Is It Too Late To Prune My Roses?

Here’s what to do if spring caught you by surprise.

pruning roses
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Birmingham Zoo's groundhog, Jamie "Birmingham" Bill, may have slept through this year's Groundhog Day, but recent bouts of warm weather have us thinking spring is coming either way. If you've been pushing "prune the roses" farther and farther down your to-do list, we don't blame you. Luckily, it may not be too late for you and your roses.

Why You Should Prune Your Roses

Let's start with why you should prune in the first place. (And a disclaimer! There are several thousand types of roses, so be sure to double check the best practices for the specific rose that you're growing.) According to the Southern Living Garden Book, pruning promotes strong growth and therefore maximizes the "health, productivity, and longevity" of your roses. In short, it removes dead and weak growth, and makes room for big, healthy blooms.

Is It too Late to Prune Roses?

So is it too late for strong roses? Depending on your rose and where you live, you just may be in luck. The Southern Living Garden Book reports that: "The best pruning time for most roses is at the end of the dormant season, when growth buds begin to swell." So that means your prime pruning time may be anytime from mid-January (warmer climates) to early April (cooler climates).

Don't Prune Too Early

Just be sure not to prune too early, before the final frost. If you live somewhere where late frosts are common, be sure to wait as the new growth could be harmed by a late freeze. For roses like the 'Knock Out', the Grumpy Gardener says, "About the only time not to prune is late summer and early fall, as this might encourage late growth that wouldn't harden off in time for winter."

How to Prune Roses

If you decide to break out the shears, here's what to do. Assess what type of rose you're working with. The Grumpy Gardener advises to first determine whether your rose bush blooms just once or many times throughout the season. "Prune once-bloomers, like 'Lady Banks,' 'American Beauty,' and 'Veilchenblau' immediately after they finish blooming," he writes. "Prune repeat-bloomers, such as 'Knock Out,' floribundas, hybrid teas, and Drifts, several times during the year between flushes of blooms." Leave climbing roses be for the first two or three years after planting.

Use sharp pruners, and strategically remove wood that is dead or has no healthy growth and branches that grow through the plant's center or make it appear lopsided. Removing any remaining foliage can help prevent disease. Cut back the previous season's growth by one-third to one-half. Remove suckers, which the Southern Living Garden Book notes you can differentiate from new cane growth by the "foliage size, shape, and color, as well as in size of thorns and habit of growth." If in doubt, let it grow until you can really tell.

And finally, set that calendar reminder for next year. Maybe Birmingham Bill will too.

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