Grow Guide: Leggy Roses and Droopy Daffodils

When you should spare the shears and spoil the plant and when to snip away.

leggy roses

Leggy Roses

Leggy roses need pruning for size control and health.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

Leggy roses need pruning for size control and health.


I didn't get around to pruning my roses in February, like my mother used to do religiously. Have I completely messed up?


Absolutely not! While “traditional” dates for doing various garden chores are often pretty accurate, based on generations of experimentation and observation, they are rarely set in stone.

Many popular spring-blooming shrubs, including spirea, forsythia, azalea, lilac and blueberries, form their flower buds late in the preceding summer and fall; pruning them after mid-summer or in the winter ruins their spring display. 

But like hydrangeas, gardenia, crape myrtle, vitex, and althea (rose of Sharon), most repeat-blooming roses - with the important exception of a few musk roses and other antiques that flower only once in the spring - flower on new growth and can be pruned even after they leaf out in the spring. Prune once-bloomers after they finish flowering, just like you would other spring blooming shrubs and vines.  

Okay to be Hard

Rosarians are rough on their shrubs in the winter. Most cut plants to a couple of feet tall, then remove any remaining cluttered, diseased or weak-looking stems. This works for upright hybrid teas as well as shrub roses. For climbing and rambling roses, simply thin out older, excess or cluttered stems, leaving some fresh canes to keep the climbers full and attractive. 

And don’t let that tender new growth soften your heart! I mean, think about it - you would have removed those stems anyway, before they sprouted out, so what difference does it make if you prune them later even if they have some flower buds on them? 

However, if you just can’t stand the thought of cutting off new growth, wait until after it flowers and then go ahead and do your hard cutting. It won’t harm the plants at all. In fact, a lot of gardeners prune their ever-blooming roses pretty hard in the winter, and again a little more lightly in mid-summer for a dramatic flush of flowers in the fall. 

By the way, there is no real need to prune any particular way, but experienced gardeners tend to make cuts right above outward-facing buds or leaf joints, to improve the overall shape of the plants later. 


Take Care When Pruning Daffodils

Always leave daffodil foliage alone until it dies down after flowers fade.

Always leave daffodil foliage alone until it dies down after flowers fade.


My daffodils did not flower well at all this spring. Should I move them, or fertilize them or what? 


As a longtime grower of many different daffodils, I can assure you that we are sometimes in the same boat - not all mine bloomed this year, either. And I am unabashedly blaming some of it on the weather!

Keep in mind that not all daffodils do equally well in the first place. When you buy a new bulb, it already has the flower bud for the following spring, and will bloom almost regardless of what you do. But for that bulb to produce a new bulb and flower buds of its own for the next year requires plenty of late spring sunlight, a little fertilizer and adequate moisture without staying so wet it may rot - especially in the summer. 

Leave the Leaves Alone

One very important thing: Daffodils form the flower bud for the following spring right after they finish flowering in the spring. It is very important - crucial, really - to leave them alone until their foliage starts to flop over and starts to turn yellow, or you will dramatically cut down on their ability to flower year after year. 

Also, some varieties can quickly get too crowded to flower well, and need to be dug and divided every few years. Others do much better farther north where they get a lot more cold weather; in fact, just like tulips, some daffodils may not flower well at all in the lower South or on the West Coast where the winters are mild. They make only foliage. 

So just make sure your bulbs are planted where they get plenty of late winter and spring sunlight, don’t stay soggy wet in your rainy season (or where a flower bed may be irrigated in the summer, when the bulbs are dormant and need to stay dry), and get a little all purpose plant fertilizer or bulb food in the fall when their foliage starts to emerge. 

And, like me, keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates!

Get more from gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing at

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