Issue: June 1, 1996

Pruning roses in summer

Question: I pruned my roses this spring and they are looking beautiful. Now I want to know how to keep them from getting too large this summer. Some of them become so large that I can't get past them.

Answer: Summer pruning is done as you "dead-head" or remove the spent blossoms. You can also prune by cutting flowers for use indoors or for friends. When you remove the old blossoms, move down the stem to the first leaf with at least five leaflets. Do not cut above this point. The first leaf below the blossom usually has only one leaflet or leaf blade. Below that the next leaf or two will have three leaflets. Finally, you will reach the leaf with five leaflets.

The reason for moving down to the five-leaflet leaf is that the buds at the base of one- or three-leaflets is not as likely to produce flowers; if it does, the stem will be too weak to hold it upright. Plants will rarely produce a stem larger than the one from which they developed. Pruning too close to the flower encourages slender, weak stems will result in droopy flowers and wind damage.

It is alright to cut below the first five-leaflet leaf if you want some long-stemmed roses for indoor decorations. Cutting some long-stemmed roses or cutting old blossoms with long stems will help keep your plant more compact. Just don't overdo it. When you cut the stems, you are also removing leaves which would have produced food to strengthen the plant. Removing too many leaves in the summer will result in a weaker plant next year.

As in the spring you can control the form and direction of growth by selecting buds on the side of the stem in which you want to direct the growth of the plant. Choose buds which grow outward from the center of the plant and from other stems to keep the plant healthy. Direct growth away from walkways and walls to protect people and the plants.

Redbud tree question

Question: I helped a friend plant an Eastern redbud tree last year. We prepared a large planting hole and amended the soil with a great deal of manure and compost. Through all of last summer it had small leaves. This year it is developing small leaves again. What is wrong?

Answer: There could be several causes of the small leaves that you described:

  1. The Eastern redbud is not as well adapted to our soils and dry air as the Oklahoma and Western redbuds. But, there are many Eastern redbuds doing well here. So unless your planting site was especially dry and well drained or the soil was extremely salty, this is probably not the primary cause.
  2. Salts in the soil and the manure you added around the roots may be inhibiting the development of a good root system which can provide enough water to allow rapid growth and development of normal sized leaves.
  3. If the redbud tree was purchased in a container, or had at one time been grown in a container, circling and constricting roots may have developed. These might not have been visible at the time you planted the tree. Such constricting roots will limit growth and development of the tree.
  4. There may have been some twine left tied at the base of the tree. Be sure there is not plastic twine or wire tied around the tree. As you check for this, look just below the soil line. Don't damage roots, but also be looking for constricting roots. Also look for mechanical damage and dead bark at or near the soil line. This could also cause the problem.
  5. Finally, another unlikely cause - did you notice grubs in the soil around the tree? Use of considerable amounts of organic matter in the form of compost or manure might have introduced root feeding grubs or created an environment which allowed their development at the base of the tree. There are several types of grubs which are commonly found in compost and manure. These grubs usually cause no problem, but if their numbers are high enough, control measures may be needed to limit root damage.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

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