Most flowering trees and shrubs benefit from annual pruning, especially roses. Not only does pruning rid the plant of dead and diseased wood, it encourages new growth and gives it a nice shape — one that promotes beautiful blooms. With a few tools such as pruners, long-handled loppers, shears and thick gloves, a gardener can cut and shape to their heart’s delight!
For some flowering plants, timing an annual pruning is important. For instance, here’s a list of trees and shrubs that respond favorably to an early summer pruning, after a bloom:
- Azalea (Rhododendron species)
- Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
- Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea x vanhouttei)
- Flowering Crabapple (Malus species and cultivars)
- Forsythia (forsythia x intermedia)
- Hawthorn (Crataegus species and cultivars)
- Hydrangea, Bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla)
- Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
- Magnolia (Magnolia species and cultivars)
- Mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius)
- Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
- Rhododendron (Rhododendron species)
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
- Slender Deutzia (deutzia gracilis)
- Weigela (Weigela florida)
When and How to Prune Roses
When gardeners think of pruning, most likely it’s associated with rose bushes — although pruning techniques apply to all flowering trees and shrubs. Pruning a rose bush is very good for the plant plus it’s pretty difficult to kill a rose bush with bad pruning, because most mistakes grow out quickly with this hardy plant that produces such delicate blooms. Generally, roses respond best to pruning in two ways:
1. If the plant blooms on new season growth, prune while dormant or just when the plant is about to break dormancy
2. If the plant blooms on last year’s canes, prune after flowering.
Rose Pruning Basics
- Use clean, sharp tools and protect your hands and arms from thorns by wearing thick gardening gloves
- Prune potted roses the same as planted roses
- Remove any broken, dead, dying or diseased wood and weak, twiggy branches all around the bush
- Remove sucker growth below the graft
- Begin pruning from the base of the plant, cutting to open its center for light and air circulation, which dries the leaves and helps prevent foliar diseases from attacking
- Make clean cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch just above a “bud eye,” or the area on the stem where branching occurs
- No reason to protect a pruning wound, as cuts are called; however, you may apply Elmer’s Glue to a cut, if rose cane borers are a problem pest
Pruning for the Healthiest Roses
Most rose gardeners are interested in removing dead, damaged or diseased branches from their plant to promote the growth of large, full flowers that are pleasing to the eye.
- Cutting dieback or broken branches promotes vibrant growth
- Pruning away winter freeze damage opens up the plant to air circulation
- Removing diseased wood prevents the disease from spreading to the rest of the bush or to neighboring plants
Prune out crossing branches, all branches smaller than a pencil in diameter and even extra long canes, which prevents the roots from being loosened by strong winds or freeze/thaw cycles. Pruning is also an opportunity to correct any problems with the plant’s overall form or reduce the overall size of a plant in relation to the rest of your garden.
For most rose bushes, leaving six to eight strong, healthy canes will produce a full, nicely shaped plant. Deadheading, a form of pruning to remove spent blooms, prevents the formation of rose hips or seedpods and encourages new, attractive blooms (although rose hip cultivation can be advantageous for home chefs who make rose hip jelly and tea drinkers who enjoy a cup of rose hip tea).
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