The Daily Southerner — Many a gardener has stood before a favorite rose shrub with pruners in hand, hesitant to make the first cut. Thorns aside, it can be downright intimidating to cozy up to a shrub rose to try to direct its future growth and flowering.
Fortunately these plants don't need a lot of pruning and are very forgiving. Their fast growth will soon cover any pruning cuts, and their informal shape doesn't necessitate taming. With some basic tools and guidelines, you can tidy up the plant and encourage abundant flowering.
The main reasons to prune a rose are to remove dead and damaged canes, increase blooming, and decrease disease and pest problems. The best time to prune is early spring just before new growth begins, but remove spent flowers and dead canes whenever they occur. The goal is to keep the center of the shrub free of twiggy, weak growth that's especially susceptible to attack by insects and disease.
Collect your equipment. Pruning thorny rose shrubs requires sturdy, thorn-proof gloves and safety glasses to protect your eyes. Look for elbow-length gloves at garden centers. You also need a pair of sharp hand pruners for canes up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Use long-handled loppers or a small pruning saw to cut larger stems and to reach into the center of dense shrubs.
Inspect your rose plant. First, identify all dead and damaged canes. Next, locate long thin canes and canes that grow from below the graft union, if the plant is grafted. Lastly, look for canes that rub against or crowd each other, especially if they're growing through the center of the bush.
Determine where to cut. Prune canes back to buds that face the outside of the shrub. Cut the spindly canes back by half their length or to 2 to 3 feet long. Cut or break off canes completely that grow from below the graft union. Remove diseased canes, and those that rub or crowd, back to healthy, outward-facing buds. If you see brown tissue in the center of a cane when you cut it, prune a little farther back until the tissue is clear and healthy.