Garden Tips: Merciless rose pruning tips

Marianne C. Ophardt, WSU Benton County ExtensionApril 11, 2014 


Roses mistakenly get a bad rap, says Brian Strickland. They can be easy-or difficult-to nurture, depending on the types you buy. A trimmed rose bush will have a vase shape. (Dave Bowman/Newport News Daily Press.KRT)


Last weekend, I took on the project of pruning my roses, nicknaming myself "Marianne the Merciless." I showed no mercy to my roses that had not been pruned correctly for several years because I had negligently waited too long each spring to get in there and get the job done right.

I pulled on my rose gauntlet gloves, picked up my sharpened loppers and hand pruners, and went to work. It was not an easy task. Roses grow terrifically well in our region, and mine had grown to a height of almost 6 feet last year. When I was done, I had mountains of rose prunings and bushes that hopefully will perform better this summer.

Satisfied with a job well done, I was amazed that I did not look like I had tangled with a vicious animal. I wore long sleeves and my new rose gauntlet gloves. The glove hands are made of leather and the "gauntlet" cuffs are made of canvas that reaches almost to my elbows. They kept my hands and arms free of pokes and scratches.

I purchased my pair at a local garden store, but they can also be ordered online. If you have a lot of roses or raspberries, you should consider investing in a pair of all-leather rose gauntlet gloves.

My new gloves were stiff when I started and a little tight. If you purchase a quality pair of gauntlet gloves, make sure they are the right size for your hands. Many of the companies selling quality rose gloves have size charts to guide you.

The other thing that made my job easier was having sharp pruning tools. It is difficult to cut out thick, woody old canes with dull loppers. If you know how to sharpen your tools, do it before taking on your spring pruning chores.

Rich Redekopp, one of our Master Gardener rose experts, told me about another pruning tool for taking out tough old dead wood or thick canes. Redekopp recommends the cordless Milwaukee Hackzall Reciprocating Saw fitted with a pruning blade. He pruned some roses outside our office and his saw made quick work of the gnarly old dead growth in these neglected roses.

Roses are forgiving. You can prune them incorrectly (or not at all), and they will still produce beautiful blooms. However, with correct pruning, your shrubs will not grow out of control, and the rose blooms will be bigger.

Helen Newman, Master Gardener rose expert and Tri-Cities Rosarian, notes that your goals are to remove the "dead, diseased, damaged and dinky" canes. Experts call them the four "Ds" of pruning roses. You should also remove shoots that are old and gnarled, growing in the center of the shrubs or crisscrossing each other.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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