Marianne Binetti

It's time to prune roses, following these 6 rules

A well-trimmed rosebush will have a vase shape. ON THE SECTION COVER: An example of a proper cut on a rosebush. This is a good time to prune roses.
A well-trimmed rosebush will have a vase shape. ON THE SECTION COVER: An example of a proper cut on a rosebush. This is a good time to prune roses.

The middle of March is a great time to prune back your roses. If getting snippy makes you nervous, just remind yourself that you won't kill a rose plant with poor pruning. The new shrub roses are super easy to control simply by shortening everything to one third of its original size. If you like your roses tall, prune less.

Here are the ABCs of rose pruning for Western Washington:

1. Always remove the three D’s: Anything dead, diseased or damaged.

2. Be sure to aim for an open, vase-shaped form by removing branches that grow inward toward the center of the rose. This open, outward facing shape is the same framework you want to aim for when pruning fruit trees.

3. Cut with hand pruners for skinny branches but use big loppers for thick canes and try to cut just above an outward facing eye or growth bud. Pruning always stimulates growth, so wherever you make a cut, that is where the next sprout of new growth will be.

4. Make your cuts slightly angled so that raindrops can slide right off the top of newly cut canes.

5. Collect and remove your pruning crumbs and as many of last year’s leaves as you can. It is the foliage from last season that can harbor the disease spores and insects that will attack the new growth this spring.

(Want to put those thorny branches to good use? Lay them atop newly seeded beds or in the dry soil under the eaves of the house for a few weeks. This will make a point with the cats that insist on using your garden for their powder room.)

6. Pamper the patient after the amputation procedure. Add a blanket of mulch around the base of your roses to smother any young weeds, seal in any disease spores that have fallen to the ground and to cover any winter debris. Bark chips make a great mulch around roses but washed dairy manure is much appreciated as well.

As long as you’re outside cutting things down to size you should also take a swipe at winter-weary perennials such as Japanese anemones, peonies, ornamental grasses, the old foliage around hellebores and the remains of tall phlox, lilies, monkshood and hosta. In general, if it looks dead, dry or ugly, cut it out.

But wait – don’t get carried away. It is too early to prune hardy fuchsia, tender plants like escallonia, lavender and jasmine, and keep your clippers away from spring blooming rhodies, azaleas and camellias. Pruning after blooming is the rule of green thumb for flowering trees and shrubs.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at