Making the Cut
by Beverly Rose Hopper, Master Rosarian
When it comes to pruning, deadheading or snipping, it’s not as important how or where you cut, compared to what you use to make the cut.
For decades rosarians declared it crucial to make cuts at a 45-degree angle, ¼ inch above a bud-eye or shear havoc would result. It was only natural novices would get nervous, and no doubt we scared off some. Admittedly, I too preached the party line. And then everything changed. When I revamped the pruning process for the San Jose Rose Garden, it became clear the angle of the cut didn’t really matter. Simply cutting straight across did not cause the world to end. Rather, the unorthodox and radically simple pruning techniques I implemented produced spectacular bloom. As demonstrated by thousands of roses, this easy yet effective pruning was uncomplicated, just a few simple steps: reduce height by about 50%, remove foliage, deadwood and debris.
If pruning is so simple, what else is there to discuss? Plenty! The first step in making the cut is using the right tools.
There are two major types of pruning shears: bypass and anvil. When shopping for shears, by pass the anvil type and buy bypass. Anvil shears have one blade that closes on a flat surface. This anvil action tends to crush tender canes, and a crushed cane is vulnerable to disease and dieback. For roses, bypass shears are superior. Bypass works similar to scissors; two blades (or blade and anvil) cross each other for a clean cut.
When it comes to shears, Felco’s are considered the gold standard. They’re top quality and will last a lifetime. For over 25 years Felco’s were my favorite. I have 3 pairs (two different styles) along with Felco loppers and a Felco folding pruning saw. Sadly, about two years ago I developed Rheumatoid Arthritis, and lost strength in my hands. My beloved Felco’s weren’t cutting it anymore, and I feared my pruning days were over. Much to my relief, a new love came into my life – Barnel.
Specifically, the B7 Barnel Lightweight Ergonomic (also known as Hi-Tech) Pruners are my new best friend. The B7 packs a lot of power in a small pruner. They weigh only 6 ounces, and easily make a ¾” cut with little effort. Besides being amazingly lightweight, they have super sharp cold-tempered steel blade that stays sharp – in fact they never seem to need sharpening. Besides the B7, there’s the B8 model for those with very large hands.
Besides a top quality pruning shear, rose growers need a few more tools for cutting. Loppers should be used for cutting thick canes. A folding pruning saw is handy for removing hard deadwood or super thick stuff. Climbers can be a pain to prune, but a long pole pruner will make the job easier reaching tall growth without having to drag out a ladder. Of course decent gloves (leather or goatskin) make all the difference too. Gauntlet gloves will help protect your arms from thorns, and are an essential part of every gardener’s wardrobe.
Electric hedge trimmers can be useful in some rose gardens. Surprisingly, research from trials in England revealed pruning with electric hedge trimmers can produce equally good results as hand pruning, especially for bushy mass plantings.* In the San Jose Rose Garden, we successfully used electric trimmers for pruning and deadheading Iceberg, Carefree Delight, and similar dense landscape type shrubs. The only caveat is electric trimmers leave bits of cane and foliage debris behind, which means someone still has to pick out the trimmings.
For the final cut, there is sometimes only one tool to use – the shovel. For a rose that not performing, disease prone, not what you expected, or for whatever reason doesn’t make the cut, sometimes the best thing is to shovel prune.
Author’s Notes: Barnel B7 Lightweight Pruner available online from Harlane, TheRoseGardener.com, Amazon, and WalMart (online only.) Felco’s are available at better nurseries, Home Depot or online at Edmunds Roses, Amazon and other sources.
* “Pruning Roses with HedgeTrimmers: British Trials Show It Produces More Blooms” by RNRS President, Ken Grapes. PaulBardenRoses.com
Hopper is currently Vice President of the Mother Lode Rose Society; Co-Founder and former Curator of Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden.