How to prune an ancient rose bush

Credit: Trisha Retel


Q: We have a lovely rose bush. We prune it usually in late spring / early summer but not all the way back to the ground and only the limbs that are clearly dead. It has the most incredible, big and fragrant flowers. I would love to get any suggestions as to how to take care of it and how far back to prune it, since the leaves tend to get black marks on them and it spreads to the other leaves, which makes them turn yellow and eventually fall off, but the roses keep blooming.

I would really appreciate your advice in how to make it a healthier plant.

The bush has done what most older rose bushes do, colour-coded its canes! This makes pruning out the old wood very easy. Just like with people, the older wood starts to look rather tired and picks up a silver colour (as seen in the photo). The young shoots are smoother and fresher-looking.

Those older canes are not nearly as productive and should be removed right to the crown of the plant, so that the energy goes into the younger canes. If there is a strong young cane growing out of the older cane you can then prune down to wear the young shoot emerges from the old wood.

I would suggest cutting the over all plant back by at least 50% in order to encourage the bushy to grow in a more pleasing dense manner. This should be done each spring, around March when the Forsythia blooms.