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Roses are plants, too!

Out With The Old And In With The New

The original plant.
A closer view of the base
You can see the older canes better in this one
You can see via the white lines where I advise she cut and which canes she should keep.
The original plant.
A closer view of the base
You can see the older canes better in this one
You can see via the white lines where I advise she cut and which canes she should keep.

A reader sent me an email a little while back asking about moving a rose.  During the discussion she raised the point that the rose had several old canes and should she keep them or cut them out.

Periodically cutting out old canes should be part of any rose maintenance program.  It actually rejuvenates the rose by causing it to send up fresh new canes that bloom better.

But, it’s a scary thing to do for the first time.  You feel like you are hacking away at the bush and taking most of it out.  In actuality what you doing is taking out material that is tired, old and bloomed out.  A friend of mine David Stone says of old canes, they’ve finished their job and have nothing left to give.

The first time I did this (while holding my breath) I was stunned at how much new growth emerged later in the spring.  It seemed for every old cane I took out, three to five new ones emerged.

But how do you know when it’s time to take out an old cane?

There is no calendar to time this by, so simply let the rose tell you.  When you see a cane that is wooded over, sending out nothing but thin twiggy growth and ceasing to flower – it’s time for that cane to go.  The first time you do this don’t be radical and take them all out at once.  Take out maybe 1-3 making sure you leave plenty of other growth so the rose can manufacture food via its leaves come springtime.

Then in the years to come just incorporate this into your regular maintenance program as the old canes tire out.

The photos above give you various views of the rose our reader wanted to work with.  The very last photo, which I sent back to her, shows via white lines which canes I advised her to take out.

So as you are pruning this New Year watch out for the old canes.  Then bravely grab your loppers or your pruning saw and cut out the old to prepare to welcome the new!

Happy New Year of Roseing!

View Comments


  1. Lynneth 02/19/2011

    My Mom treasured her climbing tea rose for a very long time before she died. My Dad treasured it (but gave no care to it) in her memory, before he died. As I have a little bit of green thumb, I have been trying for at least 3 years to obtain cuttings of the rose bush so that my two sisters and I can have something to remember our mother by. I have tried snipping 2-3 inch cuttings and putting them in soil, with a little tent to retain moisture, and have also tried rooting them in water. All died. I put Rootone (sp?) on the cutting tips, was always careful to cut an inch or two below a node, but the only "life" I saw was by rooting them in water. Once they showed roots growing, I transplanted them to soil, and they die out. What ta heck am I doing wrong? Any suggestions?

  2. PFZimmerman 02/26/2011

    2-3 inches is a little short. Generally for rooting cuttings at home you want to do what is called a four eye cutting. You will cut a piece about the thickness of a pencil with at least 4 sets of leaves. It will probably be 4-6 inches long. Also best to do it from a cane that has blooms on it.

    Take of the bottom two sets of leaves. Leave on the upper two sets of leaves.

    After that what you are doing with rootone etc is all correct. Are you keeping them in bright light, dapped sun???

    How moist are you keeping the soil.

    Keep in mind as well certain varieties of roses simply don't root.

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