How to Prune Roses and Fruit Trees

If you are anything like me, you hate pruning.  In fact, I don't do it as often as I should and most of my pruning is more of "I want cut flowers inside the house!".  Anyway, I really do hate it, and not because it is all that difficult of a job, but because you hate cutting off a limb or branch after the plant did all that work to get it there.  Of course, I don't really feel that way about hair, so I don't know why I would feel that way about branches...anyway...

There are a few roses and 2 apple trees that didn't produce very many blooms or fruit this past year because they need a good pruning.

I know it.

They know it.

...and it is time.

Good pruners are 1 of my 3 essential gardening tools for beginners (You can see the rest HERE!).  I end up buying a new pair every two years or so, so I buy a good, but not great pair.  You should avoid the cheap store brand pruners and even the smaller "packs" of garden gear from big name companies.  Buy a solid pair of sharp pruners.  Make sure they are BYPASS, not anvil pruners (You want to make clean cuts, not crush your stems).  I bought Fiskers this year.   The gold standard is Felco and I would go all out, but I lose things too often, so I go middle of the road.  These cost $10...if you are a smart girl, you would have bought them last summer when they were clearanced.  Don't wait though...the time to prune is RIGHT NOW in the early Spring.

WORD of CAUTION!!!  The rule of thumb in gardening is to prune things that bloom in the summer in early spring.  Prune things that flower in the spring AFTER they flower.  If you prune your forsythia, and lilac, and magnolias and all of those other wonderful spring blooming lovelies, you will be cutting off the blooms.  HOWEVER, cutting those branches now to force them into bloom inside is perfectly acceptable!  If you don't know which of your plants bloom when, go ahead and wait a year, watch them and write down what you observe.

I don't prune as much as I should probably.  I take care of the important guys in spring that won't produce if I don't prune them, namely roses and fruit trees.   I also don't prune a whole whole lot because I cut a lot of flowers when they flower, so I just make sure to make 45 degree angled cuts, above a bud facing outwards when I cut flowering branches or blooms from woody plants.

Pruning is very complicated.  It can be.  ...or it can be fairly simple.  Here are the basics to do a good job...doing a great job takes many years of practice, an artistic eye and lots of studying.

1.  Prune from the bottom of the plant.

2.  Prune to open up the inside.

3. Prune to eliminate crossing and damaged branches.

4.  Prune out anything dead or really brown.

Those are the are the details!

You need to look for crossing branches, damaged branches and dead or brown branches.
Check out this rose bush and you can see the green canes that are new and fresh, and the old brown canes that need to be cut out.

Here is an examples of new and old wood on a different variety...

Here are some examples of branches crossing and damaged areas:

Once you identify the branches to cut, you need to cut to make the plant open up inside and grow outwards.
So, you want to cut just above (about 1/4 inch) a new bud that is facing OUTWARDS.
Otherwise, the plant will grow back into itself and crowd its center.
The center needs to allow air in to circulate and branches need to grow out to reach sunlight.

This cut is too far away from the bud:

When you are cutting a branch completely off from the trunk, you should cut at a 45 degree angle about 1/4 of an inch from the trunk. 

You should also look out for suckers that are not producing fruit and sucking energy from the plant.
They are thin branches growing up directly from the ground.  Cut them off as close to the ground as possible.
A note on suckers....they grow from trees and other woody plants and take away from the plant.  Fleshy perennials however, multiply this way, so if you want new daylilies and iris babies and such, don't cut them away!  Just cut out the suckers from your fully grown trees and roses if you are unsure about what kind of plant you are dealing with it. 

 Once you get all of your dead, damaged, crossing and non-productive branches, you can clear out a bit more, up to 1/3
of the total plant, to open up the inside.  Here is the finished rosebush with about a 1/3 of the canes gone.


Andrea said…
One of your most helpful posts yet! Thank you for sharing :)
septembermom said…
Wow! I love all the information and tips that you provide here. Thank you! Also, thanks so much for your kind words about my crazy time as a juror for the past 4 weeks. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I would love to post one of your beautiful photographs on Write With Pictures soon. I'll send you an email when I select one to see if it's okay. Hope all is well with you and your family :) - Kelly
super tips! I need to do a LOT of this!
thanks for sharing,