Nature Telling us the Time: Pruning Roses


Happy Spring! Are you chomping at the bit to prune your roses, but you don’t know exactly when to unleash your pruning prowess? Don’t just look at the calendar; look to the forsythia for guidance! Forsythia is one of the first flowering shrubs in spring, bursting with a sunshine yellow that brings a brightness after the drab of winter. When forsythias begin to bloom, it is time to start pruning your roses.

Assess your rose scene. After Michigan winters, we often see rose stems, or “canes,” with damage from the cold conditions. Pruning these damaged canes early helps to reroute the plant’s nourishing energy into the healthy canes, instead of the roots. Crossing this off your list will also ensure that there will be a more prolific flowering later in the summer or year. We want to take care not to spread any fungal diseases from these beauties (like rust, mildew, and black spots), so we have yet another reason to take care of those stems as early as possible! 

rose bush stems, buds and new shoots

To begin, cut away all dead or diseased stems. This can be referred to as “thinning.” Follow this by targeting the damaged part that is still connected to healthy stems. Once you are only seeing healthy green canes, you’ll complete the process by pruning for shape. Sometimes, a rosebush can have a cane that really takes off, leaving the rest of the plant looking lopsided! We avoid this by encouraging the plants to grow in a good vase shape, with lots of room in between their stems. This will bring fresh growth. Most rose varieties can be pruned back to around six inches for a more compact showing. 

Refer to this handy chart when envisioning the results you want:

Type of PruningFinal Size
after Pruning
Result of Pruning
Severe3-4 canes, 6”-10” highFewer but larger blooms
Moderate5-12 canes, 18”-24” highLarger bush, medium blooms
LightLess than 1/3 plant thinnedMore stems, small blooms

We love your roses! Contact us if you are needing more guidance than the brightness from the forsythias.

Until next thyme~
My Thyme Gardens

rose bush stem with new leaves and shoots

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