Spring Rose Care

Jacqueline Houston is a member of the Wedgewood Garden Club, and also a Master Gardener of King County. She has been gardening in Seattle for over 30 years. Wedgewood Garden Club always welcomes new members – contact Jacqueline at tppoems@comcast.net for more information on our monthly meetings.


Late February and early March are the best times to prune your roses, but there are different kinds of roses that need different kinds of pruning.

If you inherited some roses with your house, or if you bought some roses at a big box store and can’t remember what they are, then they are probably hybrid tea roses. This is far and away the commonest kind of rose sold in stores and planted in gardens. They are the ones associated with radical pruning once a year, every year, as they flower only on new growth canes. Some people used to prune their hybrid tea roses down to 6 inch sticks, but nowadays the advice is to prune down to 12-24 inches. The well-known Peace rose (introduced at the end of WWII and a runaway bestseller for years) is a classic hybrid tea, with large, showy flowers.

Shrub roses are an altogether more relaxed-looking group of roses that do not need radical pruning every year, and never to the degree that hybrid teas require. Their name reveals their destined shape and size! They generally have smaller but more numerous flowers. Famous shrub roses include the fantastically reliable and healthy Bonica. They have far more stems, or canes, than hybrid tea roses, and pruning consists largely of chopping down some of the oldest canes each year to encourage new ones to grow. Pruning to about waist height is as far as you would want to go with a shrub rose.

Hybrid tea roses tend to have a limited life span, especially if they have been neglected for a while at some point in their lives. If your old roses have gnarly old trunks with very little new growth and are not producing many flowers, then it is probably time to put them out of their misery. But best not to plant another rose in its place unless you are willing to dig out a large amount of dirt, move it elsewhere, and replace it with new dirt. There is a little-understood phenomenon called rose replant disease that can affect new roses planted where old roses have been growing for 10 years or more. Plant some other flowers, or a flowering shrub, instead.

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