Pruning little roses

Asked October 20, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT

Hi :) I moved into a rented condo with some very sad little rose bushes in front. I don't know what kind they are- they come in several different colors but they all have quite small blossoms. They all appear to be sick with something (the leaves have gray and eaten-away spots) and they all have a few dead branches. Other than that, they look like they're trying very hard and producing nice blossoms but they are all extremely straggly and don't appear to have been pruned for a few years. Can I cut them back this fall, or do I wait? What's the stuff on the leaves? How severe should I be with them? They look so awful I've considered just digging them out but I think they deserve a chance. Thanks! -Katie

Macomb County Michigan master gardener program roses

1 Response

Hello Katie,

These are probably one or more of a popular ever-blooming shrub rose. They appear to have some insect damage ( the light areas on the leaves with holes at center). The pictures are a little blurry but they could also have some powdery mildew. Roses need as suuny a site as possible6 hours full, strong sun is minimum. If you don't have that from spring to early fall then these are not the right plant for that location.

Right now it is too late in the season to treat pest and disease conditions. There are some things to do right now before the ground freezes. 1- prune off any completely brown, dry, dead branches back to a live section ( white inside the stem, green on the outside) or as close to the ground as you can get if the whole branch is dead. 2- keep the plant watered until the ground freezes- keep soil moist but not soaking, allow top 2 inches to become dry, then water again. When watering keep the leaves and stems dry--- lawn sprinklers are not good; they don't provide a deep enough watering and they wet the plant leaves. 3- when the leaves have fallen and/or we have a hard freeze ( all the leaves and flowers are killed for the winter) rake up all the leaves and debris, carefully, without damaging the stems ( gloved hands will probably be needed). 4- buy some fresh mulch, wood chips or shredded bark is fine, and mulch these plants 3-4 inches deep and all the way around their root zone.

In spring, usually about the end of April to mid-May (depends partly on temps) examine the stems for signs of buds getting bigger. This will tell you what is still alive. Shape the shrub at this time. Pull back the mulch so it isn't touching the stems after the last frost, usually around May 21 - but watch your weather reports. You can always push mulch back around the tender new growth if a frost threatens. In spring you will fertilize. Apply disease control if you want to use it. There are a number of rose care products that prevent diseases. Pest control should only be applied when you have evidence of a problem--- this is so you don't apply something that will harm bees and other beneficial insects that are attracted to roses. Apply water once a week in spring if there has been no rain. Water 2-3 times a week (again, depending on amount of rain) during the heat of summer when the top 2 inches of soil is dry. These roses are very hardy and with a little care will perk up.

To properly apply fertilizer you should have a soil test done. MSU Soil lab has a test kit which you can get here
The soil test will have recommendations on what fertilizer to apply, and how much, for growing roses in your soil. One of your pictures shows a yellowish set of leaves with green veins- this is called chlorosis and can be caused by the wrong pH in the soil. A soil test will tell you if you need to adjust the soil pH and how to do it. You can take a soil test now, and use the recommendations next spring.

If you need some reference info, here are some links on roses-
Basic care-


Please write again if you have more questions. While this seems like a lot, once you give your roses a full season of good care, and assuming they are in a sunny location, they should be much easier to care for in coming years.