Rose pruning in Denver?

b2alicia(zone 5 Westminster)April 9, 2011

Hi, folks!

I looked through the other forums for info about when to cut back rose bushes, but I 'm sorta confused by different answers....

I'm seeing some small shoots coming up at the base of one of the rose bushes... Do I leave them there? Do I cut them back? Does it mean it's time to cut back the canes?

One thing I read said I need to wait until after last frost...after Mother's day, I guess. Is that right?

Another thing said last part of April ... is that right?

Another thing said to cut them back when the forsythias bloom.. when is that?

Any info would be greatly appreciated!



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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

The reason why you can't find THE answer for your question, B2, is because everybody has their own answer for what to do and when to do it! I'll tell you what I do, but that's just what I do! I know there are others here on RMG that do something completely different!

I have five hybrid teas! I don't like plants that bite, so if they hadn't been in when I bought the house, they wouldn't be here! They ARE pretty! Sometime after the first hard freeze--fall or early winter, whenever I get around to it--I cut all the canes down to about "knee height." By cutting them down in fall, you don't need to worry about the canes "whipping around in the wind" over winter, rubbing against each other possibly damaging them, or possibly breaking canes off at the base--which you really don't want to happen. Also, a couple winters ago I didn't get them cut down in time, and when we got a heavy snowstorm a couple of the canes (on my favorite one!) DID break off all the way down on the bottom from the weight of the snow. Some people, as you've found out, don't cut them down at all until spring.

In spring I go thru--should be soon if I get around to it--and give the cane a "fresh cut," usually just an inch or two but further if it looks like there's any sort of a problem developing, and cut out any dead wood, anything that may have died out last summer or over the winter. Also, when you're pruning them, be sure you're cutting out any canes that are obviously growing across each other, where the canes would be rubbing against another (again, damage leading to possible insects or disease). If you have any like that, pick the cane that's gonna give you the best overall shape, and prune the other one off all the way at the bottom. When you're pruning, look to see where the buds are forming and cut just above the bud that's facing the direction you'd like that cane to grow.

If you have grafted roses, new canes coming out from the base could possibly be coming up out of the root stock, and if they are, the flowers will be the color of whatever "your rose" was grafted onto! If you can see the graft (a "bump" at the bottom of the canes), you can tell if the new shoots are coming from the graft or from below it. If they're coming from the graft and you like the direction they're growing, just let 'em be! If you can't tell, wait till you get a flower and if it's the "right" color, rock on! If one ever blooms the "wrong" color, cut it off ALL the way down to where it's coming out of the root! If you don't have grafted roses, ignore all of that!

If the old canes aren't obviously starting to bud yet, I recommend you wait just until the buds are starting to break so you can clearly see what is and is not going to develop well this year so you can determine what and how far you want to cut, and so you can easily see the buds for deciding which way you want them to grow.

Something else I just thought of! If you have any roses that "bloom on old wood only" (usually climbers these days, or some of the shrub or rugosa types), you need to wait till right after they're done blooming to prune them or you won't get any/many flowers this year! If your roses are all ones (like teas) that bloom all summer, you don't have any of those!

This has nothing to do with the pruning, but if they start to leaf out and we get a REALLY cold nite, some of the foliage might "freeze dry" (my term!) a little bit, but since they grow so fast in spring, they usually quickly "grow past" the damage, and the damage is only aesthetic anyway---unless it gets REALLY, REALLY cold! If they're leafing out and we're gonna get down into the mid 20's and you're worried about them, throw an old sheet or lightweight blanket (no plastic) over them---but remember: You're gonna need to get it all unhooked from the thorns when you go to take it back off! :-)

That's all I can think of about roses right now, and I need to get outside to hike all the swap plants back up onto the deck since we "could" get some Weather tonite! If you have any other questions, let me know.

And I hope some other people will come tell you what they do, and then pick what sounds the best to you---and that's THE answer!

Bite 'em back when they bite ya,

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 7:58PM
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b2alicia(zone 5 Westminster)

Thanks skybird!
So, just so I understand correctly, you plan to do spring pruning during the next couple of weeks?

And if we get another freeze, it's usually not severe enough to do serious damage?

My story is the same about growing them...there were 3 very well established bushes here when I moved in. I'm not a confident enough gardener to try them as babies! (yet!)

So the little shoots I'm seeing at the base of one plant are not from grafting- -just from the big roots at the base. Should I cut them back? My instinct says yes, but would that damage the plant?

I read something last fall that said if you trim back rose bushes in the fall, that stimulates them to send out new shoots,which would be bad right before winter. So I didn't trim them back in the fall, but yours did okay? My bushes are, luckily, in a fairly well-protected spot close to the house, so they didn't get exposed to much damage during the winter.

Of course, we may get weather tonight! I watered today! I'll have to pull my pots back into the house too!

Thanks again, Skybird!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 9:47PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Important detail: elmers glue on the cuts to ward off cane borers. The rest you'll figger out, but not if the cane borers take over.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 12:07AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Except for the winter when they were damaged by the snow, I have always cut mine down sometime in the fall or early winter and they always come back just fine. One winter when it was very dry, I never got around to watering them all winter, and the canes all died back almost the whole way down to the graft, and I was wondering about them, but they just started new canes all over from the bottom and you can't even tell it happened anymore! I probably should have watered more this winter (they got well watered the time I watered the grass for most of a day in December), but they seem to be looking ok so far, probably because it was warmer this winter. You just need to be sure they're dormant before you cut them if you're gonna do it in fall, and by the time we've had a good hard freeze, they normally are---and should be! If we were to get a really warm fall and they were still showing some signs of growth, you'd need to wait till it got cold out. If they're dormant, there's no way pruning is going to stimulate growth.

I'm gonna try to do mine in probably a couple weeks, but right now I'm trying to get the veggie garden ready to plant and get some seeds in, and I'm doing a lot of swap stuff, so it just depends on when I have time. Just exactly when you do it doesn't make that much difference (in my opinion - some people disagree). I try to do it around when they're breaking dormancy. It's MUCH easier to do if you do it before the leaves start to really grow. When there's foliage it's just a lot harder to see what you're doing, especially if you're trying to clean out dead wood. That's why I recommend doing it right around when the buds are breaking--you can see what you're doing, and since they're starting to actively grow again, pruning should encourage new growth.

When they start to leaf out, the foliage should normally be safe down into the upper 20's. If it's getting much colder than that--mid/lower 20's--the leaves might be damaged a little bit like I said, and if it's getting down into the teens or lower, the canes "could" be damaged, but maybe not. Depends on a lot of different factors.

With your new shoots, I can't tell you without seeing the bushes, but there's a better chance that they're coming out of the graft than that they're coming from the root stock. Generally they're planted with the graft on the surface of the soil so if you push back any mulch so you can look at the "knobby thing" at the base of the canes you should be able to see where the new shoots are coming from. Some roses aren't grafted, but chances are that yours are. (Some people also believe it's better to bury the graft, so you could possibly need to dig down a bit into the soil to find the graft.) Dig around and see what you can see! That's the best way to learn! Roses really aren't all that "fragile!" You're not gonna hurt 'em! Don't be afraid to play! If you look and you're still not sure, as long as the new shoots aren't growing some really weird direction, just let them go and wait to see what color they are when they bloom. Cutting out new shoots isn't gonna hurt the plant, but if the developing canes are going to be beneficial to the shape of the plant, you're better off keeping them. See the picture linked below of what/where the graft is so you have a better idea of what you're looking for.

If you want more, planting new roses isn't all that different from planting perennials, except a lot of roses are sold bare root---which just means you're not lugging a pot of heavy soil around! Plant it, water it---and watch it grow! If you get one in a pot, it's the same as planting any other perennial! Don't let 'em scare you---except for the teeth!


P.S. Dan, I just refreshed and saw your post! I've never done that, and, so far, no borer or insect problems at all. Sounds like a good idea tho if you have the time. You're only talking about doing that on the older, heavier (woody) canes, aren't you?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 12:58AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

P.S. Dan, I just refreshed and saw your post! I've never done that, and, so far, no borer or insect problems at all. Sounds like a good idea tho if you have the time. You're only talking about doing that on the older, heavier (woody) canes, aren't you?

There seems to be a minimum size requirement they want. They are everywhere around here and once a year I'll prune with the tool belt on so I can carry glue.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 12:34PM
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b2alicia(zone 5 Westminster)

Ah! Thanks for the explanation, skybird! Yes, they are coming up out of the graft, so I will leave them there.

And thanks, Dan, I will carry my Elmer's around with me when I do it.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 2:19PM
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What about the Elbert County area? I just pruned the daylights out of my William Baffin climbing rose because it was taking over the south side of the house. I cut back mostly thorny new canes which were shooting straight up. My dad used to tell me to cut back the "suckers." Please tell me I didn't mess this up...

OCD Gardener

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 9:28PM
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I think that as long as the older canes are still alive, you can whack out the new growth. But at some point, every 3 or 4 years, you may be better off whacking out the old growth and letting the new canes replace them.

Which, from the looks of things around here, I'll be doing quite a bit of. This past winter saw the 'perfect storm' conditions for enough nights to nuke my zone 5-6 climbing roses - below zero temps, dry, windy. Lot of dead stuff needs to go.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:06AM
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b2alicia(zone 5 Westminster)

Thanks for the info, David!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 10:31PM
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I am looking for some names of 'rose pruning specialists' in Denver who will actually come to my home and do the work. Any suggestions? Thanks

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 2:36PM
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