Pruning Roses

It wasn’t until a few weeks after we moved in that I realized the task before me in regards to cleaning up the yard.  Sure, I saw the trash and weeds and old junk piles and mouldering lawn clippings.  But that stuff was easy to see. What hid from my eyes were the established plants in the yard.

There aren’t any substantial trees, there are no monstrous holly bushes, and very little blackberry brambles.  There’s no comfrey or bamboo or even many dandelions.  Even though the yard was neglected recently, it seemed to be fairly low-maintenance.  I was quite thankful.

But then I saw them — more than 25 overgrown and diseased rose bushes.  Shit. Where do I start? I know nothing about roses.

Some were more than six feet tall.

Sure, I have bought a couple here and there, planted them in the yards of rental houses.  Never got much from them.  I’ve tried pruning, but it was always more out of necessity than maintenance (i.e., the branches were going to slice open my children’s eyes if I didn’t cut them back).

Have you ever seen the Max and Ruby episode — “Max’s Dragon Shirt” — where Max and Ruby take the bus to the department store to buy Max some new overalls? But when they get there, Ruby is distracted by the dresses? She gets carried away and tries on a few different dresses while Max goes off to find a dragon shirt, which is what he really wants. At one point, Ruby tries on a dress, looks in the mirror, and says, “Ugly.” She draws out the word, in her special (upstate New York?) accent. That’s the word that comes to mind when I see this “before” picture of the roses. Ugggllly.  (Eventually Max is offered some free ice cream and soils the dragon shirt he was playfully wearing. They have to use their only $5 to pay for it, and then they can’t buy new overalls. The moral of the story is — when you’re taking care of a distractable 3-year-old, do not get distracted.)

After desperately searching the internet, and even contacting my local rose society for a (hopeful, but never to occur) lesson, there were few hard-and-fast rules that I learned.  I had to just dive in.  This is what I learned:

  1. Prune after Jan. 1 and try to complete before February (ha!).  Since most roses are very hardy in this area, and we have little winter weather to worry about, the goal was to get the pruning complete before too much new growth began.
  2. If a bush is taking more than 15 minutes, I’m spending too much time on it.
  3. Even though I used wood glue on the cuts for the first three bushes (to prevent disease), the process was going to drastically affect my productivity. If these overgrown and neglected bushes couldn’t make it through my first pruning, then I didn’t want to keep them anyway.
  4. I have over 20 bushes. Are there some that are not in an ideal location?  Dig them out.  Seriously.  I don’t care what kind of flowers those inconvenient bushes have.

I managed to prune 18 of the 21 bushes in the front yard, and we pruned down completely (but haven’t yet dug) three bushes that were in the back yard. We did leave a couple on the far fence, but I wanted to de-thorn the back yard as much as possible for the kids’ safety and comfort (and mine!).

Two months after pruning. This is the 6+ foot bush in the top photo above.

This ancient one is probably my favorite. New growth showing two months after pruning.

Pretty new growth. Two months after pruning. Some of my cuts were too angled, or not angled enough. The bush doesn’t seem to mind.

Three months after pruning.

Each bush has a lot of buds. Very exciting.

Three months after pruning. This one goes for the height again.

Leave a comment


  1. Great post. pruning roses rejuvenates them. Stand back, your’re gonna be wow’d!

    • Yes! We’ve been wow’d. Check out the blooms I posted. I’m really starting to love roses. I never knew how fulfilling it would be to take care of them. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Judy Wier

     /  May 13, 2012

    Hi Kimmy, Happy Mother’s Day. You are as I always say, truly amazing. That is a lot of roses to care for. We have five bushes, and I know their names. Over twenty would be a lot of work (but well worth it). The six and seventh we removed. One was a climber and only bloomed once a year, and it was not very attractive. The other had rust very badly for two years, and we couldn’t get rid of it, so we just took it out. We were feeding them sort of regularly but did not diligently keep track, and every summer we would wake up to lacy leaves that were suddenly eaten away (by night moths’ hatched larva according to one landscaper). This year, we very diligently (it is put on the calendar) spray them every three weeks with “Bayer Advanced Rose & Flower Insect Killer.” It goes into the plant and does not let larva live. So far, so good. Secondly, we put horse manure around them. Last year we did not because we thought the dogs would roll in it, but they do not roll in it. After the manure treatment, all the roses grew three times taller than ever and also are blooming like crazy (my hibiscus too). According to our friend, Jerald, who knows a bunch about roses, the manure keeps the roots cool. Roses do not like their roots to get hot. We prune, usually in February, according to the moon. As my mother said, do it when the moon is in a fire sign and waning. (I think that is it–every year, I look it up again.) Love, Mom


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