Pruning roses is a key part of maintaining a healthy rose garden. Aromatic and attractive, taller varieties of rose plant, such as knockout roses are a great structural plant to build a flower filled bed around. Smaller, shrub varieties are equally attractive when grown in smaller gardens or containers.
Whichever variety you choose to grow, pruning regularly helps to promote flowering and fresh growth. It also helps to keep the plants healthy and prolongs their lifespan.
Like planting, pruning roses is a vital part of properly caring for the plants. Here is everything you need to know about pruning roses.
A staple of the flower garden, pruning rose plants helps to keep them healthy as well as promoting flowering.
Why Should I Prune my Rose Plants?
Most varieties of rose are large plants. Once established these require little regular intervention. Many happily grow and flower for many years without ever being pruned. However, pruning rose plants helps them to remain healthy. It also encourages them to grow back more strongly the following year. As well as producing more flowers, pruned rose plants often set larger flowers the following year.
Pruning rose branches encourages the plants to produce auxin. This is a hormone that stimulates cell division and growth. It is commonly found in the main stem of rose plants, as well as a number of other plants.
When you prune a plant, the auxin hormone concentrates itself in the freshly cut stems. This encourages new shoots to grow.
Regularly cutting roses also helps to control the shape and size of your plants.
When is the Best Time to Prune my Rose Plants?
Pruning rose plants is best done in the fall or winter, once the plants have finished flowering. Many gardeners like to wait until late winter, sometimes as late as February, before pruning.
Waiting until the end of winter means that you are cutting the plants just before or as the new season growth emerges. Remember the less foliage there is on a plant, the easier it is to prune properly and accurately.
In colder USDA zones it is best to wait until after the last frost has passed before cutting back the plants. This helps to protect the new growth from frost damage.
This table gives you an idea of when is the ideal time to begin cutting back your roses.
|USDA Zone||When to Prune|
|USDA Zones 3 and 4||Prune from late April until the end of May|
|USDA Zones 5, 6 and 7||Prune during April|
|USDA Zone 8||Prune from late February until the end of March|
|USDA Zone 9||Prune during February|
|USDA Zone 10||Prune during January|
Miniature or shrub rose varieties can also be pruned during the summer months.
Like larger varieties, wait until ground cover roses have finished flowering before you prune them.
Prune climbing roses in late fall or early winter. Rambling rose plants can also be pruned in late summer once they have finished flowering for the year.
You can also Tidy up the Plants in the Fall
While the major pruning work is best done in late winter, you can tidy the plants up in the fall, once flowering has finished. This can form part of your gardens annual fall transition routine.
Trimming away long stems prevents winter storms from snapping them. Snapped stems can allow pests or diseases an easy way to target your plants.
A light prune in the fall also helps to prevent the plants from becoming top heavy. Overly top heavy plants can be toppled or uprooted in strong winds.
You can also trim away any entangled or crossed branches. Don’t prune too much in the fall. Cutting back plants stimulates new growth. This is vulnerable to damage by winter frosts.
As well as broken branches, you should also remove any dead or dying foliage. This can be done at any time of year and helps to keep the plant healthy.
While old foliage can be tidied away in the fall, in some areas you may need to allow the rose hips to remain on the plant.
Hips are the small round fruit that emerges as spent flowers fade. They are usually red or orange in color. Instead of deadheading spent flowers, carefully remove the petals to encourage hips to form.
In colder USDA zones the plant naturally goes dormant. In these zones the hips can be pruned away.
In warmer climates allow rose hips to form and remain on the plants during the fall and winter months. Allowing the hips to remain in place encourages the plant to become dormant. Reducing water and ceasing to fertilize your plants also encourages them to become dormant.
You Will Need
Before you begin pruning your roses you will need a few things. These are:
- Sharp shears or garden scissors
- A small saw if you are cutting through thick rose stems
- Long sleeved Shirt
If you are pruning a large number of rose plants you may also find a wheelbarrow useful to transport the plant debris.
As long as the plants are healthy the pruned stems and branches can be placed on a compost heap.
Always use sharp tools when cutting back your plants. This enables you to make clean, precise cuts. Remember to clean your tools after using them to help prevent disease from spreading around the garden.
How to Prune a Rose Plant
Whichever type of rose plant you have, begin by cutting away any remaining leaves. This allows you to clearly see the plant. It also helps to remove any hiding pests or diseases.
Remove the Dead Wood
Next remove the old dead wood. This is brown in color. Cut dead or brown branches back to the base of the plants. Allow young or green stems to remain in place.
While it may seem extreme, older, well-established roses can cope with a harsh cut. They quickly grow back in the spring. Cut away any old or woody stems. These are dead and won’t produce any more flowers. Use a sharp tool or even a small saw, if the stems are very thick.
Continue by opening up the center of the plant. Remove entangled or crossed branches. These can rub against each other, removing bark and allowing disease to enter the plant.
Next, remove any noticeably weak or thin growth. If you are unsure which stems to remove, a good rule of thumb is to prune away any stems that are thinner than the width of a pencil.
Pruning the Canes
Once you have neatened up the plant and removed the dead wood you can turn your attention to the remaining canes.
Cut each cane roughly a quarter to a half an inch above the outward facing bud. A bud is a small bump in the stem from which a leaf emerges. New stems grow in the direction that these buds face. Cutting canes down to an outward facing bud encourages new stems to grow outwards.
Try to cut as close to the bud as you can. Longer cuts struggle to produce and maintain new growth.
When you make the cut, try to angle it away from the plant. This prevents rain water from gathering in the cut and dripping towards the plant. Allowing water to gather in cut areas can cause disease.
If you want to encourage upright growth, prune away any inward facing buds.
Try to cut the plant down to roughly the height you want it to be. If you have lots of rose plants try to keep a consistent height across the flower bed. Plants at the front of beds can be cut slightly lower than those at the back.
If you are cutting back hybrid and tea roses remember that the lower you prune the larger the flowers and the longer the stems. This is great for cut roses and displays. Allowing hybrids to remain a little taller encourages more flowers to form but they will be smaller and on shorter stems.
Seal the Cuts and Tidy Up
After pruning the plant, seal the fresh cuts with a pruning sealer. This protects the plants from rot and rose borer.
Clean up the area around the plant. Remove leaves and cut branches and safely dispose of them on a compost heap or in a local garden recycling scheme.
Rose plants like lots of nutrition. After pruning apply a long lasting balanced fertilizer. This helps to encourage the plant to produce lots of fresh, healthy growth.
Pruning Climbing Roses
The climbing rose has 2 types of cane. The main cane and the lateral cane.
Main canes emerge from the base of the plant. These should never be pruned. Climbing roses like to put their energy into flowering. If the plant has to put its energy into regrowing the main cane it won’t flower.
Lateral canes produce flowers. Pruning these encourages more flowers to set. Don’t worry about cutting the canes down to outward shaping buds. Attempting to shape climbing roses in this way is pointless. You can prune lateral canes at any time of year to help keep the plant in shape.
Pruning Knock Out Roses
Similar to climbing rose plants, Knock Out roses also require pruning. Don’t prune until the plant is mature, in its second or third year, and is about 3 to 4 ft in height.
Prune Knock Out roses at the same time as other varieties. Knock Out rose plants set flowers on new growth. When pruning remove broken and brown or old canes. These can be cut back to the base of the plant. Cut the remaining Knock Out rose canes down to about a third of the plants initial height.
As well as pruning in the late winter you can also prune Knock Out rose plants at other times of the year. This is because the Knock Out rose grows in a flower-rest-flower cycle. If the plant grows out of shape and you need to prune during the summer months or in midseason, wait until it has finished flowering and entered a rest phase.
Like other varieties of rose plants, if you want to encourage your Knock Out roses to enter their dormant phase, don’t deadhead the spent flowers. Deadheading stimulates new flowers and growth to emerge. Spent flowers are replaced by rose hips.
Rose hip production triggers the plant’s entry into a dormant period and inhibits flowering. If you are growing Knock Out roses in warmer USDA zones allow the rose hips to remain on the plant during the fall and winter months. This encourages the plant to enter a rest phase.
How you prune a plant affects how long the stems will be and how many flowers are produced.
Rose Plants the Don’t Require Pruning
If you are unable to or don’t want to prune your rose plants, but still want to grow roses try landscape roses. Unlike the hybrid tea rose these are resilient rose plants that continue to thrive if they aren’t pruned.
If you do need to prune your landscape rose plant, simply cut away any dead wood in the spring, taking the plant down to about half its original height. This may seem drastic but these are hardy varieties with a vigorous growth habit and will quickly grow back.
Similarly, the Oso Easy series of rose plants are disease resistant and don’t regular deadheading or pruning.
Properly cutting back and caring for your plants helps to keep them healthy and prolongs their lifespan. It also promotes flowering.
Pruning roses helps to keep them healthy and disease free. While plants may look bare and fragile after a good cut, they quickly grow back stronger than before. Flowering will also be more profuse.
The resilient nature and quick growing habit of rose plants means that you will quickly see the benefit of annual pruning.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.