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SHARING SECRETS: Rose Pruning Tips

Winter is rose pruning time in San Diego. I've heard that roses should be cut back to 18" and I've heard that we should keep them around 3".** I've heard we should spray and I've heard we shouldn't. How and when do you prune your roses?

Charlotte Getz: I prune my roses in December, when I also do the first dormant copper spray of my peach trees after all leaves have dropped from the trees. I prune them to 2 - 3 ft. keeping an open vase shape of all the outward facing canes. Interior canes are removed and also any crossing canes. I do not spray my roses but have them all mulched not too close to the main canes for good air circulation.

Lori Kilmer: I have over 100 roses, and I do not love pruning, but it is necessary. This year’s free San Diego Rose Society’s rose pruning seminar in the Rose Garden in Balboa Park is Saturday, January 12, at 9:15AM. Do yourself a favor and learn from the best; check their website for further details. As for me, I try to begin at the beginning of the year and finish as quickly as possible which may take a month. If anyone wants to help me and learn at the same time, just give me a call. Lol

Bob Martin: No. No. No. The advice to cut roses back to 18" and keep them around 3" (certainly that was 3-feet?) is terrible advice for pruning roses in San Diego. January is the time to prune roses. You can start pruning just about any time after Christmas, throughout January, and through about Valentine’s Day. To begin, identify the newest canes. They are the ones that are the greenest. Then identify any older unproductive canes. (If your bush is young--say two to three years old--you may not have much in the way of older canes.) Use your loppers or handy pruning saw, and cut the older canes off flush with the bud union. New growth needs room and the ideal plant grows out from the center. Identify any canes that cross directly over the center and cut them off with your loppers, or pruning saw, flush with the bud union or, as is more generally the case, flush with the cane from which they have decided to grow in the wrong direction. You are now in a position to consider height. Most proponents of severe pruning are from areas that require winter protection for their roses. Since the cold is going to kill back long canes anyway this makes sense. The proponents of very light pruning are either too faint of heart or have an inordinate love of bushy foliage and small blooms on short stems. In our San Diego climate, neither approach makes sense. Mentally divide the cane into three equal parts and prepare to remove the top one-third. Strip all the remaining leaves. They are last year’s history. You want new leaves that can get a good start without catching fungus infections or facing attack from the bugs hanging around the old leaves. Dormant spray is not necessary since the rose do not go dormant in San Diego. A spray program does not begin before March.

Susan Oddo: Having pared down from a couple hundred to just 5 roses for which I meticulously followed Dick Streeper’s care guide, I have to say that ANY rose care is a challenge in time-management since they are just generally fussy and have changing food and maintenance needs throughout the year. For winter pruning, a good rule of thumb is prune to 18 inches. In San Diego, you can wait to do this until mid-January. All of my roses are still in full bloom with more buds already set and it is December 11. Spraying is bad for the bees and the environment so using a strong spray of water in the early morning and an environmentally safe disease spray throughout the summer is the least offensive. When you get any sign of disease, just cut off the offending leaves. If it shows up all over in the span of a day or two, just re-prune the plant and let it put out new, healthy shoots.

Al Field: Perhaps you mean around 3 feet, not inches. Traditionally, I start the annual pruning after Christmas and finish during the month of January, starting with the ones that have ceased blooming and are nearer to semi-dormancy. The desired height is largely a function of the rosarian's personal preference and the extent to which the plants need to be controlled in size. Some gardeners have so many bushes crammed in that the plants must be taken down to 18 inches in height, but I think that is severe for vigorous plants. It's not helpful advice for beginners, but the desired height depends on the type, size and vigor of the shrub. Prune more for shape than bloom production, as healthy roses always bloom.

I have avoided spraying pesticides or fungicides for nearly 10 years now. Purchasing disease-resistant plants helps a great deal; replace bushes that suffered all season. Hosing down the shrubs and watering deeply once a week works wonders. Healthy plants are much more resistant to bugs and fungus.

Dale Rekus: In Point Loma, we prune hybrid teas and grandifloras back to between 18 to 30 inches high, depending on the plant. We also thin the canes to three to five canes per plant. We finish them by stripping off all the remaining leaves.

Walter Andersen: Rose pruning, best to do in December or January. Don't worry if leaves haven't dropped, they will be fine. For hybrid tea roses (most popular) find 3 to 4 strongest canes prune to 12" to 14" just above a bud that faces out from the center. Remove all of the other canes. If canes are crossed, remove the weaker cane. For grandiflora types same as above, but perhaps a little taller, 14" to 16" tall. For floribundas, pick the 6 strongest canes, prune to about 12" tall, and remove the rest of the smaller canes. Carpet roses for ground cover, just use a hedge shear and cut them back to about 8" to 10" from the ground.

Dormant spray with a copper spray to kill rust and mildew spores.

Fertilize with Ada Perry's Magic Formula to get them off to a great start. 1 cup for smaller plants, 2 cups for larger plants. Start feeding monthly with GroPower until September.

Cathy Tylka: Well, I prune my roses all year long, I try to go down 7 side shoots whenever I do this, as I read about this method about 40 years ago and it works for me. My roses come out single stemmed and fuller and it seems to push them to produce. I know this doesn't sound scientific, but that's what works in hot Escondido.

**Our readers were right. That was a typo. Should have read 3'.

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