Pruning roses is a bit like parenting teenagers

Both hurt.

This afternoon, I untangled the wreck between Rosa ‘The Fairy’ and R. ‘Carefree Delight’ (a thornier beast never grew), and I was stabbed on my arms, head and backside.  Note:  Friends keep giving me rose gloves, but I find them clunkier than regular gloves, and they make my arms sweat.  Besides, they don’t don’t solve the sticky head or backside problems.  I’m thinking full body armor?

While I worked, I pondered how pruning roses is a lot like raising teenagers.  I’m on numbers two and three in the children category if you wondered.

Planting a new, young rose bush

First, let’s back up a bit.  Like a new parent, you plant your tiny roses in the garden.  You give them good things to eat like bone meal, manure and leaf mold.  For those first couple of years you prune them lightly and water, waiting for them to grow.  With a guiding hand, you protect them from late freezes and other dangers like thrips, Japanese beetles and cane borers.

Then, one day, you go outside with your sharpened pruners full of hope and expectation, and you discover that during winter (or when you turned your back), the roses grew six feet tall and became all prickly, unruly and sullen.  Suddenly, they don’t want to go to Tae Kwon Do anymore (even though they are one test from earning their first black belt), or to Boy Scouts (although they are one step from their Eagle).  Instead, they want to mingle with friends, listen to music you hate, and think incessantly about girls or boys.

Whoops, I’m talking about the teens, but you can see the similarities.

The roses are now clambering through the other shrubs and are taking over pathways.  You gently try to prune away dead wood, and you are stabbed by reflexive thorns (prickles really) which let your hand in, but force you to scratch your way out.  You take the canes gently and pull them away (to cause the least bit of damage to you and the rose), but then, the rose slaps you in the face.

Someone to watch over me

It isn’t pretty.

You ask the teens, “Where are you going tonight and with whom?”  They spout off a name . . . someone you don’t know.

“Do we know their family,” you ask.  With a look of disdain, the teen mumbles something unintelligible.  After much discussion, you realize you do know the new friend, and with fingers crossed and silent prayer, you say okay.

Roses are the same way.  It’s good to know their background.  Does the rose have ‘Carefree Delight’ in her progeny?  If so, expect great disease resistance, but also, disturbing growth and wicked thorns.  Sometimes, for ‘Carefree Delight’, a complete chop down to three or four canes is necessary.  I call this “rose grounding.”  It is similar to teen grounding, like when you discover the school has your teen’s phone.  Again.  Resigned, you have your teen work off the phone’s ransom.

Another useful thing for climbers growing wildly out of control and reaching for the sky (a good analogy for a teen boy) is a bit of guidance with vinyl tie tape or jute twine.  It guides the rose toward the arbor or trellis while providing some give and take.  Everyone needs their space.

R. 'Carefree Delight' (L) mingling with R. 'The Fairy' (R)

Then, once the pruning, gentle or severe, is over, it’s time to feed and mulch your babies.  Come summer (i.e., adulthood), you get to see them bloom, and suddenly, you realize all the pain and struggle was worth it for moments such as these.

R. 'Baseye's Blueberry' which, by the way, is thornless.


  1. Barbara says:

    This is classic! Great analogy. 🙂

  2. Melanie says:

    HAHA! I’m glad my new teenager isn’t the only one who mutters uninteligibly! Was fun to read your blog, especially as spring seems to be springing around our parts too! Bring it on!!

  3. TC says:

    That’s a perfect analogy Ms. Dee. We have two “Carefree Wonders” in the house. One of them is grounded even now.

    (I think you’re the first person I’ve ever heard call a thorn by its true identity – a prickle.)
    .-= TC´s last blog ..Fast talking slow gardener =-.

  4. Diana says:

    Having had a teenaged boy and several roses in my garden, I loved this post. So profound. Laughed out loud at the prickly parts — so true! Yet I keep planting roses and have one more child to see through the teens. Maybe I should print out your post to read in about 5 years!
    .-= Diana´s last blog ..Signs of Spring keep popping out… =-.

  5. What a wry and touching post, Dee!
    .-= Daffodil Planter´s last blog ..A passion for Narcissus ‘Passionale’ =-.

  6. melanie says:

    Great analogy! and great post, very enjoyable to read.
    .-= melanie´s last blog review: Flora A Gardeners Encyclopedia by Sean Hogan =-.

  7. Do your kids appreciate having such a fun mother, Dee?

    I’ve never grown any rose that were quite as huge as yours, but have planted the range from mini roses to musks to hybrid teas to old roses to David Austin English roses and more than a dozen grow in my current garden.

    It seems to me I did better and had fewer scratches by using NO gloves at all, just very sharp pruners. It takes longer, because you have to really look to find the smooth place where you can grasp the cane before you make that cut , but every one will be right.

    You’ll have to check with my four grown kids to find out whether that technique has any resonance when parenting teens ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose
    .-= Annie in Austin´s last blog ..Pierced by Punctuation on Muse Day =-.

  8. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Teens, like your rose, are anything but carefree for their parents! It’s a good thing the rewards are worthwhile for both.
    .-= Cindy, MCOK´s last blog ..The First Larkspur of Spring 2010 =-.

  9. I adore roses and I adore teens. They are probably my favorite flower and my favorite age group. I wear love on my sleeve and firm boundaries on my brow and that probably works in both cases! 🙂 LOL! Good luck, Honey. They will be out of the nest before long and I’ve been there and it hurts a LOT more than what you are going through, trust me. 🙂 Big Mama Hugs! xoxo

  10. Joanne says:

    It goes on way past their teens too. Most amusing analogy and qite right about those rare worthwhile moments.

  11. Oh, I love this. Even though I don’t have kids, I get it. I were leather gloves for pruning roses. It’s good to have several pair for different occasions. Really do love pruning now that I am confident that I am not hacking up my plants.

  12. MA says:

    Hey Dee, what’s the cold hardiness of the Blueberry? OH,that’s yummy.

    And to Sharon L, I read a report once, from the experiment station at Wisely in England, a test: one stand of roses was pruned the old fashioned careful way and the other stand was done as you say, zzzzzzzzzzz style. Both did beautifully. I now “poke” fun at myself when I stand there carefully analyzing the size of the stem, the angle of the cut, thinkning, this would be better if I could hit the power on button and yell “off with their heads!”

  13. P.S. I saw the Brits pruning their roses with hedge clippers. ZZZZZZZ, almost to the ground.


  14. Dang, this is BRILLIANT.

    Your fan,

    Sharon Lovejoy

  15. Jenny B says:

    I agree with your analogy, but then much in gardening is like life. Having survived (just barely) three children going through the teen years, and now starting on grand-kids (Libby turned 13 last Saturday), well, I have no sage advise other than to plant those rose bushes directly under the teens bedroom windows. Those thorns are good for something! 😉

  16. Robin says:

    I can’t wait to get out and work in the garden, even pruning the rose bushes sounds good to me!

  17. Now I’m really scared – about both kids & Roses. I hope ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a bit less vindictive than its sibling, or I’m in real trouble. I don’t have a single pair of Rose gauntlets.

  18. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I agree that roses and teens are much alike and both worth the effort of cultivation. Seeing your roses makes me want to plant more of them. You can keep your teen though. 😉 I really like your new look. It is so professional. What does all the chinese writing mean at the top??

  19. Nell Jean says:

    I have the same experience with ‘Carefree Delight’ –it’s carefree, all right and a delight to behold after the pruning ordeal. I gave mine two pieces of rebar and hack away the horizontal canes until a ‘tree’ is left. Some horizontal canes shortened and left at the bottom keeps the ankles hidden. The only thing worse than pruning roses is pruning roses in the company of an adolescent dog.

  20. OMG, I was getting worried you cut your teens back to 12 inches in spring, LOL! I’ve had to prune some wild, crazily overgrown roses for clients and, owy owy owy, I prefer teens! 🙂

  21. I have one unnamed rose that is very vigorous. Most of mine are happy to make it through the winter.

  22. Well said. I have no teenagers, and just a few roses so I’ll take your word for it. It is all good advice… both on growing roses and raising teenagers. Be careful with those cuts.

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