Some years ago i sent my dear friend Rebekah a antique shrub rose in memory of her late stepmother. I'm not sure she has EVER pruned it. So this is for her, mostly, but if you find it helpful all the better.
I'm no expert here, but i have been pruning roses for the better part of my adult life, whether as a landscape gardener or as a flower farmer. So here is a little tutorial on giving the shrub rose a spring prune. Often i give my roses a light fall prune, and always like to get any long straggler canes off so they don't snap in the winter and invite disease or kill the the cane. This past fall i was too worn out and i actually love the shapes of the winter garden so decided not to autumn prune. Makes a bit more work in the spring. But now with 44 of the roses behind me i can say that pruning is one of those meditative processes that i love in gardening. Punctuated of course by the errant thorn. A good pair of rose gloves and a light touch makes those thorns a bit easier. In addition, a nice sharp pair of pruners, and depending on the size of the canes, a set of loppers get the job done.
So here we have the lovely, yet messy, Louise Odier, a bourbon antique rose that loves to throw up canes all higglety pigglety. Part and parcel to antique roses is their propensity to be a bit beastly in the garden; they willingly make a thicket out of themselves in a season. I was not so strict in her last pruning and now she needs to be reigned in.
First I bring the overall height down to around 2 feet in the instance of this rose, i want it to grow out to be around 3-4 feet, rounding for shape a bit. Quick and satisfying, taking off her crown.
Next to deal with all of this!
I start with any crossing branches, choosing to eliminate those that are growing to the middle of the plant over the ones that head toward the outside of the bush, aiming to create a vase like shape. Also in the case of these antique roses i look to eliminate spindly canes and off shoots that are growing in directions i do not want them to as well as canes that are growing too low on the bush, i want the srub to grow up more than out. Simultaneously deciding what is dead wood and taking that out as i go. Deadwood being canes that have died back to the ground or sometimes have just died back to a point along the cane. After all that is cleared away I weed out any grass around the base and take out any little deadwood stumps from the bottom of the plant. This is the really satisfying part of pruning; walking around the plant, making decisions, restoring order.
Ending up with something that looks a bit like this. No, those branches are not crossing, just camera angle! Next to fertilize and top dress with mulch. I like a mix of aged compost, feather meal, and a balanced organic fertilizer topped with some pine bark mulch.
All this so come late June we will have lots of these!
oh, i can't wait!
So out you go, Rebekah! Prune away!