Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rose Pruning Time is Here

    Late December through January is rose pruning time here in California's Central Valley, Bay Area, low foothills, North Coast and Southern California. In these mild winter areas of California, roses do not need as severe a pruning as some East Coast-based rose primers might suggest. Here then, are some "California Rules" for pruning hybrid tea, floribundas, grandifloras and miniature roses this winter.

By the way, ask 100 rosarians how to prune roses, and you may get many varied answers. Hell, rosarians don't agree on much when it comes to roses. Which goes to show you:

  Give them the basics (sun, water, decent soil), and they can pretty much take whatever you throw at them, and come back blooming. They would appreciate a monthly fertilization during the growing season...if you remember.

Rose Pruning Tools:
• A pair of hand bypass pruners (I prefer the Felco #2 or Felco #7).
• Long Handled loppers (My Corona loppers have lasted for years).
• One or two pruning saws (a small hand-held and/or a larger bow-style pruning saw.
• Thorn resistant, long sleeved rose pruning gloves.

Pruning Roses, California Style:

• Prune out all dead, aged and weak growth. Gnarly stems and gnarly thorns indicate "Aged".


Remove any borer-infested
branches, as well. A hollow or blackened center of a stem may indicate the presence of borers. A solid, creamy colored interior is the sign of a healthy branch.

• Make no cuts on hybrid tea rose bushes or grandifloras below your knee, unless you're removing the cane completely.

• Leave as many primary canes as the plant can handle. Many cold climate rosarians might advise you to leave only three canes per hybrid tea rose bush. Here in California, a vigorously growing hybrid tea or grandiflora rose might have as many as nine healthy canes. Keep most, if not all of  those canes, for even more roses during spring through fall.

• Try to make all cuts without extreme angles. Nothing exceeding 45 degree cuts; 90 degree cuts (or as close to that as possible) is fine. This is especially true of thick canes. The low part of a 45 degree cut on these would extend past, ultimately damaging, weakening or killing the eye (new bud) you are trying to cut above. 

• All cuts should be made one-quarter inch above a dormant eye or intersection of two branches.


• Do not use glue, tree seal or paint on pruning cuts. A clean cut will heal much more quickly when left alone.

• When you are finished, strip all remaining leaves from your roses, then blow or rake all the leaves out of the beds and send them to the dump, not the compost pile. Since all the fungus spores and insect eggs are there from the last growing season, removing these from your yard now reduces next year's problems.

Visit the Lance Walheim website for information about his excellent rose books!


  1. This is a wonderful, straight forward approach to rose pruning. It is very helpful.

  2. I enjoyed reading your pruning guide. What is your favorite mauve/purple hybrid tea?

  3. Masha, I like "Stainless Steel" as a mauve hybrid tea rose. More info here:

  4. I wish I had read your pruning guide last weekend - before I pruned the rose bushes! Is it okay to layer wood chips around the rose bed? We just cut down two fruitless mulberry trees and I need to find a home for the wood chips.

  5. The roses would appreciate that mulch, about three inches deep! Just be sure to clean up the area first of any rose leaves or twigs.