Winter Pruning of Roses
By the time December rolls around, I’ve usually pushed my luck with my roses. They give me beautiful, continuous blooms from May through November with hardly any maintenance. They love their planting spot up against the hot, white wall of the house so I’m very fortunate to have these sweet-smelling companions all through the growing season. When their blooms fill with rain and they start bowing their heads, I know the winter has become too much for them and they want to go to bed.
I cut my roses back when they’ve gone dormant in the winter partially to keep the garden neat and tidy but also for the health of my roses. These varieties tend to grow tall thick canes that get very heavy at the top when they get wet. Mix together a rainstorm with a little wind and my bushes risk breakage and severe damage. So in order to protect them from the winter weather, I trim all of the canes back to 18-24” from the ground. I start by using my big loppers and cutting the larges stalks away so I can see the inside of the shrub. I remove all the leaves left on the buses and take care to clean in between the canes to remove old decomposing leaves. I always put the rose leaves in the municipal compost rather than my home compost just to be sure I don’t spread disease around the garden. I remove all of the little suckers and leave only the large canes
Cutting back roses this way also helps the shrubs to take on a nice uniform shape each spring. By essentially starting from scratch each year, the roses aren’t building off of a shape from the previous year that I then have to control by selective pruning and shaping during the growing season. This gives me more opportunity to simply deadhead the old blooms and let every new blossom come to life.
One of my rose varieties is particularly sensitive to black spots. By cutting everything back and applying new mulch around the shrub, it has a better shot at sprouting healthy growth the next year.
The proof is in the pudding really. Come back in the spring and see my early blooms. The first ones are the best.