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by Sharrie Eli

February has North Texas gardeners preparing their roses for spring. Valentine’s Day is the traditional time for our area to start rose pruning. A few weeks after their February pruning, rose bushes will start putting out the new growth that shows us spring is here and beautiful roses will soon follow.

Pruning roses may sound a bit intimidating, but it really is an easy process. Just as all gardeners do not garden in the same manner, all rose growers do not prune in the same way. The basic techniques are important but don’t be afraid to tackle this garden task. Pruning encourages new growth and blooms, clears out dead wood, and helps shape the plant.

You will need by-pass hand pruners, a long-handled lopper, hedge clippers, and heavy-duty gloves. Before starting, make sure your tools are clean and sharpened. As you prune you will need to clean your tools from one shrub to the next to prevent the spread of some rose diseases. Ammonia-based wet wipes or alcohol are recommended.

In thinking how much you need to prune, consider your garden. In a smaller, urban garden, you may need to keep your roses smaller so you can reduce them by 50%. If size is not an issue, you may choose to reduce your shrubs by only 30%. Both shrubs will increase in size as they put on leaves and buds in the spring. Once you cut back your rose to the desired size, begin taking out dead canes and thin canes that are less than the diameter of a pencil. Try to cut back to an outer facing bud. Because the bud is “outward-facing” the cane will grow outward and leave the center of the rose open for air circulation. Remove all but 4 to 5 healthy canes.

Pruning climbing roses is different from pruning other varieties of roses. Start by removing the dead wood. Pick 4 to 6 long canes that you wish to keep. The number you keep depends on the size of the garden area.

Remove extra canes so the remaining canes can grow unhindered. Do not shorten the long canes as this variety will produce spring blooms laterally along a horizontal cane. When trained upright on a fence or structure, you will only have blooms produced on the ends of the canes. Tying canes horizontally on a structure such as a fence will give you many more blooms.

While pruning your roses, if you come across an abnormal, bunched up growth, your rose may be infected with Rose Rosette Disease. RRD is caused by a virus. This virus has been in the United States since the 1940s but in the last few years it has become prolific in the North Texas area. Currently, there is no cure. Instead of pruning out the mutated growth, you should remove the entire rose, roots and all. Leaving a virus-infected rose in your garden means the virus can spread to other roses in your garden and to roses in your neighborhood. It can be a sad affair but cut and bag the infected rose and dispose of it with all leaves and debris. Do not drag the infected plant through your garden.

After the rose is removed the soil does not need to be treated as the virus can only live in the plant material. You can wait two weeks and then plant another rose in the same spot if you want to try again.

Once you have finished your pruning tasks, dispose of all leaves and material under the bushes. You can now put down a good fertilizer meant for flowering plants and finally, mulch to keep down weeds and hold in moisture.

Spring is coming and if you take the time now to do these rose pruning tasks, you will soon see the rewards in the blooms to come.

For more information on this and other gardening topics, visit the Denton County Master Gardeners Association and subscribe to our monthly newsletter “The Root” at

For more information about gardening in North Texas see

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