Basics of Pruning Roses

Holland, Goirle, woman using pruning shears for cutting rose
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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it wouldn’t be as intimidating, would it? Roses have a formidable "diva of the garden" reputation, but the truth is that gardeners’ fear of roses comes mostly from all the diseases and pests they get in climates with wet summers. Roses’ famous pickiness has very little to do with pruning.

In fact, if you feel like you have a good working knowledge of how to prune any ornamental flowering shrub that blooms in summer, take that know-how and do what you already know how to do. Your rose will do very well for it.

For everyone else, the following information should give you an encouraging shove towards your mess of thorny briars, and little details and tips to start you off on pruning roses.

Why Prune? Benefits of Pruning Roses

  • Better flowers. Roses are one of those amazing plants that, with just the right cuts in early spring, become more beautiful. Hybrid tea roses will bear larger and more elegantly presented flowers with hard pruning in spring.
  • Size control. Wouldn’t you like those flowers at a height where you can see them, instead of way overhead? Hard spring pruning makes sure the plant’s new growth, the flowering growth, is low and in control.
  • Strong growth to hold up flowers. Roses are fast growers, which means they are weak-wooded. Without pruning, almost all will make long, sprawling canes that flop under the weight of their own huge flowers, especially in a rain. Pruning thickens good wood and removes weak wood. 
  • Reduce disease. It's been mentioned that roses have a bad reputation because of all the diseases they get. Since step 1 of all your pruning is to cut out dead, damaged, and diseased wood (all things that roses always have a lot of!), your pruning will slow the spread of pests and keep your plant healthier.

When to Prune Roses

Your major yearly pruning session is an early spring job. Wait until the coldest winter weather has passed because this will kill canes and you want to be able to see when you prune, what is dead and needs to be removed. Ideally, prune after the nightly hard frost is over but before any dormant buds break. Rose wood is very weak, so you can do this almost entirely with your pruners but bring the loppers too.

You should deadhead most roses during their bloom period. Deadheading, where you remove a spent flowering stem back to a nearby strong node, makes many roses rebloom. Some low-maintenance roses, though, are bred to self-deadhead and don’t need you to do it. There are some other fine points about deadheading roses, but the good-enough strategy is: in summer, snip off spent blooms. Shears are best for this task in large plants. 

Extra rounds of pruning and training may be needed for climbing roses. Got a rose on a trellis or fence? Roses don’t grip on their own, so you’ll need to come to them many times a year to keep them tied. At those times, you also should prune off suckers and other very long canes that are close and competing with your main, "structural" canes.

Specific Rose Care Tips


Walheim, Lance. Roses for Dummies. IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. 2000.