The key to spring pruning is to trim just as the plant is budding and waking up from its winter dormancy. A bush that has grown “leggy” over the course of several years can be trimmed all the way back to about 8 inches in height at this time safely to encourage a fuller plant. The best way to identify your spring window of opportunity is to watch the blooming of the Forsythia plants for your cue.
Rose breeders recommend trimming your roses when Forsythias are blooming, usually at the end of March. Although roses will bloom through the summer and fall, the heaviest pruning and shaping of the plant should be done at the beginning of the growing season, when the cool temperatures, and lack of insects make pruning wounds easy to recover from.
When considering your rose bush for pruning, identify any “woody” stems on the plant that are giving the plant height, but reduced bloom production, and place these on the top of you list for pruning. Even an aging plant with dead sections can benefit from strong pruning in the spring to encourage new shoots to emerge from the roots.
Most roses can benefit from a heavier pruning every few years to encourage blooming, and to keep the plant full and pliable. If your roses have had more bare stems than fruitful branches with leaves and buds in the past few years, your bush is ripe for a spring pruning. If you are hesitant to trim the whole plant at once, select a few feeder stems and prune them heavily to within 6-10 inches of the ground.
Spring thinning and pruning will rejuvenate your plants and soon have you reaping the benefits of a far healthier plant.