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Stan V. Griep
Colorado Native Rosarian 40+ years
ARS Certified Consulting Rosarian
Denver Rose Society Member
Loveland Rose Society Member
American Rose Society Member
Photograph Anne K Moore

The subject of “deadheading” or the removal of the old blooms from our roses seems to generate some controversy much the same as pruning them. When it comes to deadheading your rosebushes, I recommend using a method that gives you the results you are looking for. Should you be told that you are doing it 'all wrong', do not immediately believe that you are.

As a young man, I witnessed and learned various methods of deadheading by my Grandmothers and my Mother. I not only witnessed and learned each method but also saw how the rosebushes responded to each method. For my mother, a side concern of deadheading seemed to be how the overall bush looked after the deadheading routine, as far as its overall shape and harmony with the garden or the rose bed. Deadheading was not only the removal of the spent blooms, it was also a time to shape the rosebush and consider how and where the new growth would come in.

My grandmother, Mary May, would walk around her rose gardens at deadheading time and take a particular spent bloom in her hand. With a quick motion, she would “snap” the bloom off. This would leave a bare stick of a stem standing up in the air a little ways above the foliage. There was no shaping of the bush done with her method, as all she really cared about was the pretty blooms. The looks of the overall bush really did not seem to matter so much to her. She felt that she got repeat blooms quicker using her method and stuck with it.

My grandmother, Molly, would prune off the spent blooms down to a healthy looking leaf set junction with the cane. It did not need to be a five-leaf junction. The pruning point could be at a three-leaf junction as long as the cane looked sturdy and healthy there. Although she did not really concern herself with the overall shape of the rose bush, her method always left the rose bush looking better without all the remaining stems sticking up in the air all over the place. Well, in my opinion anyway!

Over the years, I honestly do not remember the differences in repeat blooming being that great with any of the methods. I do remember my grandmother Mary May that used the “snap-off “deadheading method, complaining sometimes that a new big bloom would sag or “flop over” as its stem was too weak to support the new big rose bloom

I have heard and read that deadheading to the first 5-leaf junction when pruning Hybrid Tea roses is a “myth”. Yet I have observed first hand the problems that can come about by not doing so, especially with large blooms. There have been times when I have pruned, or deadheaded, back to a second five or more leaf junction just because the cane looked too small in diameter to support a new nice big bloom.

One rule of thumb that I have read about was deadheading to the first 5 or more leaf junction where the cane diameter is approximately that of a pencil. There is no need to get out any form of measuring device to check the diameter. It is simply a matter of what looks sturdy. Compare the diameter of the cane or stem at the point considered for deadheading, and the diameter of the stem for the bloom that is to be deadheaded. If the bloom being deadheaded was a nice big one and did not sag or droop, then that same diameter of cane should be sufficient to support the new growth and bloom. If the bloom being deadheaded did have a droopy nature, perhaps it would be best to prune back to a larger diameter leaf-set to cane junction.

With Floribunda and Grandifloras, I learned to prune back to a sturdy looking leaf-set to cane junction. The five-leaf rule does not need to apply with these wonderful bushes. Nor does it apply to deadheading my miniature rosebushes. Still of concern with these rosebushes is keeping an eye on where the new growth will come in, or in other words, deadhead to a leaf-set junction where the new growth will go in the proper direction for the particular bush.

When the overall rosebush has a tight center portion already, it would be best to deadhead to a point where the new growth will go out and away from that tight center growth area. For my floribunda and grandifloras, I prefer to have a full looking bush so I will deadhead to a point where the new growth will come more into the center area of the bush more often than not.

One key thing I recommend before deadheading any rosebush is to step back and take a good look at the current rosebush. Then do your deadheading looking towards where the new growth needs to go to either achieve or maintain the shape that you desire for the overall rosebush.

As one of my final touches after deadheading, I seal the ends of all the freshly pruned canes with Elmer’s White Glue. This helps to keep the cane borers or cane boring wasps from entering into the tender fresh center pith of these cut cane ends causing the death of the cane, a portion of the cane, and even sometimes the entire rosebush.

It is important to use the non-water soluble White glue and not the school glue so that the hard seal maintains over the cut end of the cane and does not wash off. Some folks tell me they have used wood glue for this but I cannot recommend its use, as when I used wood glue it caused significant cane die-back from the point of its application. I have been informed that some formulations of wood glue may contain chemicals that will cause the die back of the living tissues.

My final touch to the deadheading process is to water each rose well and gently rinse down all the foliage on each bush that has been deadheaded. The roses do seem to appreciate as well as respond to this final touch.

Find a deadheading method that gives you the results you like and stick with it. No matter what method or technique you choose, enjoy tending to your roses! They enjoy the time you spend with them and will reward you in full measure. 

Read all about Pruning Roses by Stan Griep at the GardenSMART ARTICLES page.

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