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Prune roses taller for faster bloom

Sierra Foothills Rose Society offers free pruning and rose-care videos online

Several pruned rose bushes
These hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras benefit from pruning taller, not to the ground. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

How short – or tall – should you prune roses? It depends – on the kind of rose as well as its age and health.

But in most cases, taller may be better than shorter.

Traditionally, hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras – the most common classes of garden roses – were pruned very short, taking canes to under 12 inches or less. Many people, including professional gardeners and landscapers, still follow that method, whacking bushes down almost to the ground.

Tall pruned rose bush
This is About Face, a very tall
grandiflora rose that appreciates
less pruning.

However, pruning roses so short forces the bush to put a lot more energy into regrowing its height before it starts setting blooms. That can delay those first flowers several weeks.

In addition, it risks pruning below the graft, the knotty connection where the bush you want – the hybrid variety – is attached to rootstock. If the bush is pruned below the graft, the hybrid is gone and only the rootstock will grow.

To get blooms faster and also support healthier growth, prune the rose bush taller. For most hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora bushes, that’s about waist high – 36 inches. Shorter, more compact bushes – such as smaller landscape and shrub roses as well as some floribunda varieties – can be pruned down to 24 inches, about knee high.

The idea behind this pruning approach: Bushes want to grow to a certain height. A hybrid tea rose that typically grows to 4 or 5 feet wants to be 48 to 60 inches tall before it bursts into full bloom. If pruned to 36 inches instead of 12, that bush will start flowering in force much sooner and with more energy than if it had to regrow all that cane.

Another positive: Pruning taller takes less time – and less work! So you can prune your rose garden faster with less effort.

Two people preparing to prune a tree rose
Charlotte Owendyk and Baldo Villegas demonstrate how to
prune a tree rose in a segment of the Sierra Foothills Rose
Society's pruning video. (Screenshot)

Get more expert advice on growing, pruning and caring for all sorts of roses via excellent new videos produced by the Sierra Foothill Rose Society. Instead of hosting its usual in-person winter rose-care workshop, the club hosted its workshop via Zoom and recorded the presentation to share on YouTube.

Local rose authorities Baldo Villegas and Garry Chin host the virtual rose-care workshop, assisted by other members of the rose society. Breakout sections on pruning climbers and tree roses as well as pruning basics and tool selection are available, too. And the best part? It’s free! Watch online, then try out your new skills.

See for yourself:

Debbie Arrington, president of the Sacramento Rose Society, is a master rosarian.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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