My Quirky Rose Pruning Opinions

I started pruning the roses on January 2nd. Normally a good time to prune roses in Southern California is Super Bowl Sunday, just as the soil starts warming up again after the minimal daylight hours of late December through January. Since this is not a normal garden, there being 300 or so roses, I start early. On Super Bowl Sunday I won't be done pruning, so I'll still be out there clipping and raking away. I'll hear all the neighbors howling at their big flat screen TVs while I am in my peaceful garden with a lot of bandages on my arms from rose stabs. Roses are grateful for pruning, but they slash you anyway.

Pruning my roses takes weeks. I remove every leaf, and rake up the old fallen foliage, and clean up the perennials while I'm at it. After everything is pruned and cleaned up, a dormant spray and then 10 cubic yards of new mulch. It's my contribution to the garden's well being, and thankfully it takes place when temperatures are relatively low. The rest of the year, the plants do the work.

Here's what I got done the first day: this...

became this...

These roses were cut back by half. They were all about 8' tall and I took them down to about 4'. These are hybrid teas that I use for bouquets for the house.

The standard advice for rose pruning is to remove the "Three Ds": Dead, Diseased, and Damaged canes.


Brown = dead. If the outside is brown and the inside (cross section) is brown, the cane is dead. Sometimes old canes are brown on the outside but white on the inside, and there will be a thin green ring just inside the brown. Those canes are still alive. But all brown, or all black, and they're dead.


Here is a diseased cane. The disease is Stem Canker, a fungal infection. Note the reddish area (red arrow) and disease-killed areas (black arrow). The infection probably entered the cane via pruning last year. If you see a lot of this, disinfect your pruners between roses with a splash of Listerine or an anti-bacterial wipe. For me, pruning in dry sunny weather, not damp, overcast weather, helps to prevent this.

This is wind damage--the Santa Anas make the canes beat each other and the prickles tear the canes up:

This is another type of damage, sunburn--which you probably won't see in places like the UK. If the sunburn isn't too bad, the cane will still be productive, but a bad sunburn sucks the life out of a cane. Sometimes I remove them, sometimes not. Sunburn is easily identified. The side of the cane facing the sun will be brownish or reddish, while the other side will be green and look normal. This picture shows old sunburn. This cane was still productive so I left it last year, but this year it's off, it got sunburnt again this year and the white areas are dead.

After the "Three Ds" are removed, the usual advice is to take the height down 30% - 50%. How much height to remove depends on how old the rose is, how big it gets over the growing season, how big you want it to get over the growing season, whether or not it sulks after a hard pruning (or a light one), and a few other things.

After the standard advice you'll read just about everywhere, there are also my own "Three Cs", the quirky things I've learned from my own roses. There are probably more than three, but that's what I have for today. C = Cut. The three C's are Stubs, Hopeless, and Don't Bother.

I remove the canes in the rectangle. The drying stub won't produce anything worth keeping, and the secondary cane is thinner and weaker than the two below it. Removing that area gives the two canes below a better chance of being productive. The precious plant fluids can feed the two stronger lower canes. Eventually the cane will be short, and old, and it will be removed. But not this year.

Last year's pruning cut is there on the left hand side. After a year of growing, all this cane could produce were those little twiggy growths that had a few leaves but no flowers. This cane is worn out, even though it's still green and undamaged. It won't improve in the new growing season. It's done. Remove.

I know I'm not the only one who does this: there's one beautiful fat bud
left on the plant, already showing color, and you think to leave it, because you'll cut it in a few days and put it in a vase. I've seen this in other yards, so I know I'm not the only one. But at least in my garden, that flower either never opens, browns up with botrytis, or it rains and ruins the flower, or the few remaining leaves get very rusty, or something. But no matter what, I never get a good flower out of this situation, so off they come.

I will have further comments on rose pruning, but to conclude this post, while I was out in the garden among the bare green sticks, I was reminded of yet another thing to hate about California (if you don't live here) or love about California (if you do live here): when your roses look like this...

your Camellias do this!

Bye for now!


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