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Suggested Pruning Techniques for Old Fashioned Roses

by Joe M. Woodward, with additions in italics by Rose Lee

Mr. Woodward was the editor of The Yellow Rose, Dallas Rose Society. His original article was published in the North Bay Rosarian, North Bay Rose Society in 1998. Additional pruning comments appear in italics by Rose Lee, Rosebriar Gardens and Design, Seattle, WA,

The article is reprinted from Heritage Roses Northwest Newsletter. Volume 27, Issue 3, Spring 2018, Margaret Nelson, Editor.

Albas: Prune after spring bloom. Some old wood should be cut back to encourage new growth from the bottom. Shorten long shoots by 1/3. Old canes can be cut to the crown and long canes may be cut to ½ their length in the NW where they tend to be more vigorous. 25 year old Alba bushes like ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and ‘Maiden’s Blush’ grow to 12 to 15 feet in my garden.

Bourbons: Prune lightly for most varieties. While the plants are dormant, remove dead and twiggy growth. After first flush of bloom, lightly shape the bushes. Bourbons may have a poor, soggy show in June, depending on the weather in the NW. I have cut to ½ or lower after the June bloom and treated them like a bushy HT because I needed them to be smaller, and had great shows in fall with ‘Coquette des Blanches’ and ‘Mme Pierre Oger’. ‘Reine Victoria’ on the other hand I have let out-grow a fig tree! I love the beautiful blooms when I am picking late summer figs. ABOVE: Bourbon Zephirine Drouhin, by Rich Baer

Chinas: Prune while the plants are dormant. Re-move dead wood and lightly shape the bushes. For the most part, these varieties tend to build on them-selves. The branches candelabra and tend to angle.

Climbers–Old and New: While plants are dormant, remove dead twiggy growth and. If needed, remove very old canes at the bottom. After bloom, shape entire bush to desired size. Check structures and support ties. When in doubt, cut one low, one middle and one high to encourage lower blooms. Training canes in serpentine or circular shapes for a wall and a spiral for a pillar can increase bloom.

Damasks: 1) One time bloomers: Prune after spring bloom. Remove old wood to encourage young growth from the bottom. Shape to desired size. 2) Repeat bloomers: prune while the plants are dormant. Use the same technique as for Hybrid Teas. Select good strong canes as the basic structure. I find the Autumn Damasks very bushy and thorny so I prune to remove old canes and leave denser growth while Portland Damasks could easily be pruned as a HT after bloom, however, ‘Rose de Rescht’ is compact, dense and suckers on its own root so may be pruned similar to the Gallica, ‘Belle Isis’.

ABOVE: Gallica Cardinal de Richelieu by Rita Perwich

ABOVE: Gallica Duchesse de Montebello by Rita Perwich

Gallicas: Prune after spring bloom. Remove old wood all the way to the bottom and shorten long canes by 1/3. On some Gallicas like R. gallica ‘officianalis’/’Apothecary’s Rose’ and ‘Belle Isis’, I trim off old hips to a healthy new bud with a directional cut that leaves the new bud pointing at me for future viewing. Leaving 4-6 buds seems to give ample flowers on the second year wood. I have taken a hedge pruner in times when I am short of time and the effect is just as good. I find shearing the suckers to an even level gives a nice, tidy effect.

Hybrid Musks: Prune while the plants are dormant. Cut back long growth by 1/3. Remove any very old canes. Remove all dead, twiggy and crossed wood. Canes are pliable and easily trainable. ABOVE: Hybrid musk Cornelia, by Rita Perwich.

Hybrid Perpetuals: Prune while the plants are dormant. Shape to fit location or desired size. Apply same pruning techniques as for modern Hybrid Teas.

Mosses: 1) One time bloomers: Prune after spring bloom. Cut back long new growth by half and the short new growth down to 2-3 buds. 2) Repeat bloomers: Prune while the plants are dormant. Shorten canes by half. Remove some old wood at the base and remove dead and twiggy growth. Give a good shaping as these are generally very vigorous bushes. I have an unidentified red moss that suckers with thin growth very much like the ‘Apothecary’s Rose’, while ‘Shailer’s White Moss’ has pretty substantial husky canes. I pruned ’Shailer’s’ with directional cuts as above and sheared the more spindly suckering moss and had luck with both techniques. Just to let you know. (LEFT: Moss rose, Crested Moss, by Bob Martin).

Noisettes: Prune while the plants are dormant. Cut old and young wood back by about a quarter. Remove all spindly, crossed and dead wood.

Polyanthas: Prune while the plants are dormant. Remove twiggy, spindly, crossed and dead wood, leaving a structure of strong, young canes, Short-en these by half.

Portlands: Prune while the plants are dormant. Remove all dead and twiggy growth. Basically, use the same techniques as for modern Hybrid Teas.

Ramblers: Prune after spring bloom. Prune only to keep desired size. The removal of very old wood will encourage young, new growth from the bottom. Check structures and support ties.

Rugosas and shrubs: Very little pruning is necessary except to keep at desired size. If pruning is done while the plants are dormant, there may be some loss of bloom. If pruning is done after spring bloom, there will be a loss of hips. The choice is yours. Shaping can be done by removal of canes from the bottom or by shortening canes.

Species: Prune after spring bloom. Prune only to keep the bush at desired size. The removal of very old wood will encourage new basal breaks. Most of these varieties bloom on the previous year’s growth and so, the bigger and bushier the plant, the more bloom is produced. Re: R. eglanteria, if I have room, I leave the twiggy growth alone to leave habitat for song birds and beloved bush tits. The flowers are frequented by bees and hips are used as winter food for birds, deer, squirrels and bear.

OGR Pruning Tips

By Rose Lee

To control unwanted growth on roses that sucker freely on their own roots, I dig them out and pot them or just cut the canes down to the ground where I do not want them. It is true that cutting back to the ground means they will come up someplace else but I consider it just part of garden weeding.

For pergolas, large arbors and pillars involving roses like ‘Sombreuil’ and ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ that are very vigorous, I will periodically carefully remove the canes and lay them aside, prune to desired shape and re-attach. I am careful to not let large canes grow intertwined and behind trellises which can later destroy the structures. I let a few pliable canes weave in and out that are kept in check, but generally I tie canes with rubber ties to the outside of supporting structures. LEFT: Noisette Mme Alfred Carrière, by Rita Perwich


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