Pruning a confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) follows an entirely different protocol than pruning other types of roses (Rosa spp.) because this plant is not a true rose. It's actually a hardy hibiscus species, which grows as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. As a treasured heirloom plant across the Southeastern U.S. (hence the "confederate" designation in its common name), confederate rose graces many Southern landscapes where it bursts into bloom in late summer and continues its dazzling floral display until frost.
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Confederate rose is a multistemmed deciduous shrub, which bears a profusion of flowers resembling roses that may be 6 inches or more in diameter, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Whether they're single or double, the blossoms have a curious color-changing ability. While they may be white when they open, the blooms change to a blush-pink color and finally to deep pink — all in a day's time. Because healthy plants easily reach 10 feet in height, pruning a confederate rose bush controls the legginess of its multiple stems and rejuvenates growth.
When to Prune Confederate Rose
Because confederate rose doesn't bloom until late in the season — from late summer through fall — the University of North Carolina Extension recommends waiting until late winter to prune when the plant is dormant. If you prune it earlier in the growing season (spring, summer or early fall), you'll cut off the developing flower buds and miss the spectacular late-season flowers. If you're trimming away only a broken or dead branch, however, go ahead and remove it anytime so its weight doesn't damage other branches.
February is a good month for rejuvenation pruning of your confederate rose if you live in the northernmost limit of its hardiness range (USDA zones 7a through 8a). January works better for the southernmost regions (USDA zones 8b through 9). You can also prune your plant whenever it's dormant. You'll recognize dormancy because all its leaves will have fallen and its green stems will have turned brown.
How to Prune Confederate Rose
During its dormant season, prune confederate rose by removing all the stems within a few inches of the ground. You won't have to make angled cuts or carefully prune above a bud as you would when pruning a true rose, because confederate rose sprouts new stems from around the crown in spring. If your shrub is young and still small, you can use hand-held secateurs to trim away each stem. But if your plant is large, you may find pruning an easier task if you use lopping shears.
If you're pruning away a broken or dead branch during growing season, follow the branch down to healthy growth and cut it there. For large established shrubs, which may be taller than 10 feet with an equal spread, the branch you're removing may be well within arm's reach if you're only using secateurs. This is when you may want to use lopping shears for easier access.
Regardless of the type of pruning tool you use, sanitize the blades to help prevent the spread of disease, particularly if you're removing a dead or diseased stem. Wipe the blades with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or ethanol, or let them soak in this solution before cutting the stems. Be sure to remove trimmed stems instead of letting them remain on the ground around your confederate rose, because insects and disease pathogens can overwinter in this debris to reinfect plants.
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper columns. Her writing expertise covers diverse industries, including horticulture, home maintenance and DIY projects, banking, finance, law and tax. Blackstone has written more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.