The upper portion of rose bushes, such as hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, often winterkill due to exposure to low winter temperatures and extreme temperature changes. When the winter protection is removed from the roses in early to mid-April, gardeners should prune out the dead wood.
Hand shears and long-handled lopping shears are needed to prune roses properly. The hand shears are used on canes up to 3/4 inch in diameter, while the lopping shears are used on larger canes and difficult-to-reach places. Use sharp tools. Dull tools tend to crush or bruise the canes. These damaged areas may become entry points for pathogenic fungi and bacteria. Sharp tools also make the job easier. A pair of heavy-duty leather gloves will help protect your hands while pruning.
While pruning roses is relatively easy, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish live from dead wood. Live wood is green and has plump, healthy buds. When pruned, the center of the stem (pith) should be white. Dead wood is brown, has no live buds and has a brown or grey pith. When pruning roses, make the cuts at least 1 inch below the dead, brown-colored areas. Make slanting cuts about 1/4 inch above healthy, plump, outward facing buds; the slant being in the same direction as the bud. Remove the entire cane if there are no signs of life. Also, remove any diseased wood.
Because of our severe winter weather, rose bushes often suffer a great deal of winter injury. Our primary goal when pruning severely damaged roses is to remove all dead and diseased wood and to save as much of the live tissue as possible. If the roses overwinter well, prune out any weak spindly canes in the center of the bush.
This article originally appeared in the March 23, 1994 issue, p. 28.