If you have them in your garden, chances are, you need to learn how to prune roses. Why prune? Here’s the thing… most roses are a lot tougher than we give them credit for. In fact, it can be pretty hard to kill a rose! But just because they can survive through a lot of neglect, doesn’t mean they will be healthy, or beautiful. Cutting back roses helps the plant in three ways…

  • It shapes the plant, preventing it from becoming gangly and awkward.
  • It allows the plant to concentrate on growing flowers instead of cane, producing more, and larger, blooms.
  • It allows circulation of air within the plant, and removal of old and dead canes keeps disease from setting in and ruining your blooms.



How to Prune Roses


How to Prune Roses, and When!

First of all, when pruning your roses, make sure you have a decent pair of sharp pruning shears or loppers. Using old or dull shears can encourage diseases in your rose canes. If it’s time for new pruners, we like the ones at ‘Gardeners Supply‘. Photo of how to prune climbing roses by ‘HGTV‘.




Want to get started cutting back roses?  It’s pretty easy! Here is a quick primer on how to prune roses. Photo by ‘BHG‘.



When to Prune Roses?

Prune roses about a month before your last frost, before many new leaves emerge.  In mild climates this is likely January, the colder your climate the later you prune, all the way up to March. If your rose is breaking dormancy and starting to put out lots of new leaves, you’ve waited too long, but it’s not too late to do a light pruning of dead canes, and to lightly shape the plant. (It’s always ok to prune out dead, dying or diseased wood, no matter where you are in the season.)

Tools for Pruning Roses?

Use a sharp pair of pruning shears, and make sure they are clean so they don’t pass on disease from other plants. You can always wipe your tools with a bleach solution after pruning to keep them disease free. Allow to dry thoroughly before using. Ratchet pruners are great for those who find it tough to get through those thicker canes.

How Do You Prune Roses?

So the big question is, what to prune? First, where do you make the cuts?

Always cut on a 45 degree angle about 1/4 inch above a swollen leaf node. This diagram shows us how its done…



So now you know where to cut, now what do you cut?

The best choice for most gardeners is to do a moderate pruning. This helps keep the bush healthy, and produces armloads of pretty blooms for you. A light pruning might be done if you were interested in a larger bush, with more, but smaller flowers. A hard pruning, meaning pruning more than half the plant back, is often done for roses meant for show. It puts more energy into the blooms, producing larger, and more spectacular flowers.

How to Do a Moderate Rose Pruning

  • Prune out all dead or diseased rose canes back past the damage.
  • Cut any interior canes that cross, or are weak growth.
  • Cut any suckers off at the base. Suckers are straight shoots that come out of the plant under the graft union. The graft is the large swollen rootstock at the base of the rose plant.
  • Remove about one third of last years branch growth on each remaining branch. The illustration below from ‘Sunset Magazine‘ shows you what we mean…




Some people use a sealant on the cuts after pruning, though I have never found that necessary. Remember to always dispose of diseased canes properly and not add them to a compost pile or community yard waste container to prevent spreading the disease.

Throughout the season, lightly prune back dead and dying flowers to promote further blooming, and always cut back and dispose of dead canes or canes that prevent good shape or air circulation of the plant. Photo by ‘HGTV‘.


One more tip? Gloves. Leather gloves. And when you are done, you will be rewarded with healthy, beautiful roses!


Suggested Tools for Pruning Roses

Here again are links for the tools we like for pruning roses.

Hope you enjoyed this post on How to Prune Roses, and When! You might be interested in our post on How to Grow English Roses and  How & When to Prune Trees!



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  1. Pingback: Fall Garden Cleanup Checklist: 15 Easy Tasks • The Garden Glove

  2. Jackson September 28, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    The pictures of where to prune are were very helpful in helping me vusually see where I need to snip my rose bushes. Thanks.

  3. Dawsie Angela Herremans January 13, 2018 at 5:33 am

    Where I live the roses are green all year round and flower just as much all year as well once in a while I get really tuff with them and cut them back down to,the base I have never had a problem doing this to them. I also grow climbing roses which the birds left for me one year and I just let it grow this too has to be cut right back at the moment until I,get the chance to build it some posts for it to climb around and eventually to reach the garage so,that it can grow along the roof and walls.

    I also have two Australian native roses called the Banksia Rose I have only seen it in white and lemon pale yellow I have been told there is a version that has pale pink roses but have never seen this one.

    The yellow one I had to cut right back because someone had taken a whipper sniper to it and mangled it all up it was doing so well growing along my fence line I had managed to get it to grow 2 meters in each direction. Because of the damage I had to cut right back to the base and now the fence has been removed. As it is with the red tea rose climber that the birds gave me I will get it to climb with it. The red rose flowers twice a year once during the spring and again in the middle of summer.

    The white on I have at the side of the house in a built up garden bed along with a red geranium climber and they have weaved them selves together and is starting to look really preatty. The white banksia rose flowers twice during the spring season. Same as the yellow one.

    I have a small yellow tea rose in a tree stump pot and have been trying to move it which I have finally done lol and I thought I had gotten it all out but have just noticed the other day there is a small yellow tea rose back in the tree stump pot it looks like I did not get all of the root system out of the pot and it has grown a new rose bush in the tree stump lol just goes to show you how tuff they are.

  4. Irma August 17, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I live in the s.w. Lower corner of Michigan, and we get quite frigid here in the winter! Do we have to cover our roses for the winter?

    1. Kathy Woodard August 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      I would suggest you talk to someone local, a quick call to your local nursery ought to give you some reliable advice!

  5. Dee February 18, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    What about antique English Roses? Ex. Austin Roses…. do these need to be pruned as vigorously as you diagrammed or can they be mostly left alone, except to trim off dying, dead or diseased branches? I am a “lazy” gardener and try to select specimens that do not need a lot of maintenance…. I have been drawn to Austin Roses thinking these can pretty much be left to do their thing. Am I wrong? We have 11 acres, and I moved here a bit over 3 years ago, and plan on landscaping as much of it as I can – so I want to do it with low maintenance specimens… thus my reason for being a “lazy” gardener… there will be way too much for one person to maintain when I finally finish to plant high maintenance trees, bushes, perennials, bulbs, vines, etc… Also, we live on what used to be “agricultural farm land” and it was sprayed to death with round-up, etc. for who knows how long… my neighbors tell me NOTHING will survive in our soil, not even “grass” BUT WEEDS DO EXCEEDINGLY WELL!!! I spend so much time removing weeds I have no time to pamper my flowers, trees, bushes, etc… I don’t want to spray the weeds, b/c I want the soil to HEAL and become healthy again. We are seriously talking about having some top soil brought in and added to areas that I am working on, and just expanding from the house outward until I complete my landscaping project. I love flowers and gardening, but I do worry that an 11 acre garden may be my undoing! Anyway, back to those roses… do I need to prune them yearly? or at all, or what have you???

  6. Willy Sheperd, Master Rosarian December 21, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Rose pruning and planting will vary depending on where you live. Where I live in the desert south-west we do our heavy pruning and planting in January trying to be done by the first week of February. In cold climates they wait till springtime to see how much winter die-back they have. I strongly recommend contacting your local rose society for recommendations on pruning. They normally hold public pruning demonstrations at the right time of year for your area. They not only show you how but encourage you to join in for “hands on learning” which is always better than just watching. FYI – do not buy cheap pruners. By good by-pass pruners. Enjoy our national flower THE ROSE.

  7. Joe Felegi May 29, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I really like your point about disposing of diseased canes in a separate place other than the compost pile. I had always just put them in the compost pile, but this is a great tip to keep in mind in the future. Thanks!


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