NOW is the time of year to prune roses, according to Margaret Roach, garden editor of Martha Stewart Living magazine. And she offers some advice on how to go about cutting back your prickly plants.
"A rose is not a rose is not a rose, at least where pruning is concerned," Ms. Roach advises. "Before you start chopping away at the plant, you should find out what kind of rose you're growing."
Hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses should be pruned every year after the last hard frost. Ramblers are pruned back one-third after they flower in late June.
Climbing varieties should only be pruned a few years after they have been established - about six inches from the tips of the plants, after they have flowered.
No matter what variety or age of rose you are growing, prune out any dead, diseased, and damaged wood; any canes thinner than a pencil; winter killed tips; and any canes that are growing too close together.
You can tell healthy wood from dead wood by its color. Healthy wood looks fresh green or reddish, not brown or gray. Always prune down until you hit healthy tissue.
Roach also suggests that older bushes can benefit from having one or two of the oldest canes removed right to the ground.
Some experts suggest sealing all cuts with Elmer's glue to keep out pests. Your pruned bush should look like an urn with an open center.
Finally, Roach recommends feeding your rosebushes with nutrients before they start growing in the spring: One-quarter cup of Epsom salt per bush and all-organic rose food according to label directions. And water well. "Then, once the plants are fully awake, I start using soluble fertilizer (diluted seaweed concentrate and fish emulsion) monthly through July."