pruners are ideal.
To successfully prune roses there are a few simple ideas you will need to understand and follow.
The purpose of pruning roses is straightforward: roses bloom on new growth so cut back the old wood (last spring’s and summer’s growth) to encourage lots of new, flower-producing stems. Remember that roses are shrubs that grow rather unevenly, so January is the best time to reduce the shrub size and balance the shape. Small twiggy growth should be removed because it will never produce flowers. Damaged or diseased branches should also be removed. Reducing the shrub by 30 to 50 percent is the goal. Removing all the leaves will help keep unwelcome bugs and diseases from overwintering.
Established rose bushes are quite indestructible — they can be pruned to within six inches of the ground and be just fine. But there is one critical rule of success: make all cuts just above a leaf or leaf node — ideally one that faces away from the center of the shrub. If cuts are made below the node, then you will very likely get dieback, which is when the stem begins to turn black and die — often all the way to the ground. Location awareness of the cuts you make will help to avoid this mistake.
Planting roses can bring such joy to so many people, especially the person planting them. The selection of roses at nurseries is largest at the beginning of the year and they are easily planted while dormant or not actively growing. It also means they have been pruned and leaves have been removed. Dormant roses planted during January and February begin to send out new roots into the surrounding soil and will burst forth with new growth and flowers come spring.
Rose varieties add a sense of excitement and beauty to things. The climbing rose Eden has huge old-fashioned roses of pale pink and cream. Eden Pretty in Pink is a climber with vibrant, rich pink cabbage roses. Anna’s Promise is part of the Downton Abby rose series. It has unique coloring: golden petals blushed warm pink with a glowing bronze reverse. Heavily flowering Doris Day is a pure golden yellow rose with a strong spiced fruit fragrance.
The rose named for Neil Diamond recalls his textured voice with deep pink flowers irregularly mottled and splashed with white and has an intense sweet fragrance. Ketchup & Mustard, introduced a couple years ago, is still in demand for its striking bright red flowers with an intense yellow reverse.
Roses live a long time in the garden, so make sure to prepare the soil well. Dig a hole twice the width of the container as well as one and one-half times the depth. Amend the soil with an organic rose planting mix and Sure Start fertilizer, following the directions on the bag.
Remove the container and set the rose so the soil level of the container matches the garden soil level. Fill in around the root ball, firming the soil. Make a trough of dirt around the rose to hold a couple inches of water. Water everything thoroughly. Keep the soil moist until the rose leafs out, then reduce watering after that.
Armstrong Garden Centers is offering community gardening classes in January to highlight rose pruning and planting. No registration is required for these free classes. Visit for more information.
Gary Jones is chief horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email your drought and gardening questions to growingdialogue