Odd-shaped Rose Bushes

Question: I planted some rose bushes last spring and they’ve grown well, but with an odd shape. They each have one stem that’s much taller than the others, creating a weird shape. Can I cut it off?

Answer: Your first step should be to make sure that the tall stem you’re seeing originates from above the graft union, assuming this is a grafted variety. Look at the base of the plant. (You may need to dig down a bit if you buried the bud union, which is usually recommended in areas with extreme heat or cold.) If all of the stems are coming from above one knobby-looking point, your rose has been grafted onto another stronger variety’s roots. This is done to increase the vigor and disease resistance of the plant. Sometimes the rootstock will send up new stems of its own; these will rob the grafted variety’s strength and eventually overtake it entirely. So check to see if your “weird” stem is sprouting from below the knobby graft union. If so, carefully cut it off, as close as possible to the main stem.

If the stem is indeed sprouting at or above the graft union, or if there is no graft union at all, you can rest assured it is of the variety you want to grow. In this case, hold off on cutting it. Other stems may well catch up next season, when the plant is better established. In any case, it is best to prune roses in late winter or early spring, particularly in cold-winter areas. Before pruning, determine what kind of rose you’re growing (shrub, hybrid tea, floribunda, etc.) and consult a rose manual—or write to us again—for advice on pruning. Different kinds of roses require different approaches to pruning.

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9 thoughts on “Odd-shaped Rose Bushes

  1. I would sure like to see a picture of that rose bush. I have three hybrid teas, one that I believe is a grandiflora and one that is a climber. I would also advise making sure that rose bush is not a floribunda or a grandiflora before I got too anxious to prune it. Before I had studied roses very much I once pruned the grandiflora because one of my neighbors asked me when I was going to do it. The end result was mainly just a smaller rose bush and a lot less blooms. You say you live in zone 7. Me, too. If you are close to Oklahoma City, at TLC, one of our major nurseries, Pat the Rose Man, can give you lots of great info!

  2. It could be a candelabra growth. Some HT’s do this, sending up a “super-cane” to heights generally above the rest of the foliage, with a multi-branched tip carrying several flower buds. This is from the bud union, not a sport or sucker. Just prune it for cuts as usual.

    All states have chapters of the American Rose Society, with registered, certified, expert advisors called Consulting Rosarians. They are familiar with local growing conditions. It would be much more fruitful to contact the state society for a referral to a Consulting Rosarian than asking in a forum where you’ll get random answers, few of which are from experts. This is true of any plant group. Google Your State, and the name of the plant (rose, lily, iris, etc) Society. You’ll get lists of local chapters, and can go forward from there. And maybe make some new friends and fellow plant enthusiasts in the bargain!

  3. These might possible be blind shoots, sometimes called water shoots. These seldom bloom, though sometimes if bent down they may produce lateral shoots that may bloom. I always remove these all the way down to the bottom of the shoot. I have tried leaving them before and especially if they arrive in the fall they do not make it through the winter. If the plant is particularly weak you might leave them for a while so that their leaves can be used by the plant for energy production.

  4. But if it is entirely overgrown, as does happen at times, they can be cut down, realizing that they will die back a bit more come spring. It works this way in zone 5.

    • I’ve had one or two tall stems appear on my roses, too, and in one case it was obvious that it came from the root stock because the blossoms were a different color. I inherited my roses when I bought the house and have no idea what type they are (I’m not a rose gardener, just like them). They are all thin and leggy. Can I cut them all back in the winter to promote bushiness? I’m in Zone 7. Thanks.

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