Roses have long been a popular plant in the landscape. The use of roses has changed dramatically over the last 10 to 20 years as we have moved from growing the large flowering hybrid teas to the easy care shrub roses. No matter what type you grow both types benefit from proper pruning in the early spring, just as growth is starting.
How you prune roses really depends on the type of bushes you have. I am going to make it simple and break it down into two groups. (Sorry consulting rosarians, but I want to use the KISS approach.) The two types are the larger flowering hybrid tea types and the newer landscape shrub roses.
For the traditional types such as hybrid teas, grandifloras or floribundas, we start by removing any tissue that has been damaged by the winter conditions. Make the pruning cut at least 1 inch below the black discoloration so that the live tissue remains. Once the deadwood is removed it is now time to shape the bush. Remove pencil size canes to the ground. These small shoots will not develop nice flower buds.
For a nice plant leave three to five of the strongest canes and cut them to between 8 and 16 inches high. The plants will look pretty bare at first but soon new buds will develop and flowers should appear in late May.
Landscape or shrub roses such as the Knockout and other types are pretty darn simple. Simply do nothing except remove the dead wood and you are set for another year. For those that would prefer a shapelier bush, cut all the canes back to about 12 inches. In no time shoots will develop, and by the end of summer these vigorous bushes will be just as large as last year.
Old woody canes can be completely removed to help open up the plant and promote new growth. In this case these canes can be cut to the ground. A pruning saw might be handy for this practice.
Climbing roses are the exception. Before flowering remove only the winterkilled tissue. The bulk of pruning should be done after the first flush of blooms. At that time, old or less vigorous canes can be removed to the ground. This will stimulate new shoots to develop and keep the plant fresh and in better condition. Also, keep in mind that climbing roses will flower better when the canes are grown horizontally instead of vertical.
When pruning roses it is always best to plan your attack. As we all know roses have thorns that can bite. Make sure you are dressed for rose pruning. I like to wear a heavy shirt, such as a sweatshirt. Protect bare arms to prevent scratches. I also arm myself with a thick pair of leather gloves so that when I grab a cane it does not bite back. I make sure I have my waste container ready to go to reduce handling the thorny debris. Some rose growers recommend placing a drop of white school glue over the cut canes to reduce insect issues, while others recommend disinfecting the pruning shears between bushes.
I have been pruning away at my roses over the last few days and have a few yet to go. After I am done pruning they look pretty bare but I know in about six weeks they will be loaded with the first blooms of the season.