Time to Prune Roses

It’s time to prune roses in Oklahoma if you have any not yet stricken by Rose Rosette Virus. If your rose has Rose Rosette, shovel prune that puppy and bag it. Do not put the diseased plant on your compost pile. As of 2015, you cannot save an infected rose no matter what you read from some garden gurus. Instead, look at the science from Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas. When I started seeing RRD in my garden in 2009, no one was really talking about this problem. However, Jennifer Olson, Assistant Extension Specialist and Plant Disease Diagnostician at the Cooperative Extension Service, has an excellent slideshow of symptoms of the disease. Scientists are working very hard to find a way to stop RRD, but for now, there isn’t one.

Here’s a quote from a paper on Rose Rosette Disease written by Olson, and Eric Rebek, Associate Professor and State Extension Specialist Horticultural Entomology from the Cooperative Extension Service:

“All landscape roses are susceptible to RRV. There is no cure once a plant is infected. Growers have attempted to remove symptomatic canes by pruning. This is not usually effective because the microscopic mites remain on the plant and recently infected canes may not exhibit symptoms for many months. The best recommendation is to remove and discard symptomatic plants as they appear.”

Gosh, that reads very bleak, doesn’t it? Do everyone in your neighborhood a favor and remove diseased roses. Gardeners can slow down the spread of this thorny problem.

Now, focus on the pretty picture of ‘Darcey Bussell’ and the Virgin Mary, above, and breathe. Count to seven, and let’s move on to pruning, shall we?

Rosa 'The Fairy' one of the ones I've lost to Rose Rosette Virus.
Rosa ‘The Fairy,’ one of the roses I lost to Rose Rosette Virus.

Even though I removed many roses from my garden due to Rose Rosette Virus, I still have plenty left. I’ve written loads of posts on pruning roses, but let me add a couple of points. Be sure to spray your pruners with rubbing alcohol between shrubs to prevent any disease from spreading. As a further caution against disease problems, also burn your blade. I use a candle lighter to burn mine. It only takes a few moments. Some people use regular lighters, but I think the candle lighter or flame thrower, as we call it here, is easier to find in my garden bucket. Although we’re being told that you can’t spread Rose Rosette Virus through pruning, we should still be cautious against other diseases. Tool cleanliness is the first way to stop garden problems.

Rosehips on Rosa 'Baseye's Blueberry' are a lovely bright orange.
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty’ strutting her stuff with maiden hair grass. So far, she is one of the lucky ones.

Maybe I’m overdoing it, but who cares? Better safe than sorry. I want to be one gardener who is able to keep some of her roses. How many do I have left? I don’t really know, but I’ll count them as I prune and report back.

Rosa Rainbow Knockout wasn't very popular in the trade, but I've enjoyed mine.
Rosa Rainbow Knockout wasn’t very popular in the trade, but I’ve enjoyed mine.

So many rose posts over the seven years I’ve blogged. Grab a cup of something warm and have fun playing link tag if you decide to dive in. Here are five roses to charm anyone’s garden. There are so many more too. This will be my second spring to grow ‘South Africa,’ and I hope we have years of good growing together.

'South Africa' is the first Hybrid Tea rose I've bought in years. I'm really pleased with its performance its first year. Now, let's see how it does after its first winter.
‘South Africa’ is the first Grandiflora rose I’ve bought in years. I’m really pleased with its performance its first year. Now, let’s see how it does after its first winter.

I know the weather prognosticators are predicting snow for next week’s forecast, so wait until after this next blast to prune. That way you won’t expose tender canes recently cut. If your roses have broken dormancy, they will freeze back some. It won’t hurt them that much. They will come out of it.

We have shredded leaf piles up by the barn and down by the back garden. They are my go-to mulch.
We have shredded leaf piles up by the barn and down by the back garden. They are my go-to mulch.

Bill just vacuumed up the solid mat of oak leaves from my front border, and I need to replace them with the shredded leaves in my pile that slowly rot, protecting plant roots and enriching the soil. Guess what I’ll be doing on Valentine’s Day? Shredded leaves are the mulch I use most often although I also like pecan hulls and shredded pine bark too. Pecan hulls are especially pretty in the side rose bed, but don’t go out there with bare feet. It’s worse than stepping on Legos in the middle of the night.

Side rose border with pecan hull mulch. Red Dirt Ramblings--Dee Nash
Side rose border with pecan hull mulch.

My roses are already breaking dormancy so it’s a little past time to prune for my garden. Do you find, like me, that there is never enough time in late winter/early spring to finish all the chores the garden demands?

Back garden in June 2014.
Back garden in June 2014.

Just remember this–in June, work slows down unless you grow daylilies and need to deadhead them each day, but that’s light work. Well, there’s weeding too. Like dirty dishes, weeding is always part of gardening. With roses, pruning is different from deadheading too. Try to look at deadheading and weeding as meditation or garden keeping, and maybe, they won’t seem like such a chore.

Rosa 'Sophy's Rose' a David Austin
Rosa ‘Sophy’s Rose’, a David Austin that I love for its pointed petals. It looks like a dahlia to me.

I’ve always felt like pruning roses is a bit like parenting teenagers. Now that I’m parenting my youngest teen, I maintain the truth of my previous post. It’s a thorny business–pun intended–but the results are priceless. I’ll see you in the garden.



  1. Mary E. Maurer says:

    Thanks for this. My grandmother loved roses, but I’m not very good with them.

  2. Now if I could get to or even see my roses I would love to go out and prune them….but alas they are buried under about 5 ft of snow that is not melting in the frigid temps. I love pruning them in early spring, but if we get a cold snap, I end up having to prune them again because of the die back and many never bloom. Let’s hope the snow helps the plants this year stay warm from the extreme cold we have been having.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Donna, I bet that snow is a great protective blanket. Like you, if we get a second freeze, I always have to re-prune the roses. Last year was terrible because we had such a late freeze. Still, they were fine. Roses, especially the ones grown on their own root systems, are pretty tough customers. I’m really glad too. Now, you stay warm my friend. I’m so sorry you’re getting so much snow. Here’s to it melting as soon as possible. We’ve got spring to do soon.~~Dee

      1. Amber says:

        Does that mean that I should wait until there is no more risk of freeze before pruning?

        1. Dee Nash says:

          Amber, the tough thing is we’re all in this tricky stage now because, for some, the winter was so mild. You should really prune roses while they are still dormant, but right before bud break. You can see the quandary in this.

          1. Amber says:

            Yeah, that does seem like a problem. There is a HIGH of 8 tomorrow, so I think I need to wait a while! I looked it up in my month-by-month gardening in Ohio book and it said March, so I will have to wait…not-so-patiently!

  3. We’re a bit behind you on the pruning time, but it won’t be long now. Wow, your Roses are enchanting! Great photos, too!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Beth!

  4. Marna says:

    I lost a couple of my favorite Austin roses to the virus a few years back. I still have my old heirloom roses and my favorite Buck roses and dread the thought of losing them. It will be a long, long time before I have to suit up in my body armor and start pruning (-4 degrees last nite). Enjoyed your photos.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Wow Marna, that’s cold beyond belief.

  5. Dee Nash says:

    Hi Jeanette, I hope the links help. It’s hard to get good information. Sigh, about The Fairy, she was quite beautiful. I miss her, but not her thorns. Maybe the Japanese beautybush will now have more room.

  6. Amber says:

    It will be another month or so before it is warm enough to prune here in Ohio (it is down to 3 tonight – below freezing windchill). I looked at the slides you linked and my pictures from last year and I don’t *think* I have RRD, but it is a little hard to tell. I think the poor rose has just been abandoned and uncared for over the past few years that the house was for sale. I’m starting to get a little itchy to get out in the garden and start, I’m jealous that you get to get out earlier than me!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Amber, I feel your pain about the weather. If you only have the one rose, it is probably fine–that is, if your neighbors don’t have a bunch of diseased roses. In the town south of me, Rose Rosette is an epidemic. Our weather this winter has been so variable I’m now wandering around making sure perennials aren’t heaving out of the ground. Up and down all winter long. 63F tomorrow and then we’re getting a snowstorm and ice storm on Sunday. Ugh.

  7. Patti Roselius says:

    I have a hedge of pink double knockouts on the north side of my house. They have been stunning! A couple of days ago I noticed the stems are covered with large black spots! They are beginning to leaf but I haven’t pruned yet. Plan to after next little dip. Am concerned re spots. What should I do? Neighbor across the street lost a knockout to RRD. I’m worried!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Patti, the black spots are probably just blackspot. I would strip the leaves from your pink Double Knockouts if you can. The old foliage is diseased. It probably just didn’t get cold enough for the leaves to drop off in this microclimate next to your house. That’s my guess without being able to see them. RRD doesn’t have black spots so for now, you should be okay.

  8. We’ve had lots of RRD in SC too. The Knockout roses seem to be among the worse. Glad to see Carefree Beauty is holding on; it’s one of my all-time favorites.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Marian, I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time for Carefree Beauty though because she was right next to a rose that had a terrible case, Cl. Souvenir de Malmaison. Only time will tell.

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Funny you should write this. I got out in the garden before this cold spell and cut out some dead canes. I was afraid to do much to the roses. Made sure the canes of the ramblers were tied up and not rubbing. I stayed in the next day and read the David Austin Handbook of Roses 2015. It is enough to make me drool. I only found 5 roses I would like to have. ha… I really don’t have the best places for them but I sure like to look at the catalog. I found that I am drawn to the roses with the fewest petals. Hmmmm… I might have to delve into roses more. I don’t think I have seen the rosetta disease yet. I would surely know if I had. Here is hoping it won’t find my garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, his catalog is drool worthy. I don’t know if I’ll add anymore roses for awhile after finding three sick ones last year. However, I might. I tend to buy my David Austins potted up because I think they perform better for me with all that good care at the nursery. We shall see. If you see RRD in your garden, you’ll know.

  10. vwgarden says:

    I heard that the head gardener over the public rose garden here in Spokane recommends pruning your roses after you’ve had a fight with your spouse, because you need to be aggressive. Sounds like you could just think about Rose Rosette Virus for a bit and then you’d feel plenty aggressive for pruning! So sorry. I’d better wait until next month to start pruning my roses in case we get some more snow, but I’m looking forward to it! There’s no other stress relief quite like hacking down my roses.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Haha, that’s a good one. I’m looking forward to pruning mine too. Because I have fewer of them, it’s not such a chore really. Ornamental grasses are easier to get into shape for spring.

  11. Jeanette says:

    Thanks for the link on Rose Rosette Disease. I lost one last year. Sooo sorry about The Fairy…. she was a beauty. Also thanks for the tip about alcohol and fire starter. I will put those in my pruning basket.

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