For the past several weeks, our roses endured our benign neglect. Rachel and I just couldn’t bring ourselves to using chemical pesticides while they were being set upon by Japanese beetles. Certainly, they suffered. Now that the insect assault is over, it’s time to revitalize our roses.

Ideally, roses should only be pruned when they’re dormant. Hard-pruning a rose while it’s actively growing is extremely traumatic. It might take an entire growing season to recover from the stress.      

A neglected rose needs special care to regain its health and vigor. Rose rehabilitation is not the same thing as pruning. It’s more like an intensive grooming. An overgrown rose bush is unruly and unattractive. You’d be amazed at how quickly an untended rose garden can become overrun by pests and diseases.

The first task is to remove all weeds. Not only are they unsightly, but they compete for moisture and nutrients. It’ always best to weed by hand. Roses are very sensitive to chemical herbicides. The accidental exposure to glyphosate (i.e. Roundup) looks exactly like rose rosette disease. That’s a self-inflicted worry that you don’t need. 

The main task of rose rehab is to clear out the center of the bush to allow maximum air circulation and restore a disciplined form. A healthy rose bush should have four to eight strong canes. Remove all canes that rub against each other. Remove all canes thinner than a pencil. New canes need room to grow, and that growth should come from the center of the rose bush. Any plant material that is diseased, dead or dying must go. Yellow leaves, or leaves with black spots, must also be removed. If there’s any doubt, remove it. Black spot on roses is a fungal disease that persists even after the leaves have fallen. 

It’s important to pick up all the debris around your roses and dispose in a sealed trash bag. Composting this material would simply redistribute it throughout your garden.         

Deadheading is not optional. This procedure prompts the bush to produce more flowers. Once a bloom has faded, it should be removed before it falls off. Mulching isn’t optional either. Three to four inches of mulch helps to suppress weeds and conserve moisture.  

As the daylight hours grow shorter, the growth of rose bushes starts to slow down. The canes will begin to harden in order to make it through the coming winter. Fertilizing late in the season will encourage your roses to keep growing. Unless you’re using well-composted manure, don’t fertilize after September.  Any new growth will be killed after the first hard frost. Our first frost is sometime around Oct. 15. 

Composted manure is low in nitrogen and absorbed slowly by roses, so it can be applied very late in the season. Once our roses have been revitalized, Rachel and I spray them with neem oil, a natural, organic pesticide and fungicide.  

Roses are extremely resilient and respond well to rehabilitation. With the proper care and attention, modern hybrid roses can live 10 to 12 years.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at