The task of pruning tea roses is a tough love job that even seasoned gardeners can find intimidating. Tea roses – hybrid roses which are the type that most people grow – require severe cutting in order to thrive. When you’re left with a few naked stalks poking out of the ground it may look as if someone has run amok with gardening shears, but in truth, this is the correct method to prune tea roses. Following is a step-by-step guide on how and when to prune tea roses.
Depending on your frost zone, the best time to prune tea roses is in late winter or early spring. The trick is to wait until the worst of frost is past, but not so long that buds begin to show. You want to stimulate new growth, not cut it off! In the United States most rose gardeners wait to prune until after George Washington’s birthday.
- Wear the right protective gear and use the right tools. This means wearing a long sleeved shirt and snug fitting leather gloves. As for tools, you’ll want a quality pair of garden pruners, a lopper, and a garden saw.
- Remove dead wood first. Anything obviously dead can be removed down at the base. Use the saw on anything large and tough.
- Trim out diseased or overgrown big, old canes. The sick canes are the ones with spots, or black in color.
- When in doubt, trim it down. If your tea rose bush is sparse with canes on one side and all that’s there is a sickly or skinny cane that you don’t want to prune, consider trimming it down. Lop off a little at a time until the inner wood is lighter and healthier in color.
- Remove puny canes. Survival of the fittest rules here. Remove any canes smaller in thickness than a pencil (unless, as above, your bush is sparse on one side and all that’s there is a puny cane).
- Remove suckers. Anything growing out of the area below the graft union should be removed. Tea roses are hybrids that are created by grafting other plant canes onto tougher roots. So suspicious suckers that look different from canes about the graft should be cut or torn off. You don’t want to simply cut it at ground level – that will produce more suckers next year. Dig down and follow the sucker to the roots, then yank it off from there.
- Remove crowded canes. These are canes that cross others, fill the center, or grow the wrong way. When you’re done, you’ll be left with around 5 or 6 canes that point outwards, with space in the center. Think of a human hand, palm up, with the fingers and thumb pointing up as well.
- Shorten the remaining canes. This is usually between one and two feet about ground level, depending on the cane’s thickness. You cut thinner ones shorter and leave thicker ones longer. Shortening is easy – the tough part is deciding just where on the cane to make the cut. You want to cut just above outfacing buds, which will stimulate them to grow. Cut at the same angle of the cane and towards the direction of the bud.
Once you’ve done your spring pruning and your tea roses have bloomed, it will soon be time for a little deadheading. All this means is cutting away the dead blooms before rose hips (seeds) form, so the tea rose bush is forced to bloom again. This is done all through summer until the approach of fall, when most tea rose gardeners stop deadheading and let the bush toughen up for winter. Lastly, if you think you’ve cut too much, relax! Roses are hardy bushes and will bounce back from most anything. In years to come, you’ll find this out as your hardy tea rose will need the same harsh pruning every summer. Enjoy!