When to Prune a Young Rose
Sometimes cutting a rose into shape isn't worth the risk
I was online surfing some rose forums and someone asked if it’s OK to prune a young rose or should they leave it alone. I’m glad I ran across it, because it is a question I’m frequently asked. Since this is pruning time in some parts of the country it’s a good opportunity to answer it.
First, define a “young rose”
This would be a rose you planted last year, be it spring, summer, or fall. It’s not how old the rose was when you got it, but when you planted it that counts. Bareroot plants can be two years old when you get them, and some own-root bands can only be six months old.
Now that we know what we mean by a young rose, we can turn our attention to the question of whether you should prune a young rose.
It’s a risk to the health of a plant to cut it too soon
In my opinion this is not a good idea, because I feel it’s best to let my roses get to mature size and fully establish themselves first. To get established and truly settle in their root system, they need food to create the energy to do so. A critical part of this involves their leaves—a process known of course as photosynthesis. The less foliage a plant has, the less food it can make and the less energy it has to get established. By established, I’m particularly talking about the root system. Remember the old saying: Roots first, tops second.
If you worry about keeping canes on a newly planted rose nicely shaped, don’t. If everything goes according to plan, the canes that were on the rose when it arrived in your garden will be gone by the third year or so, replaced by new canes that have grown from the base of the plant.
The reason this is a goal on every new rose I plant is because its canes when it arrived had likely been cut back several times during production and while it was for sale. This is done to keep a rose at a sellable size, to get it to bush out better (thereby making it more attractive at the garden center), and other reasons. I feel that chances are good that these canes will never make a nicely shaped plant.
Focus on getting new canes to grow from the base of the plant
These are sometimes called basal breaks. I will allow these canes to grow unhindered to their mature height, and these will form a nicely shaped plant. As these canes come up and I feel I can replace an original cane, I cut the original canes out. Over time all the original canes are gone, having been replaced by new ones.
Of course these new ones need energy to form and grow. Energy provided by the leaves on the original canes. My way of thinking is, the more foliage I have at the start the faster I’ll get those new canes popping up. This is one of the main reasons I do not prune young roses.
TIP: Sometimes there are exceptions to young rose pruning
If a plant takes off like a rocket and throws out long canes, feel free to keep them in check, particularly if you feel they might snap off in a windstorm. Use a light hand, and try to keep as much of the cane as possible.
When it comes to pruning young roses, my rule of thumb is to avoid it if possible and to use a very light hand if I believe pruning is warranted.