When You Should Start Pruning Knockout Roses:
Knockout roses in general require very little pruning and because of their somewhat compact habit they tend to be much easier to maintain than some other varieties of roses. In fact I've even seen the breeder themselves suggest taking hedge trimmers to them just as you would any other bush to acquire the shape that you're looking for. Whether you use this method, or you go after them with a pair of hand shears, the end result should be the same.
Pruning knockout roses is more about shaping the plant than anything else because these particular roses are such low maintenance that you will find them a joy to grow in your garden. You should always prune knockout roses in the early spring, just as the new shoots begin to form. The breeder of Knockout roses suggests that you never prune them in the fall or winter like is recommended for some other varieties of rises. When the weather breaks your roses will come out of dormancy and begin working on new growth. Keep an eye open for this as that will let you know when you should start pruning.
Proper Tools for Pruning Knockout Roses:
You might chuckle to yourself that I would put this section in this article but I'm often surprised at how many folks simply do not know which tools to use for which job. Many times I've found that new gardeners are afraid to ask the simple questions out of fear that they will get embarrassed or feel ridiculous for not knowing the answer. So just in case, we're going to cover the basics here.
The first thing you should make sure is that you have a good pair of gloves when handling roses. Pruning Knockout roses without gloves will make the job a chore and certainly will get you stuck more than once. Don't be afraid to get yourself a nice pair of gloves too. Some of the cheap cloth ones are fine for pulling weeds but offer little protection against sharp thorns and you may find they slow you down more than they help.
You should also get yourself a pair of scissor-like hand shears as well as a larger pair of lopping shears. Both of which should be kept clean all the time for pruning your roses. Dirty shears can actually harm your roses so clean them once you are done with them. Good tools aren't cheap, but if you take good care of them, they will be worth their weight in gold. The hand shears will work best for cutting the smaller canes and the more delicate shaping while the lopping shears will be needed if you have to cut through some older canes that the hand shears just can't tackle.
Lastly, depending on what shape you are going for, you may want to invest in some hedge trimmers to make quick work of a large mass of roses. If you are growing Knockout roses as hedges then these will be the ideal way to prune them, but it will probably be overkill if you are just pruning a single knockout rose bush. It's up to you to decide that.
First Step in Pruning Knockout Roses:
If you are pruning a single Knockout rose, then the first thing you will want to do is remove all the dead wood from the plant. These are easy to spot as they will be dry and desiccated and will probably snap right off if you try to bend them. You should also get rid of any canes and leaf clusters that look diseased. More often than not these will appear yellowish or black and tend to affect a sizeable area rather than just one or two leaves.
When you are done pruning knockout roses, you should immediately bag up the cuttings for trash. Never let dead or diseased material lay around the base of your roses as these are open invitations to pests and diseases. Spores can lay dormant even over the winter months and reinfect plants the following spring when the weather warms up. Also never ever throw these into the compost pile for the same reason. Best to just get rid of them entirely.
This is also a great time to clean up all the leaves and debris from around the base of your knockout roses. This doesn't have to consist of just cuttings either. If your garden is anything like mine then the wind always blows junk from around the neighborhood and it always seems to collect around my front yard roses. Every year I have to go out there and clean them up.
Pruning Knockout Roses with Hedge Trimmers:
By this point you've done all the hard work really and the rest is just shaping your roses. If you are growing knockout roses in masses, this is where you can really save yourself a ton of work and just use the hedge trimmers on them. Even if you don't want the uniform look like traditional hedges, don't worry, they'll grow out quickly once the season gets started.
For some of the finer work when pruning Knockout roses, use the hand shears and cut back any canes that overlap one another. If you skip over this step you will find that these lateral canes will eventually compete for sun light once the leaves open up and start overlapping.
Last Step in Pruning Knockout Roses:
The last thing you will want to do is give your Knockout roses their final cuts. Now there are two ways to approach this. If you trimmed them with hedge trimmers, then you're more or less done. However if you are working on a single bush you can either cut the remaining canes back to about a foot or so high and let the rose grow fresh again, or you can give it a subtle pruning and give it a good shape to start off the season.
I've seen this done both ways and in my opinion there really is no wrong way. If you cut back your knockouts to about a foot or so high, they will usually grow 3x that height by the end of the season. If you only give them a short haircut, they will quickly grow back to their mature height anyway so it comes down to personal preference more than anything.
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