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Odd-shaped Rose Bushes

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?

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.