This is a question I get a lot from folks who live where there is a true winter with freezing temperatures. Everyone seems confused as to when they should prune their roses. Interestingly enough, most seem to feel it should revolve around man-made calendar dates like October or January. Some advocate pruning later, some sooner, and some say just do it when you have time.
Here’s why the timing does matter. Pruning too soon may stimulate tender new growth during a warm spell that could be killed later by a freeze. Prune too late, and you won’t get that great spring bloom.
So what is the best time to prune so you don’t get into trouble?
I have a real simple answer that has nothing to do with the calendar:
Prune when the forsythia begins to bloom.
What I loved about this from the moment I heard it is that it’s nature is telling us when it’s time to prune. You see, we don’t know if it’s going to be a long or short winter, and no annual yanking of Punxsutawney Phil out of the comfort of his home is going to make us any wiser.
But the plants know. If it’s a long winter, they bloom later. During a short winter, they bloom sooner. So keep an eye out for the forsythia—and when it starts to bloom, start to prune.
Web producer’s note:
Some readers have been frustrated by this advice, as forsythia does not grow in their area. In those locales, you can check top soil temperature to a depth of at least 6 inches. If it’s above 55°F, you should be good to prune your roses. Forsythia typically blooms when the top soil warms to 55°F.