Pruning roses

As you may know, we are proud of our roses. We are blessed with over 50 varieties that gardeners have accumulated over the years. Every year, they put on a wonderful show of abundant flowers. To be at their best for our Rose Walk in May (this year scheduled for the weekend of May 18/19), we need to take care of them now.

Most roses need a pruning in early spring, before they start growing. This year, we offered a rose pruning workshop through the community garden umbrella organization GreenThumb. Because we have so many different types of roses and one of our gardeners is a rose expert, we wanted to share our expertise.

Workshop participants check out different pruners. For pruning roses and any other woody plants we really only want to use bypass pruners. Stems thicker than a thumb are better cut with long-handled loppers.

On a beautiful sunny day in March, a group of gardeners from as far away as Forest Hills in Queens gathered to watch Shinichi take the bypass pruners to our roses. First, we tackled some of the hybrid tea roses. For them to grow nice, large blooms, they can be cut back by 2/3 of the length of the stems. To encourage a nice shape of the new growth, we prune the stem to an outward facing bud. This will prevent later criss-crossing of the stems.

Roses are cut above an outfacing bud. These here are seen a couple of (cold) weeks later when the bud below the cut started to swell.

Next, we tackled “Livin’ Easy”, a large Floribunda rose that had grown very tall last year. Here, we wanted to simplify the structure of the plant by cutting out crossing stems from the middle and shortening the canes by about half. Like hybrid tea roses, Floribunda roses can deal with pruning beyond the usual 1/3 rule, especially if the rose is as vigorous as our Livin’ Easy. (This rule says that pruning by more than 1/3 at a time is weakening the plant. It applies to all shrubs and trees.)

Livin’ easy before pruning. It had grown really tall over the last year (Photo: Elisa Monte). The inset shows one stem as it looked a month later. This is really a vigorous rose!

Everybody offered suggestions, where to cut Livin’ Easy back. When we were happy with our work, we gathered for a group photo. Check out below how this rose looked after pruning.

Some participants of our workshop with Livin’ Easy in the foreground (Foto: Elisa Monte).

Finally, there are species roses and the old garden roses: Damasks, Bourbons and Hybrid Musk roses. These are not pruned at this time of the year. They flower only on the canes from the previous year, if we cut now, we’ll remove all flower buds! Of course, the three D apply to all shrubs, so we did cut back all damaged, diseased and dead canes. We also removed criss-crossing branches and shortened the tips of the canes just a little to maintain the shape of the rose.

Discussing how to prune Madame Hardy, a Damask rose. Here, only  the tips of the branches were cut. A few weeks later, the buds are growing nicely.

With so many roses, we are still not quite done with pruning all of them. Fortunately for us, it has been pretty cold since the beginning of March, and it is not too late to finish the job this weekend. I better get my shears ready!