Follow the three D's of rose pruning

Hello spring. Just in case you needed a reminder, the calendar tells us it is March. I've got a snow bank at the end of my driveway that is taller than my 11-year-old son, but I still dream of getting out in the garden.

Every spring, myself and hundreds of other Master Gardeners offer free clinics to the public. One of the most popular questions and feared tasks in the garden is the pruning of roses.

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Generally on the West Coast, this task is best accomplished in late February or early March. I wouldn't suggest tromping into your snowy garden today, but when the soil isn't quite so wet and when the forsythia is blooming, the time is right.

The first thing to remember when pruning roses is that despite how you prune the rose, it will survive, it will grow new wood and it will eventually flower again.

To start your pruning adventure, look for all the canes that are dead, damaged, or diseased - otherwise known as the three D's. Cut out the easiest of the three D's. You can cut the cane back right to the crown level.

Sometimes you will find the top portion of a cane is the only part that is dead, so only cut down to the good white pith, which you will find inside the cane. Every cut that you make that is not at the crown level is usually made on an angle close to the bud. It is also recommended that you cut to an outward-facing bud so that the new growth develops outward and creates less crowding in the middle.

After taking out all the dead, damaged and diseased wood, you will be able to see the plant more clearly. This may be all the pruning that is necessary for your rose, depending on its size, age, etc.

If you don't get around to pruning until later in the season, some branches might have begun to sprout new leaves at their tips. This growth needs to be pruned down to a more substantial cane to produce better blooms. It is always hard to cut down new wispy growth, but it really doesn't produce roses of any abundance or beauty. Once you get over the fear of cutting off growing tips, you will be rewarded tenfold at the peak of the rose's bloom time.

Just remember to cut those wispy growing tips to just above a bud eye or a leaf node. As a general rule of thumb, you can cut off about two-thirds or a rose's original growth. Try to leave the stronger and younger canes. I know it sounds like a lot, but it helps the plant avoid becoming top heavy and encourages new basal growth.

A well-pruned rose will look open in the centre with healthy, strong canes remaining. The more you prune, the more you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms and a healthy plant. And don't forget to have sharp pruners and good leather gardening gloves.

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