January and February are time to prune roses

Gardening column
By: Kurt Voigt
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Winter rose pruning is an annual, overwhelming gardening experience. But it doesn’t have to be! The once-a-year rose pruning during the dormant season (January to February) that most homeowners dread is understandable and, to some, overwhelming. It’s the one time each year you can prune something and see all the stems and canes. During the growing season, the leaves are always in the way and you can’t get a clear picture of what you’re doing without getting poked and scratched. I like the one-time-a-year pruning because you can’t prune this hard during the growing season. So put your gloves on, sharpen your shears and let’s do this! Whether you’re pruning a floribunda, grandiflora or a hybrid tea, the general rules apply. However, the climbing rose is totally different. While there are different schools of thought on rose pruning, here are some basic guidelines. The best time in the Central Valley and foothills area is either January or February as the buds start to swell. The buds tell me where to prune. The general priority is to cut out the diseased, dead or weak, twiggy branches. Next, cut out old canes that aren’t either producing strong growth or are getting woody. Also, cut out branches that cross the center so light is able to penetrate through the plant so you will have less powdery mildew and rust problems. Last, remove any growth that is pencil thickness or smaller. After removing the dead, diseased and crossing growth, it’s time to reduce the height and thin the canes. I usually cut my canes down to 18 inches. Some gardeners like them at 24 inches. It’s personal preference, really. The taller you prune or leave the canes, the taller your rose shrub will be during the growing season. I wouldn’t go less than 12 inches and I would not remove more than a third of last year’s growth. When cutting your canes down, look for buds on the “outside” of the cane so that you direct growth outward when you cut at a 45-degree angle to the bud’s top. You can leave three to seven canes depending on the age of your rose and how full you want it. I usually leave three to five main canes. Don’t forget to remove the suckers. Climbing roses are a little tricky because you don’t want to cut the canes down. Instead, only remove the obviously dead and diseased wood. Then cut the laterals that produced flowers last year back to two or three latent beds. So you should have long canes on your trellis or fence and little, short, stubby laterals coming off the main cane. Right now, my buds are starting to swell and push so it’s a good time to prune. Kurt Voigt is a landscape designer/consultant. He can be reached at