Sow There! Tips for fearless rose pruning, 1-26-17

Illustration from the University of California

Pruning roses is a bit like taking a long walk to see a beautiful view. People walk the Road to Santiago for deeply spiritual reasons, but imagine rounding the bend of a long, dusty road and seeing the Romanesque spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Pruning your roses is nothing like that, but its still one of those work-for-rewards activities.

Life is a journey. Sometimes we walk alone, other times with companions. There are always good things ahead to keep travelers on the road.


Janet Oliver, a master gardener in Glenn County, was kind enough to share a few tips from her lifetime of rose pruning knowledge.

Now is prime time. Saturday should be a clear day and pruning needs to take place while roses are dormant. If you pruned roses after growth begins, the plant could go into shock.

Be “fearless,” she advised. She’ll trim off two-thirds of the plant, and more if she’s feeling especially brave.

I’ve never actually taken my roses down by two-thirds, which of course has been a mistake. After the plant worked so hard to produce shiny leaves and strong branches, it seems an insult to say all of that work was worth nothing. However, Janet said the plant will burst back into life, producing flowers on this new growth.


One goal is to snip away the dead wood. If you look at the plant closely, you should be able to note the sticks that look brittle and broken. If you miss something this week, there’s always next week to make another close inspection when you’re feeling dauntless.

Also check for “suckers.” These are shoots that come from the bottom of the plant and grow faster than the other branches. Suckers do not produce flowers and deserve no sympathy.

The key to all this pruning is to create space between the canes. At the end, you want the canes of the plant to be shaped like a V, Janet said.


Next, look for what are called the “bud eyes.” This is where the leaves will emerge — very soon. Once you look, you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. The bud eyes alternate on either side of the cane. Your goal is to snip just above the bud eye that is pointed toward the outside of the rose bush. When the leaves emerge, they will grow in the same direction to which the bud eyes are pointing.

I asked Janet whether there’s really a reason to prune at a 45 degree angle. (Frankly, any form of math irritates me).

She said yes. You create an angle so raindrops don’t settle into the open wound, which can lead to rot.

Suddenly math makes a little more sense.

For much useful information from the UC Master Gardener pruning pamphlet,


With the plant in its dormant state, you probably won’t see black spots or yellowed leaves, which can be a sign of disease. Check again after leaves emerge and trim anything that looks questionable. Think of it like cutting the mold off of a perfectly good hunk of cheese.

For now, clean up all the leaves from the bottom of the plant. Some of that detritus could be diseased. Don’t compost, Janet said, drop them in the green waste can.


Today is the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. The spinach he planted in mid-October survived onslaught by slugs, weeks of rain and what has been a very long winter. I’ve planted more seeds since then, but so far only his spinach fills the black, plastic truck bed liner filled with soil. The eggplant he grew last year remained in the rain all winter. I’ll be thrilled if seeds sprout from the slimy purple fruit. (Yes, eggplant is a fruit).

His birthday would have been a special occasion, but we wouldn’t have done anything special. He never let me throw him a party, and we reserved the fancy dinner date for my birthday and anniversaries.

On his birthday last year I think we split a burger downtown, and I probably talked him into playing a few games of pinball.

He once joked that he could always find me in a crowded pizza parlor, because he would recognize the sound of me rummaging at the bottom of my purse for quarters.

This week I’ll be pruning roses. He would have liked that. It means I’m still doing what’s in front of me, expecting good things at the end of the dusty road.

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