Pruning roses doesn't have to be confusing

Roses are beautiful, and because of their majesty, they are the most popular flower of gardeners and nongardeners alike. It isn't a surprise roses, our national flower, are top sellers at nurseries and floral shops.

Growing roses in the valley is a challenge. Even after a lot of effort, growing them in the desert is not as it is in other regions. Here, you'll find buds quickly "blow" open like cabbage balls, with some having scorched edges. They often lack fragrance, and colors bleach because of the heat. Even so, they continue to be the No. 1 flower in our valley.

Pruning roses causes the most concern for many gardeners. Why do you have to prune roses? What kind of tools do you need? When is the best time to prune? How do you prune?

These questions and many more will be answered and the techniques demonstrated by the Las Vegas Valley Rose Society from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Richard Jackson's home at 1112 Oak Tree Lane. The Jacksons have more than 150 roses. Don't be surprised if they show you how to prune, then hand you the pruners to do some cutting; they really want to imprint the task on your mind. For more information, call 646-6048.

Roses are easy to prune if you follow a few basic fundamentals. You can ask 20 different people how to prune roses, and you will probably get that many different ideas -- and they will probably all work just fine. The Las Vegas Valley Rose Society, from my observations, find the following methods easiest and most effective for creating attractive rosebushes for those not familiar with the process.

Why do I prune roses? There are several reasons to shape roses to their desirable characteristics:

• To encourage long-stemmed flowers from hybrid teas or more clusters from floribundas.

• To create a healthy rose by removing the three Ds; dead, diseased and damaged canes.

• Thinning out interior canes increases light penetration and air circulation and decreases mildew.

• Improves the overall well-being and beauty of roses.

What tools do I use? Pruning roses does not require any specialized tools:

• The main cutting tool is a pair of bypass pruners; they make clean, precise cuts near a bud.

• A pair of long-handled bypass loppers provide leverage necessary to cut out old growth.

• In some cases, you may need a pruning saw.

What do I cut? Before pruning, think about the overall shape you are seeking for your roses. Follow these 13 logical steps as suggested by the rose society to make the job seem less complicated:

1. Simply remove the top third to half of the bush, as if giving someone a crew cut.

2. Eliminate old canes back to the crown or bud union.

3. Get rid of all dead branches and canes, which are generally gray or brown.

4. Remove canes thinner than a pencil to get gorgeous blooms. Thin canes result in small blooms; thicker canes result in fatter buds with larger flowers.

5. Do away with crisscrossing canes passing through the center of the bush.

6. Eradicate all suckers coming from below the crown.

7. Select a bud eye (found above an old leaf scare) facing outward; a new cane will spring forth in the desired direction outward from the plant.

8. Make final cuts about 1/4 inch above the bud eye, slanting at a 45-degree angle away from it.

9. Ideally, when finished, you want three to nine canes coming from the crown in an urn or vase shape.

10. Remove all leaves to induce dormancy in plants.

11. Clean up all leaves, clippings and debris and discard; rose pests and diseases survive on debris.

12. Cover all pruning cuts larger than the thickness of a pencil with something such as Elmer's Glue to prevent entrance of borers.

13. Spray dormant oil to dripping wet to eradicate over-wintering insects and diseases.

What if I prune incorrectly? Fortunately, roses are resilient. Experiment and see what type of pruning works best with your roses. Just keep roses healthy and follow the above steps and they'll do fine.

These general pruning recommendations are for hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses. You'll prune climbers, miniatures and ramblers differently. Ask consulting rosarians at the rose pruning demonstration for details.

What do I feed roses? They are heavy feeders. It's the key to large blooms. Here's Jackson's recipe for each bush to get superior bloomers:

1. Give plants a good drink before feeding to avoid any fertilizer burn.

2. Add an all-purpose rose fertilizer containing the big three: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

3. Put in 3/4 cup of bone meal, a slow-release form of phosphorus.

4. Include a cup of soil sulfur to make nutrients more available in our alkaline soils.

5. Add 1/3 cup of magnesium sulfate. Jackson finds it triggers positive reactions throughout plants for prettier blooms and regenerates new cane growth from the crown.

6. Add 3/4 cup of cottonseed meal or fish meal to improve blooms and prolong their vase life.

7. Distribute nutrients evenly around the bush and scratch into the top 2 inches of soil.

8. Follow with a deep irrigation to move nutrients into the root zone.

9. Beginning in February, feed roses monthly with a balanced rose food.

Another fertilizer option is timed-release fertilizers that distribute nutrients gradually over the season. Nutrient release depends on soil moisture and/or temperature.

If you planted new roses, do not fertilize them until after they begin blooming. At that point, you will follow the above directions for established roses.

Mulch roses: Using mulch around roses helps conserve moisture, keeps soil cool and retards weed growth. Materials such as wood chips make good mulch.


Join master gardener Lee Heenen at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Nevada Cooperative Extension learning center, 8050 S. Maryland Parkway, as she goes over the finer points of pruning, planting and fertilizing, which are essentials for growing blue-ribbon roses. Call 257-5555 to reserve your seat for this class.


Are you caught up a tree on how to prune a tree? Go out on a limb and learn how to prune the correct way to get large lush fruit. Join me at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 26 at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. To reserve your seat and for cost, call 822-7700.

Linn Mills writes a garden column every Thursday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ or at the Gardens at the Springs Preserve at 822-7754.