Skip to main content

Central California Life Magazine

Take time to smell, and maybe prune, the roses

Jan 18, 2016 10:59AM ● By Kevin

Just some of Sue Kendall’s nearly 400 rose bushes.

Even I, the Lazy Landscaper, make the effort to ready my handful of rose bushes for winter dormancy. My investment in a little time and effort is well worth it in anticipation of the bountiful bouquets of vivid colors and perfume-like fragrances that will permeate my garden the following spring through fall.

To help us comprehend what even I consider a mostly enjoyable chore, I invited two avid rosarians and members of the San Joaquin Valley Rose Society: my mother-in-law (it never hurts to score points with family), “Sweet Caroline” Moser, and my good friend and fellow Master Gardener board member, Sue Kendall. Sue’s also known to many as “The Rose Lady of Fig Garden” because her breathtaking yard features nearly 400 rose bushes, including approximately 300 varieties (many of which are popular choices of the 10,000-plus varieties of hybrid teas now available). 

One of Sue’s hybrid tea roses was selected for pruning and care demonstration here because so many of us appreciate these regal roses that have for decades enjoyed the title of “The most popular type of rose” (Miracle Gro Complete Guide to Roses; The Scotts Miracle Gro Co., 2008). We not only have ogled them on display in landscapes, homes and businesses, but we have likely sent this rose type in arrangements to significant others and/or received them on special occasions.

In our family, Sweet Caroline is famous for beautifying our homes during gatherings with a rainbow of breath-taking hybrid tea roses.

With their long, straight stems, perfectly formed buds, and showy blooms with lots of petals in varied, vivid colors and enchanting fragrances, it’s easy to appreciate why hybrid teas are often the roses of choice. And, even though in recent years, “many people feel they are just too busy to properly care for hybrid tea roses, they are still well worth the effort, in my opinion” justifies respected, local rose expert, Bill Welzenbach, consultant rosarian emeritus, American Rose Society.

Pruning for show and health

“The benefits of pruning outweigh any consequences of the few mistakes you might make as you learn to prune…”
achieving the bowl shape

The purpose of this article is to hopefully help many home gardeners uncomfortable with their perceived ability to cultivate roses to realize there are many available resources for novices to learn rather easily how to adequately prune and maintain hybrid tea, along with other types, of roses.

“The benefits of pruning outweigh any consequences of the few mistakes you might make as you learn to prune…Pruning also encourages new growth, promotes large flowers, and keeps a rose healthy” (Sunset Roses; Sunset Publishing Corp., 2003), not to mention what joy and satisfaction that each home gardener can experience with the results come spring. And as I have realized over time, we all tend to get better at pruning and otherwise caring for roses with experience.

So what I have requested my rosarian friends Caroline and Sue to do is to demonstrate below a few simple steps in properly pruning a hybrid tea rose bush for symmetry, plant health and showy blooms, as well as suggest to you what you can do to enhance the soil surrounding your rose bushes:

pruning the foliage

Step 1: They start after the first frost (usually sometime in late November in the Central Valley) by pruning back much of the foliage and stripping the leaves (though some rose gardeners prefer to do it all at one time in January). By getting rid of the foliage after the first frost, the theory is that it will help the rose bush to enter dormancy quicker by not encouraging it to re-bloom 

Step 2: During January, the final cuts can be made including: removing all suckers from the original root stock at the bottom, and eliminating all cross branches, inward growing buds and dead wood. 

Step 3: Select four or five of the best-spaced canes (eliminating any growing from the middle) and cut each cane at an angle (high on the inside to low, facing out from the middle of the bush) just above an outward facing bud (which will eventually develop into a branch) ideally forming a bowl-shape.

Personal preference dictates the length of the pruned canes. I usually leave mine at anywhere from 10 to 15 inches. Sue trims her canes according to “how large and quickly I want the mature bush to grow. I have left canes as long as 24 inches or more if I’m preparing them for an earlier (in the season) show, such as the Master Gardeners’ Spring Garden Tour this year.”

Cleaning and amending the soil

making the final cuts

Step 4: It is important to completely remove all debris from around each rose bush to help reduce insect and fungus problems in the following blooming season.

Step 5: Once the pruning and cleaning around each bush are completed –and this is where rose enthusiasts seem to vary in opinion–a “rose cocktail” mix (usually a combination of minerals and nutrients) as Sue likes to call it may be immediately applied to the soil around each bush as is Bill’s and my practice; or one can opt to wait until the first part of March, a practice Sue prefers.

After working into the soil a special mix, it is recommend mulch be applied around each bush’s drip line (not right up against the trunk). This kind of soil treatment can really help “kick start” the growing season for roses by providing needed nutrients and soil amendments as well as mulch (or humus), the latter added to help retain water, control weeds and prevent fungal spores from splashing up on the foliage during the rainy season.

Sue, Eddie and Caroline, l-r

My favorite product I apply in this step is the locally popular product “Bill’s Rose Formula Maintenance Mix,” created by Mr. Welzenbach, which I get at Gazebo Gardens in Fresno. Each small bag is just enough to enrich the soil surrounding a single bush. However, for those of you who wish to make your own batch of Bill’s special mix, he was generous enough to give us his formula ratio to treat one rose bush as follows: 

1 cup alfalfa pellets

1 cup Ironite

1 cup organic fertilizer

1 cup gypsum

¼ cup epsom salts

Bill mentioned that some gardeners enhance Bill’s concoction with blood meal, cotton seed, sulphur and/or various other ingredients, depending on their respective soil types, conditions and experience. For other rose care product choices, you can visit your local nursery or garden center to inquire about spring soil treatments and mulch, as well as helpful spray applications (such as fungicides).

If you appreciate roses like millions of us do, take the leap if you haven’t already and learn more about some of “nature’s showpieces” and how to care for them. You can start with more information on rose pruning and maintenance by searching the internet for helpful books, as well as for beginning rose care classes.

Many nurseries and garden centers, along with Master Gardeners Associations, offer classes on how to care for many types of roses, often during late fall and early winter. You might also consider investigating the San Joaquin Valley Rose Society at in Fresno or another chapter of the American Rose Society closest to you. 

If you take time to smell the roses, you might just decide to plant a few.

Written by Eddie the Lazy Landscaper (aka Ed Dunn III). Eddie writes the CCL gardening column, is a media and internet personality/spokesperson, nursery industry marketing consultant, and is a Board member of the Master Gardeners Association of Fresno County. He can be reached at his Facebook page, the Lazy Landscaper, or at 

Lazy Landscaper ™ is a mark of Paradigm Shift Marketing

Upcoming Events Near You

It is the mission of Cen Cali Life Magazine to spotlight what makes our Central Valley a unique and integral part of the Golden State. To learn more about us and our mission, click on the "About Us + Advertising Link" at the top of this page.

Happy Reading,

Karen Maroot