Pruning Rosebushes

Pruning Roses in Northern Colorado
By Stan V. Griep
Colorado Native Rosarian
Over 40 years of Rose Growing Experience

I am what is known as a “Spring Pruner” when it comes to pruning roses. Instead of pruning the roses way down in the fall after they have gone dormant, I like to wait until early spring when I see the leaf buds starting to form up well. My taller rose bushes do get a pruning down to about half their height once they have gone dormant in the fall. The fall pruning I do is to help prevent damage to the overall bush from winter winds and heavy snows. The winds and heavy snows can break over long rose canes causing great damage to the overall bush, sometimes to the bushes nearby as well.

I do the standard “by the book” type pruning with my hybrid tea roses for the most part. I select an outward facing leaf bud eye and prune on an angle away from the bud eye 3/16 to ¼ inch above the bud eye. That cut is then sealed with white glue that is not water-soluble. There are times when a particular cane may be at a fairly harsh angle from the center of the bush. In such cases I will select an inward facing bud eye and prune there. By pruning at the inward facing bud eye the new cane that grows forth will come back into alignment with the rosebush for a better looking overall bush. You need to look at each rose bush kind of like an artist looks at a blank canvas. Picture how you want the rose to be shaped. Then prune the bush accordingly. I prune all of my rosebushes with the “blank canvas” approach. A blooming rose bush is truly beautiful without a doubt. However a rosebush with wonderful overall form and loaded with beautiful blooms is indeed a work of art.

Here in Colorado, even with mounding the rose for winter protection, we can get some very significant cane dieback on our roses. There have been many times when the canes that are left on the roses after spring pruning are only 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Pruning down that far is required to get to a good white center of cane pith and a healthy bud eye. Such harsh pruning can make it extremely tough on the “blank canvas” approach yet it is still possible. You need to focus on where the bud eye is located and envision where the particular cane will be as it grows. You do not want canes to cross over one another creating a jumbled mess in the bush where insects or funguses can cause problems. Yet you do want a nicely shaped bush with lush foliage to properly display the beauty of the blooms.

The floribunda and grandifloras roses get pruned in much the same way as the hybrid teas except that I do not worry much about finding outward facing bud eyes. I still keep in mind where a cane will go as it grows so as to avoid the crossing canes. However with the floribundas and grandifloras I like a full looking rosebush that will fully present the beauty of the clusters of blooms against their rich foliage.

In my opinion, when making the pruning cut, it is better to have a flatter cut than a cut that is too steep. The angle of the cut is somewhat important to allow moisture runoff and such, yet it is not a crucial error if the cut is considerably more flat than a 45-degree angle.
The cut end of the cane can still be sealed and the new growth that forms from the bud eye still has a good base for support. Whereas a pruning cut that is too steep exposes more of the center pith than should be exposed and provides an extremely weak foundation point for the new growth. The steep cuts are also extremely hard to get a good seal on and will tend to allow easier pest invasion.

My mini roses are truly easy to prune as I simply prune away the winterkilled portions of their canes while forming up the bush. If the centers of the mini roses are too full I simply prune a couple of small canes out and the bush is done. In no time at all the new growth will have the overall form of the bush right where I want it.

When deadheading my roses I prune back to the first five-leaf junction with the main rose cane, as long as the cane in that area is sturdy and at least 3/16 of an inch in diameter. Too small of a cane at the area of new growth generation and future rose blooms will cause a sagging effect if the roses blooms are large blooms. In cases where the cane is too thin at the first five-leaf junction, I will prune down to the next junction where the cane is the desired size. The mini roses are an exception to this deadheading/pruning. When pruning my mini roses I simply prune off the bloom down to where the stem meets with the first group of leaves with no apparent effect upon the size or support of the rose blooms to follow.

Some other very important things to remember when pruning are:

1. Always seal the ends of the pruned canes that are 3/16 of an inch or larger in diameter with white glue or tree wound tar type sealer. This will help keep the cane borers away.

2. Always wipe down the pruners cutting blades with a Clorox or Lysol disinfectant wipe or dip the cutting blades into some form of disinfectant solution after pruning each bush. In some cases it may be necessary to wipe or dip them after each cut, such as when pruning out an infected or diseased cane. You do not want to spread the disease from an infected cane or bush to other canes or other rosebushes.

3. When finished pruning for the day and after disinfecting your pruners, spray the blades with some silicone lubricant spray or other protective lubricant. It does not take long for rust to form and damage your pruners. Plus the lubricant helps keep the pruners working well and not so hard on arthritic hands.

A Winters Nap for Your Roses

A “Winters Nap” for Your Roses

By Stan V. Griep

Consulting Rosarian

Rocky Mountain Area 
Colorado Native Rosarian - Over 40 years of Rose Growing Experience 
Member of: The American Rose Society, The Denver Rose Society

As hard as it is to do, in cold climates we need to put our roses to bed for a nice winters nap. If we do what we need to, we will see them burst forth in beautiful bloom come spring. There are many different methods used by us cold climate Rosarians, so I will just go over some ways that I take care of my roses for the winter.


Once a good hard frost has hit and the ground has become at least somewhat frozen, I mound up garden soils around each rosebush in some of my rose beds. The mound is approximately 6 inches in height. If I do not have some extra garden soil saved up I buy some bagged garden soil at a local garden center well before I actually need it. I make sure not to buy any garden soil that has fertilizer added to it as that is not needed or wanted for this winter mounding use. Once I have formed the mound of garden soil around each bush, I apply a nice layer of shredded cedar mulch over the top of the mound. I find that the mulch helps to hold the mound in place. I water this mound lightly to help settle it in place.


When I pull back the mounding and mulch in the spring, the mixture (with some added compost) makes for a great amendment to the soils around the rosebushes. I need to step back just a bit here though. Before I actually do the mounding I will apply a couple tablespoons of super phosphate around the base of each bush and work it into the soils as best I can. The little dose of super phosphate helps keep the roots strong through the winter.


Some of my roses are planted in gravel mulched beds. In those areas I have done two different forms of mounding for the winter protection. (I give all of these roses the same two tablespoons of super phosphate as well.) One way I mound my roses in the gravel beds is to simply form a gravel mound around each rose with some of the existing surrounding gravel. Since it is so simple I use this method on nearly all of them. However there are some roses that are a bit more winter tender and need a little different protection. Since I do not want to pile garden soil on top of the gravel mulch, I put down a 20 to 22-inch diameter circle-cut piece of landscaping fabric at the base of each rose. The landscape fabric has been cut at one side to form a slit as well as a hole cut in the middle to allow placement of the bush into the center of the fabric circle. Once the landscape fabric circle piece has been fitted around the base of the rosebush, I make sure to overlap the cut area so as to seal it into a complete fabric circle without gaps, except at the very base of the rosebush. I form the 6 inch garden soils mound on top of the fabric circle and up around the rosebush. After completing the soils mounding I apply the same nice layer of shredded cedar mulch to help hold things in place.

A plastic rose collar can be placed on top of the fabric circle as well and then filled with garden soils and/or mulch, thus protecting the rose and holding the mounding well in place. I water these mounds a little also.


 In spring when it is time to pull back the mounding protection I use a garden shovel and place the soils and mulch mixture in these areas into my wheel barrel where it is all mixed with some nice compost. The gravel mulch is pulled back away from each of the rosebushes, some of the amendment mix from the wheel barrel is worked into the soils around each rosebush and a bowl shape created with the existing and newly placed soils. At that time the spring feeding is also worked into the soils and the gravel moved back into place and everything watered in well.


The landscape fabric works great to stop the soils from getting down into the gravel and discoloring it or basically just making a mess of the surrounding gravel mulch. I use new landscape fabric circles each year when I use this method. The landscape fabric is purchased in a large roll. I outline and cut out the fabric circles myself well prior to actual need.


The protection referred to within this article is actually to keep the rose cold once the cold weather has set in. That way the warmth of several warm days in the winter does not start the rosebush growing again only to get zapped by the freezing cold temps when they return. That fluctuation in temperatures is what can kill the rosebush. It is very important to keep them in their cold weather dormant state throughout their “Winters Nap”.



Planting Roses in Colorado

Planting Roses in Northern Colorado

By Stan V. Griep

Consulting Rosarian

Rocky Mountain Area

Colorado Native Rosarian 40+ years experience


Some early planning precedes a good planting. I like to plan where some new roses will go the next spring in the preceding fall. I dig the holes for them, amend the soils well and then refill the holes for the roses leaving a 5 or 6-inch mound of the amended soils in each location. By doing this very early digging and amending, the soils have all the rest of the fall and winter to get fully activated. By the time I am ready to plant a new rose, its new home is all ready and in top condition to welcome the new or transplanted rose. The natural nutrients in the amended soils are ready and waiting for the rose to take them up for good growth as well as creating a very favorable environment for the root zone to take hold in. 

This same preparation for the new rose or roses can take place in early spring as well, however the amended soils will not have as much time to get activated and ready for optimum root zone use.


I dig the rose holes approximately 18 inches in diameter and approximately 18 inches deep. The freshly dug soils are placed in a wheelbarrow along with some compost, a good clay buster amendment and some play sand. I sprinkle alfalfa meal over the contents of the wheelbarrow until the entire surface area has a greenish coloration from the alfalfa meal. Using my garden fork I turn the original soils and amendments over and over until well mixed. You will find that the soils mix gets easier and easier to work as it is turned. I remove all clumps of clay that do not want to break up and mix in well. If I have some rabbit droppings available at the time I am doing the soils amending, a heaping garden shovel full of the droppings is added into the soils mix as well.

All tiny and large roots in the planting hole area are cut back and removed. While digging the planting hole the sides of the hole can become very packed. I use my hand cultivator and loosen up the soils on the sides of the planting hole before refilling the hole or doing any future plantings as well. The freshly amended soils are then placed back into the planting hole leaving the 5 to 6 inch mound at the top. I create a little bowl edge around the mound to help trap any moisture and help carry that moisture in to the newly amended soils area. 


When the time comes to plant the new rose or roses, the earlier amended soils are much easier to dig out to create room for the new planting. As the soils are removed for the planting they are placed either in a wheel barrow or five gallon bucket making it easy to use them to fill in around the new planting. I place some super phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the planting hole and mix it in with the soils there. This natural food gives the roots a real boost to get things growing. Once the planting hole is about half full with the replaced soils, I sprinkle ½ cup of alfalfa meal and 1/3 cup Epsom Salts all around the new bush mixing it in lightly with the soils.


The planting hole is then filled the rest of the way up to ground level. I move some of the soils in and around the union of the rose and may or may not cover the union at this time depending on the timing of the planting.

The rest of the soils are pulled back to form a bowl of sorts all around the outer diameter of the bush. The rosebush looks a little bit like a castle in the center of a moat. Extra amended soils are used to build up and firm up the edges of the bowl around the bush. The bush is watered well and the bowl around it filled with mulch. In my case I use either shredded cedar mulch or pebble mulch. (I call the bowls formed this way “banquet bowls” as they help deliver the food and water to my roses.)  :o) The bowl formed around the rosebushes acts as a great catch basin for spring rains as well as aiding in the overall deep watering of the rose bush when watered by hand or even with a drip irrigation system.


I have found this method of planting my roses eliminates the forming or encouragement of “rose suckers” from planting the rose union deeply right away (As an aid in future winter protection the union is often buried a good 2 inches below the surrounding grade level.).

Rose suckers are new shoots that come up from the rose planting that are below the grafting or union point of the rose bush.


If you plant only “own root” roses you will not have to concern yourself with taking such precautions against sucker shoots.


With my bowl method the graft or union area of the rose is left above the planting soils yet still below the surrounding grade level until the time comes for it to be protected. Very early spring plantings may require that the union/graft area be covered for a while until the weather gets more settled towards being warmer.


Once the time comes for winter protection, the bowl around the rose is used to add extra soils to create part of the mound for protection of the rose’s union/graft area. Soils are mounded up over the graft/union area first.

Mulch of some kind is then added to help hold the soils in place and help prevent the protection of the mounded soils from eroding away throughout the winter.


The last frost date here in Northern Colorado is around May 15th, but keep your eye on the weather reports.


Plant some new roses to add beautiful color and wonderful fragrance to your gardens this year!



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