Should I cut back my rose before transplanting?

alison(6b/OH)June 5, 2013

Friday I am transplanting a 3+ foot tall "The Endeavour" rose from the damp and shady backyard where it has struggled to hold onto life -- to a compost enriched spot in full sun in the sunny front yard. Is it a good idea to cut it way back?

It's already had a touch of the dread blackspot, and has stretches of bare canes. when I first bought it last summer, it had been cut way short, maybe 18" tall, and it grew tall and bloomed right away, so I don't think I'll be sacrificing blooms this year.

In general, do you cut roses back in the fall? I've only grown rugosa roses before, which I basically just ignored. (But I know it's going to be waaaay happier in the new site!)

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Yes. The general rule is balance the top growth with the size of the root ball. Time of pruning depends upon the climate. In mine, we do it throughout the year because they grow and flower year round. Someone in your climate will give you the best idea for where you are. But, yes, if you dig out a foot of root ball, cut the top back to roughly the same size to reduce the stress on the plant. You might also consider covering the transplant with an old sheet or tee shirts which you keep moist with the hose until you see new foliage emerging from the canes. Good luck! Kim

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 11:58PM
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lori_elf z6b MD

Yes, I'm in a similar climate and I would cut it back before moving like Kim said to reduce the stress on the plant. You normally prune roses here when they are dormant in late fall through early spring, but in summer I do light shaping, dead-heading and pruning as needed until early August. I'd make an exception to the "light pruning only" rule for transplanting.

The best time for transplanting here is the fall or spring, but if the plant is struggling to live anyway because it isn't getting enough sun than you can do it now if you dig as big a root ball as you can to cut or disturb the roots as little as possible and water it like crazy all summer, every day for the first few weeks.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 9:37AM
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nickl(Z7a NJ)

This is one of those gardening myths that won't go away. It's not necessary to top-prune transplants and doing so can actually cause problems. Proper hydration is absolutely essential - pruning is not.

" Plants left intact after transplanting appear to be dormant to the untrained eye - but they actually are putting resources into root growth. When roots have become
established, shoot growth again resumes."

See here:: Chalker-Scott/Horticultural Myths_files/Myths/Transplant pruning.pdf

This post was edited by nickl on Thu, Jun 6, 13 at 14:11

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 12:28PM
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Perhaps in the climate the link originated in, that method works. From over thirty years of actually doing it in MINE, not reducing water stress on any plant whose roots have been significantly disturbed, damaged or reduced is a sure way to severely impact the plant. Leaving the original top growth when the roots have been reduced results in loss of canes and foliage, perhaps even the failure of the plant in this climate. I would venture to suggest it might in others with the sun intensity, heat and accelerated transpiration rates similar to this one.

If I transplant a four foot bush with only about a foot and a half of roots without reducing the top appropriately, this heat, sun and transpiration rate will induce the plant to wilt and begin eliminating foliage, softer growth and in many cases, harder, woodier canes until it re establishes roots to balance the tops to the bottoms. Cutting the top back to about the same mass as the root ball, keeping it well watered, even shading it with sheets, old tee shirts, cardboard boxes or soil, either as a mound over the remaining plant or held in place with a cylinder of cardboard until new growth begins showing, brings them through every time. IF transplanting can be accomplished during a period of sufficiently long rain, reducing the top growth isn't as critical. The lower temps, reduced sun intensity, higher humidity and the regular bathing by the rain maintains the moisture in the plant, tremendously reducing (even eliminating) the water stress. The provided link is from Washington State with their greater humidity, rain, reduced sun and transpiration rates. When the weather here is similar to that, I don't have to prune many roses and other plants to transplant them because of the conditions. Most of the time, it is NOT like that here and not reducing the top to match the bottom will jeopardize the plant. If the poster's conditions mimic those of Washington State's, perhaps they don't need to reduce the top to mitigate the negative effects of cutting off so many roots. But, if the conditions aren't similar to that rainy, cooler, damp, cloudy type, I personally wouldn't risk it. Kim

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 2:55PM
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diane_nj 6b/7a

I concur with Kim and Lori. The roses will be happier if you cut them back and get as much of the root ball as possible. This would mean digging further away and deeper than you might have originally estimated. Also, make sure to prepare the new holes before digging.

I only cut roses back in the fall here if they are very tall (over 6') and in a windy area where they could be rocked. Otherwise, I do my heavy pruning in late winter (late March/early April) when the forsythia blooms. I try to do transplants at the same time, but you gotta do what you gotta do!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 5:25PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

The article by Linda Chalker-Scott refers to trees from the nursery. These would be grown in the pots or perhaps dormant ball-and burlap in fall/winter. They are not leafed-out plants that will have their roots savagely disturbed when they are moved from one spot in the yard to another. Because of their root structure, when you dig a rose, you cannot get a good rootball unless it was recently planted from a pot. Most of the fine roots will be broken or separated from the soil. When roses in leaf are transplanted, they will wilt violently. In some cases they will recover, but it is possible they will die of dehydration. This is because leaves pump water out of the roots and canes which the roots cannot replace.

You don't necessarily have to cut the rose back, but you do need to remove half or more of the foliage and then provide shade for a week or more, depending on the weather. Lately I have been removing all the leaves when transplanting during spring or summer. Then you don't have to fuss over the invalid.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 5:54PM
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While it is has been cool and rainy the last few days -- this is the Midwest; Central Ohio, specifically -- it could turn brilliant, hot and brutal in a snap.

michael g -- are you suggesting cutting back then transplanting it and giving it shade? Or cutting back and shading it in situ, before transplanting? I'm assuming the first; trying to figure out how to shade it. While it was not an expensive plant, I'd hate to lose it. I'm definitely going back and expanding the hole I dug, and planning on a large root ball.

There are some lilies growing up thru the rose, and I had planned on teasing out those bulbs when I transplanted it -- perhaps given the potential to annoy/shock the rose, I should just leave them be?

I'm sure it's going to be an adjustment for the plant, going from 3-4 hours of early morning sun to full sun, but I'm also sure it's going to be much happier.

Last week I planted out a smaller rose that was still in the nursery pot but had been sitting in the back yard for over a month, and was suffering from some yellowed leaves and the first signs of black spot. It has rebounded tremendously and it covered with developing buds. It may be the shot of compost and soil conditioner, but I like to think it's enjoying the sun -- and being out on the street where everyone can admire it!

Thanks for the advice -- plunging on with slightly less trepadation!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 6:27PM
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lola-lemon(5b East WA)

I think possibly roses are a unique case in that they respond well to pruning generally.
But otherwise, there has been a "sea change" in the standard plan of cutting back non-dormant plants when transplanting. The studies, I believe show, that the wounds on the plant tend to transpire more than a non cut plant and so you get more water loss. The tree will give up on whatever it can't support and you can cut it off once it has.

That said, I did not cut back my dogwood when I transplanted it and it looks like H-E double hockeysticks. I hate looking at it and I almost think I will cut it off to stop thinking about how bad it looks.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 10:39PM
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Alison, unless the canned plant had grown through the bottom of the pot and into the ground where you'd have to hack off much of its roots to move it, planting a containerized plant and one which has been dug and moved are two different things.

The canned plant is being put into the ground with its root ball (digestive system) intact. Presuming you don't disturb the root ball, the worst it will suffer from is the change in temperature from the warmer can in the soil which might stimulate it to grow faster if not overly warm, going into the colder soil in the ground. It MIGHT change color a bit or it might green up and explode. Like taking off tight shoes and into slippers.

The one which has a significant portion of its root system ripped from it is going into shock unless kept cool, damp and well watered. If that can be accomplished at the time of year when those are the conditions, it will have a decent time of it. If it can't and there are hot and dry conditions, that plant is GOING to wilt, drop foliage, perhaps wither and drop new growth and some canes and look like crap for quite a while until it can recover from the "surgery" of losing its roots. The MINIMUM I would do is follow Michael's advice of reducing the foliage to limit transpiration. When you strike soft wood cuttings, you remove most of the foliage from the cutting for the same limit the amount of water the cutting's foliage transpires (sweats) so it doesn't use more than it can absorb until it has roots TO absorb water.

Cut the canes, or don't, that's your choice. When I move established plants, I trim them back to harder wood and balance the tops to the bottoms. That is what continues working in my climate. You will quickly get a feel for what the plant is going to hold on to and what it likely can't or won't hold on to at the various times of the year and types of weather. Experiment with it. Remove foliage but leave the canes and see what it does. You'll learn what you can and can't get away with there and have the definitive answer to your question. Kim

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 11:00PM
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paparoseman(z8 WA. PO.)

It will STRONGLY depend on how many roots you get when you dig the bush out. I dug out a bourbon that had been planted for four years or so. It is an own root rose and the roots did not even start until a foot and a half below the soil level. Only a few roots made it through the dig out because I had no idea that there were no roots closer to the surface. After six weeks or so the bush is starting to leaf out from the base to about ten inches up the canes.

I am going to cut back the canes to where the new growth is erupting.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 11:30PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Alison, make the distinction between canes (or stems) and leaves. You can remove leaves without cutting the canes.
Leaves use water at a prodigious rate until they wilt. Canes lose relatively little water, and they contain stored nutrients that will help restart growth once the roots can get enough water. I'd suggest stripping off half the leaves, starting at the top, because new growth will come later at the top. If it's a big awkward plant, cut the canes back if you want to. If digging left few roots attached to soil, remove more than half of the leaves, or even all of them.

Lawn or deck chairs are handy for shading transplants. If you remove all the leaves, there is no need to shade.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:06PM
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nickl(Z7a NJ)

I'm sorry some people misunderstood the article I referred to - it does not refer only to trees. .

I agree that more work might need to be done regarding transplanting roses in dry climates like SoCal. The research that I am aware of was done in moderate climates - places like OH (where the OP lives) and NJ (where I live). That was the context I was replying in - I would not tell someone who lives in a place like SoCal what to do.

BTW, for a long time I DID top prune woody plants at transplanting time - not just roses - because that was the way I had always done it. I didn't base that on any science or on any real research behind the practice - it was just the way it was. I never questioned it until I became aware of the work that had been done on no-prune transplanting. . For about five years now, I have not top pruned when transplanting roses, and haven't had any problems doing it that way.

Here is a link that might be useful: MYTHS ABOUT TRANSPLANTING ROSES

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:49PM
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