Pruning Roses

Pruning Roses


Dead-heading is the removal of faded flowers before they can develop seed.  To dead head cut the flower stem back to an outward-facing bud above a five-leaflet or seven-leaflet leaf.

This "rule" applies best to plants that are vigorous. If the plant is weak or small, do not cut off as much material. Each time this much wood is removed a lot of the food-making ability of the plant is removed along with it. This method works well for most recurrent-blooming types of roses. Furthermore, with rugosa and other shrub roses where hips are a part of the display, do not prune off the old flowers. In this case, simply clean the spent blooms away, leaving the hips.

Flowers should not be cut after October 1 to allow the plant to begin hardening off for the winter. Dead-heading is also a good way to lessen the likelihood of diseases such a botrytis from becoming a problem

Rose Picture

Prune In Spring

Pruning applys a few common sense principles to accomplish several tasks. These tasks are to:

  • Remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood
  • Increase air circulation
  • Keep the plant from becoming a tangled mess
  • Shape it
  • Encourage the growth of flowering wood

The majority of pruning is done in the spring. Many rose growers suggest waiting until the forsythias start to bloom as a good signal for the pruning season to begin.

The Goal

The goal of spring pruning is to produce an open centered plant. This  allows air and light to penetrate easily.

Basic pruning fundamentals that apply to all roses include:

  • Use clean, sharp equipment.
  • Cut at a 45-degree angle about 1/4 inch above outward-facing bud. The cut should slant away from the bud.
  • Entirely remove all dead or dying canes. These can be identified as canes that are shriveled, dark brown, or black.
  • If cane borers are a problem, it is suggested to seal the ends of the cuts to prevent the entry of cane borers. White glue works well.
  • Remove all thin, weak canes that are smaller than a pencil in diameter.
  • If roses are grafted and there is sucker growth, remove it. The best way is to dig down to the root where the sucker is originating and tear it off where it emerges. Cutting suckers off only encourages regrowth of several suckers where there once was one.


Julia child
Grande Dame

Hybrids, Grandifloras, Floribundas, & Miniature Roses

Roses like hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and miniatures produce the best flowers on new or current season's wood. To ensure this type of wood, these roses are pruned very hard in early spring. This means removing about one-half to two-thirds of the plant's height and reducing the number of canes.

Suggested pruning sequence:

  • Remove all dead canes; cut them off at the base or point of discoloration.
  • Remove small, weak canes.
  • Leave 3 to 5 healthy, stout canes evenly spaced around the plant.

Cut these canes back, leaving 3 to 5 outward-facing buds.


Shrub Roses

Repeat-flowering shrub roses bear flowers on mature stems that are not old and woody. Severe pruning of these roses would result in reduced flower production. In their first two or three seasons in the garden, shrub roses can be left unpruned. Wait to see what shape develops and then try to prune so that the shape is maintained. Many modern shrub roses are pruned by a method called the "one-third" method. Suggested pruning sequence:

  • In the spring, remove one-third of the very oldest canes. This helps keep the plant from becoming an overgrown thicket of poor-flowering canes.
  • Replace these canes by identifying about one-third of the very youngest canes that grew the previous season.
  • Remove the remaining canes.

The result of this one-third method is that you are continually renewing the rose while at the same time keeping enough mature wood to ensure a good supply of flower-producing wood.


Double Knockout
Rose Scentimental

Climbers & Ramblers

Climbers and ramblers may need a few seasons in the garden before pruning is necessary. In many cases, pruning is limited to removing winter-damaged wood. Pruning is similar for both classes. The difference is in the timing. Since ramblers are once-blooming, they are pruned right after flowering in early summer. Climbers are repeat bloomers, they are pruned in early spring. Reducing the side shoots or laterals to  3-6 inches stimulates flower production, resulting in more blooms. Training canes to grow more horizontally encourages the growth of bloom producing side shoots