Timing for Shrub Rose pruning - Zone 5

whaas_5a(5A SE WI)February 23, 2013

I can't recall if the best time to cut back your shrub roses was a few weeks before bud swell or closer to bud swell.

I fought the urge to cut back extremely vigorous fall shoots so at this point I'd rather wait until its the right time.

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buford(7 NE GA)

I normally go by when the forsythia blooms. I'm in zone 7 and I haven't started yet. Was going to this weekend, but it's raining. Again.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 9:24AM
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seil zone 6b MI

I agree with Buford. I know the old forsythia thing gets laughed at but I think it's a good indicator of the right time to prune. The forsythia won't bloom until the SOIL temperature is high enough for good root nutrient uptake and growth. That's when the roses will start to wake up and the buds to fatten and that's the best time to prune because you're better able to tell what is still viable cane and what has been winter damaged.

I'm a zone colder than Buford so I won't be pruning until probably the beginning of April, not March, around here. You're a zone colder than I am so you're probably going to be later in April. I know it's really hard this time of year because we're all SO eager to get out there but patience is a virtue, lol!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 10:56AM
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I totally agree with Buford and Seil about timing your rose pruning to when the Forsythias bloom.
Nature has been gardening a LOT longer than we humans.
Learn from her.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 12:07PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I was going to go out and prune some trees in the next 2-3 weeks and had a feeling I had to wait on the roses. Forsythia typically blooms early April around here.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 2:10PM
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seil zone 6b MI

Late winter is the recommended time for trimming trees but not for pruning roses. So go ahead and trim your trees but wait for April to do the roses.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 12:40AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

March sure took its time rolling in spring, in fact winter is still hanging around this week with highs in the mid 30s.

Luckily it was in the 50s this past weekend and I was able to make most of my transplants.

With that said I was ready to prune my shrub roses this weekend but after a scratch test I noticed that the upper 1/3rds where brown and the next third was "greenish" but not as green as the bottom third.

Should I prune back to the "greenish" color or to where I see a nice bright green?

Most other plants you use the buds as a guide but the roses it appears the green guides you. However I watched a couple videos and they said you can cut them back up to 2/3rds to a node. But I don't see any nodes.

Does that mean its too early yet or do I use the color of the stem as my guide?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 10:11PM
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lola-lemon(5b East WA)

Wow! Forsythia not blooming in 7! We've had blooming since Easter in my zone 5b/6a.
I still think I might get a late frost .... but so far so good.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 10:58PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Its been warmer in the PNW compared to most of the US.

I still have frost in the ground in several areas.

Forsythia won't be blooming until 3rd week of April at best.

Magnolias might not be blooming to the end of the month possibly early May.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 11:27PM
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seil zone 6b MI

My forsythias are greening and have little leaf buds but it will be awhile yet before they bloom The roses in the ground all still seem soundly asleep. I'll wait a bit yet before I start to prune anything.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 1:57PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

So do you wait until you see the nodes?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:03PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

I don't know about the "green" test, but if you are referring to how far back to trim rose canes in order to eliminate winter damage, I check the round interior of the cane. If I clip the cane back about 1/3 and the center is brownish, I go 2-4 inches further down the cane and clip again, and keep doing that until the interior comes up glistening white.

Yes, sometimes that means HTs have to be pruned back to just a couple inches or so from the ground--but if they have fully healthy canes (with white interiors, in other words), that rose will soon take off with energy and vigor and be nearly full sized by summer -- although not 7-8 ft tall like they sometimes get in California where they suffer no winter cane damage. My HTs usually stay about in the 3.5-4 ft tall range--due to winter damage.

I also go with the forsythia test. They started blooming a week or so ago around here (Zone 6).

I don't think I understand the "nodes" question. If you look closely at a rose cane, you will find little "pimples" periodically along the cane. Trim back to just above one of those "pimples"--preferably one heading away from the center of the bush.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:42PM
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seil zone 6b MI

Yes, I'd wait until they have begun to actively grow. If the leaf buds/nodes have not begun to fatten up and grow it's a little early yet. If they are already starting to grow then go ahead and prune them. There is no sure rule for it because it's a very climate specific thing and there are a lot micro climates that can influence things. For me spring comes a little later than elsewhere here even though I'm in zone 6. I'm right on the lake and that big expanse of water was frozen all winter and takes time to warm up. The cold wind coming off the water keeps my yard cooler than places even a few miles inland from me in the spring. However, in the fall it takes a long time for that water to cool down again so I'm warmer than inland and will have roses blooming sometimes into November. You have to learn how your area works and go with the right time for you.

I don't just start at 1/3 of the way down. Sometimes they're still healthy much higher than that and I like to leave mine with as much good cane to start out with as possible. In our cold zones we lose a lot as it is. Start at the top of each cane and cut off about 2 inches. Look at the center of the cane. Is it White/green or tan/brown? White/green is live cane. Tan /brown is dead wood. Keep cutting down about 2 inches at a time just above an outward facing leaf bud until you get to cane that has a clear, clean white/green center. From there down you should be good. But also check down the sides of the canes for dark streaks or damage. If the cane has been damaged further down chances are it will die back to below that damage anyway so you might as well take it off.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 2:11PM
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I'm waiting for the forsythia too and checking with friends but no blooming yet here. My Joseph's coat looks to be growing a bit but my other roses are not.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 2:43PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

I too, wait for my forsythias to bloom. The last couple of weeks have been a torturous test of "the gardener's patience" because the forsythia has been blooming all over town, but not on any of the levels in my garden. I garden on a slope.

Seil ... thank you for telling me the "why if it" as to why the forsythia is such a great indicator plant. Maybe the wait won't be so awful knowing the the soil has not warmed up enough.

Lola ... I live in the mountains of northern California, but it's still California. Even with a couple of feet of snow covering the roses for over a month, I didn't get much die back, but my day temps don't drop below freezing (they do at the higher elevations) ... only the night temps. There is not one bud on any of my roses while the other Californians you referred to in your post are sharing photos of this year's roses. Ya' just can't lump us all together .... lol.

There are times when I am sooooooooooo jealous because I am looking at winter while they are looking at spring, but I also don't have to do gardening chores 13 months out of the year. I get an annual break.

My forsythias popped last week while it was raining and all of the roses are completely leafed out. The buds were swollen for several weeks, but the roses held off, too, until it was the right time to leaf out. That's why I am learning to ignore anything other than the forsythias.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 4:08PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

All, thanks for sharing your experience! I know what to do now.

Here is a young grouping of Lady Elsie May (although the Japanese White Pine is taking the show).. Can't wait for them this year as they should be a bit more established.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:03PM
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