The rose revolution began in 1995.
German rose breeder Noack Rosen introduced the first flower carpet roses to the market, groundcover "wonder roses" bred to produce up to 2,000 flowers per season and marketed as drought-tolerant and carefree.
The pretty roses began popping out of formal gardens and private yards and into public landscapes. But these forgiving roses, planted to dress up drab places like gas stations, banks, supermarkets and even freeways, often go untended. They might look okay from a distance driving by, giving home gardeners the false impression that roses don't need to be pruned after all, says Curtis Short, a Santa Rosa licensed landscape contractor and aesthetic pruner. But they do, and January is the time.
"While the roses along Highway 101 may look great from a distance at freeway speeds," said Short, "they probably would appear quite uruly by our back door."
Pruning your roses, whatever they they may be, will not only produce tidier plants, but will stimulate new, stronger, better-flowering growth and eliminate the nasty old stuff that harbors pests and diseases, he said.
Before Valentine's Day
So put on a long-sleeved shirt and gloves and grab some sharp pruning shears and make a date with your roses. The Sonoma County Master Gardeners recommended doing it by Valentine's Day. If you prune later than that, you risk knocking off new shoots.
"I love people to get out there and tackle their roses rather than letting them go because they feel like it's too complicated to do," says Short. "All roses are very forgiving about pruning."
When pruning large rose bushes, your objective is to take out old, weak and sick canes. Cut them cleanly at the base, then shorten the remaining stems by removing at least the top third of the plant, says Short.
"You might want to leave more if you have a floribunda or old rose variety," he said. "But with vigorously growing hybrid teas (the most common bush roses), you can cut the height down by half or more."
Make a clean cut above a node, a spot on the stem from which leaves and secondary stems grow. Don't worry about finding a bud there. If you see a dot or dimple with a thin, eyebrow-like line trailing out on either side, you have a node. Cut about ?-inch above that, says Short, and whenever possible, choose nodes that will send shoots away from the center of the plan to achieve the best shape and growth.
Pull off and dispose of all the remaining leaves after pruning to keep fungus from infecting new growth, adds short, who has a degree in plant science from U.C. Davis with an emphasis in plant pathology.
You'll also want to tackle your low-spreading, ground-cover roses. If you don't, they'll mound into a nasty thicket, so try thinning them into spider-like stems every year.
Climbing roses should be similarly thinned out every year, leaving only the best and healthiest rose-bearing stems.
"A climbing rose that isn't thinned out annually can turn into a mountain of thorny stems," says Short, adding that in some cases, the weight will even break the arbor or trellis.
Prune old canes
His trick is to completely remove a climbing rose from its support structure, removing the ties and untwining the stems. Lay it out on the ground so you can see what you have and pick up and work on it, one cane at a time. Prune out old canes so that as few as three to five remain.