Nervous about pruning your roses? Relax! This beginner’s guide teaches you step-by-step how to prune roses with confidence for healthier, more beautiful blooms.

Pruning roses is a key aspect of their care, ensuring they remain healthy, vibrant, and full of blooms. This sounds scary, but it’s easy to do.

Let’s deep dive into a simple, step-by-step guide to help you master the art of rose pruning so you can showcase these beautiful flowers. This guide will help you go from a nervous snipper into a confident pruner so your precious rose bushes look their best.

Wait until you see how simple it is to do!

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Why We Prune Roses

Pruning isn’t just about keeping your roses looking their best; it’s about maintaining their health and vigor. By removing dead or diseased wood annually, you encourage air circulation, which reduces the risk of plant diseases. Pruning also helps shape the plant, promotes strong growth, and increases flower production. And we all want more flowers, right?

When to Prune Roses

Timing is everything when you trim roses. For most roses, the best time to prune is in late winter or early spring, just as the buds start to swell but before they have fully opened. This timing can vary depending on your climate zone, but it generally falls between February and March depending on where you live.

While late winter/early spring is the best time to prune roses, there are reasons why we prune in summer and fall too but the purpose looks a bit different.

dark pink roses on a green arbor with hostas

Pruning Roses in Summer

Keep your roses blooming bountifully by removing spent flowers (deadheading) at any time. This encourages your rose to focus its energy on producing even more blooms, ensuring a beautiful and continuous floral display. But we also might lightly prune in summer to remove crossing branches or to remove dead or diseased branches that occur during the growing season.

Fall Pruning

We prune in the fall to prepare the plant for winter. But moderation is key because removing too much can stimulate new growth. And we don’t want that when the plant is going dormant.

After the first frost, shorten any long stems that might snap under the weight of snow to ensure the structure remains balanced and strong. Avoid leaving your rose top-heavy, and gently remove any branches that rub together and could become injured. Remove any dead or diseased branches and foliage.

pink roses in my cottage garden
Pink roses in my cottage garden

How to Prune Roses With Confidence

If you’ve been a little nervous to tackle rose pruning, don’t be! I realize that’s easier said than done coming from someone like me with a lot of gardening experience but it’s pretty easy once you understand the basics. I’ll break it down for you.

Tools You Need

How to Prune Roses: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

  1. Clean Your Tools: Start with clean, sharp tools to prevent the spread of disease. A quick wipe with rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution does the trick. I like to carry around Clorox Wipes to clean my pruners between plants as I go.
  2. Remove Dead or Diseased Wood: Look for canes that are discolored, withered, or damaged. Cut these out at their base.
  3. Thin Out the Center: To promote good air circulation, remove any branches that are growing inward towards the center of the bush. Your goal is to open space in the middle so it resembles a basket.
  4. Remove Thin or Weak Growth: If canes are thinner than a pencil, prune them off.
  5. Cut Back Remaining Canes: Reduce the height of the remaining canes. A good rule of thumb is to cut back about one-third to one-half of the previous year’s growth. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above an outward-facing bud. This encourages the new growth to open up and outwards.
  6. Clear the Base: Remove any suckers growing from the base of the plant or below the graft union. These can drain energy from the main plant.
  7. Cleanup: Collect and dispose of all pruned material. This helps prevent any diseases from spreading.

Keep in mind that some roses bloom on old wood (like a once-blooming rambler rose). Be cautious with these varieties, as over-pruning can reduce their flowering.

Note: If you are planting bare root roses, prune the canes to about six inches or less so the plant focuses on strong root development and growth.

david austin darcy bussell rose
David Austin Darcy Bussell Rose

Pruning Certain Types of Roses

Climbing Roses

Climbing roses requires a slightly different approach, focusing on removing old wood and dead flowers to encourage new growth. If it is a repeat blooming variety, they should only be pruned when dormant.

Remove all dead and unproductive growth. For your climbing rose to shower you with blooms, focus your pruning attention on the side shoots (laterals) branching off the main stem. Keep these laterals short, leaving just a few promising buds (eyes) on each.

But remember, the main canes are your friends! Train them to lay horizontally to encourage the plant to channel its energy into lots of amazing blooms.

pink climbing Roses growing up an obelisk -The Complete Guide to Roses Care
Pink Climbing Roses: The Complete Guide to Roses Care

Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and Grandiflora Roses

Prune to about 12-18 inches. When you prune, think of them like a basket where you keep the center open so it receives a lot of air and light.

Different from hybrid teas and grandifloras, we don’t prune floribundas as much. Cut it back to about 24-36 inches. Keep that basket shape in mind and only remove interior lateral canes to bring in more light and improve air circulation.

In the fall, it’s a good idea to prune several inches off Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, and Grandiflora roses to help reduce wind damage during winter months.

To learn more about pruning different types of roses, please see this article from Oregon State Extension.

pink roses on a green garden fence
Pink roses on a green garden fence

Pruning Rose Bushes (Like Knockout Roses)

I’ve been growing Knockout Roses for several years as they were one of the first rose plants that I grew. Don’t start pruning them until they’ve established, which usually takes about 2-3 years. Prune them in late winter/early spring when the buds start to form. I like to cut mine back to about 1/3 of their size keeping that open center, basket shape in mind to about 5-6 strong canes. Knockout Roses bloom on new growth so cutting them back pretty hard is key to getting a lot of flowers.

close up of globemaster alliums and knock out roses on the happy gardening tour
Alliium ‘Globemaster’ and Knock Out Roses in my former garden

Caring for Roses After You Prune

When you are done pruning roses in late winter/early spring it is time to start feeding them to get them started off right. I like to use this organic fertilizer for roses.

It’s a good idea to apply a fresh layer of mulch around the base of your roses. This helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the roots cool. Water your roses deeply after pruning to help them recover and start the season strong.

Applying Horticultural Oil the Right Way

If your roses had some pest and disease problems last year, you can help ward them off by applying horticultural oil when the plant is still dormant in early spring. Pests and disease problems can overwinter in the soil, on the canes or inside leaf buds, so applying a horticultural oil can drastically help your rose’s performance during the growing season.

Follow the label directions but apply it after pruning. It is important to use when the plant is still dormant before it sends out new shoots. This means you might be applying it when its still pretty chilly outside. So keep an eye on your roses in late winter and watch for the swell of those buds.

Horticultural oil is an organic way of protecting your roses from pest and disease problems as it coats the plant and suffocates pests and fungi spores.

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04/12/2024 09:34 pm GMT
pink roses
Pink Roses

How to Get More Blooms From Your Roses

Boost the blooms on your roses by deadheading spent flowers during the growing season. When you gently remove spent blossoms just above an outward-facing bud, you encourage the plant to redirect its energy. This promotes more blooms and keeps your roses looking their best throughout the season. There are some roses now that don’t need deadheading to thrive. They will be noted on the plant tag by the grower.

Pruning Roses FAQ

What happens if you don’t prune roses?

Pruning roses is a key part of their care regimen, impacting their health and blooming. Let’s explore what might happen without pruning roses.

  1. Reduced Air Circulation: Without pruning, roses can become dense and bushy, leading to poor air circulation within the plant. This fosters the development of fungal diseases like black spot and powdery mildew, as the foliage stays damp longer.
  2. Decreased Blooming: Roses that aren’t pruned tend to produce fewer blooms. This is because old and dead wood can sap energy from the plant, energy that could otherwise go towards producing new, healthy growth and flowers. Additionally, without the removal of spent blooms (deadheading), roses may not produce as many flowers since they focus energy on seed production.
  3. Pest Problems: Dense, unpruned roses provide an ideal hiding spot for pests. The lack of airflow and light penetration creates a welcoming environment for aphids, spider mites, and other pests to thrive.
  4. Unruly Growth: Without pruning to guide its shape, a rose bush can grow unwieldy and unbalanced. This not only affects the aesthetic appeal of your garden but can also lead to weaker stems that are unable to support the weight of the blooms, causing them to droop or break.
  5. Older Canes Weaken: Over time if old canes are not removed, they can become woody and less productive. New growth tends to emerge from younger canes, so without pruning to remove older canes, the plant’s overall vigor and flower production can diminish.
  6. Risk of Disease: Dead, damaged, or diseased canes can harbor fungi and other pathogens. Without regular pruning to remove these parts, diseases can easily spread, potentially harming not just the rose bush in question but also nearby plants.
  7. Less Fragrant and Smaller Blooms: The quality of the roses can suffer as well. Without pruning, roses may produce smaller, less fragrant blooms, as the plant’s energy is dispersed across too many canes and flowers.
close up of lady in red climbing rose -The Complete Guide to Roses Care
‘Lady in Red’ Climbing Rose

When should roses be cut back?

Cutting back roses is an essential part of their care routine, crucial for promoting healthy growth and abundant blooms. The timing of when to cut back roses primarily depends on the type of roses you have and your climate zone. Read the plant tag for specific instructions so you know what you are growing and when you should prune it.

What happens if you prune your roses too early?

Pruning roses too early can have a few unintended consequences, but it’s often not the end of the world for your plants. Roses are resilient, yet timing your pruning can impact their health and bloom cycle. Here’s what might happen if you jump the gun.

Increased Vulnerability to Winter Damage

Pruning stimulates new growth, which is more susceptible to cold damage. If you prune too early, and there’s a sudden cold snap, the tender new shoots might be killed by the frost. This not only sets back the plant’s growth but can also lead to a weaker plant that’s more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Energy Reserves Depletion

Roses store energy in their canes to help them burst into growth come spring. Early pruning, especially if it’s significant, can reduce these reserves. The plant then enters the growing season at a disadvantage, potentially leading to less vigorous growth and fewer blooms.

Risk of Dieback

Cutting roses back too early in regions where winter weather persists can lead to dieback from the cut points. This means that even if the plant tries to put out new growth, that growth might die back to the ground due to continuing cold, forcing the plant to start over from the roots. This can stress the plant and lead to a less robust rose bush.

Reduced Blooms

For varieties that bloom on old wood (the previous year’s growth), early pruning can accidentally remove the wood that would have produced this year’s flowers, significantly reducing the number of blooms.

close up of lady of shallot david austin rose -The Complete Guide to Roses Care

Can you fix the roses that were pruned too early?

If you pruned your roses too early, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate potential damage.

  • Protection: If a frost is forecasted after you’ve pruned, try to protect the newly pruned plants with burlap or frost cloth to shield the tender new shoots.
  • Mulching: Applying a generous layer of mulch around the base of the rose can help protect the roots and lower part of the plant from extreme temperature fluctuations.
  • Patience: Sometimes, the best action is to wait and see. Roses are remarkably hardy, and even if they suffer some setbacks due to early pruning, they often bounce back with proper care later in the season. So don’t beat yourself up over it.

In the future, aim to time your pruning for late winter or early spring, just as the buds start to swell but before they’ve fully leafed out, adjusting for your local climate conditions. This timing reduces the risk of cold damage and supports the plant’s natural growth cycle for a season of beautifully, vibrant blooms.

close up of white dawn climbing rose with pink knockout rosesThe Complete Guide to Roses Care
‘White Dawn’ Climbing Rose

Conclusion About Pruning Roses

While pruning might seem like a chore, it’s clear that the benefits far outweigh the effort. Pruning keeps your roses healthy while prolific blooms. If you’re hesitant to prune out of fear of harming your plant, remember that roses are remarkably resilient and often bounce back stronger from pruning.

I know it seems like a daunting process at first, but with a little practice, you’ll find it’s a rewarding part of rose care. Happy gardening!

close up of roses in the pool garden by a green garden fence in my early summer garden tour

More About Pruning Roses

What kind of roses are you growing? Do you have any pruning tips you’d like to share? Was this post helpful and inspiring to prune your own roses this year? I would love to know more in the comments below.

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deadheading the knock out roses in my jersey garden

Garden Supplies I Use

Since I’ve been gardening for well over twenty-five years, I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. Here are some of my favorites that I use in no particular order.

dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

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Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling

Want to learn more about me? I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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