“But he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” – Anne Bronte
The best time to prune a rose bush is in the early spring (often about the time daffodils begin to bloom). Pruning roses has two key benefits: it keeps your plants healthy and improves their overall appearance. While pruning roses can be an intimidating task, keep in mind that it’s very hard to kill a rose with poor pruning and most mistakes (no matter how bad) will eventually grow back. Also, most experts agree that a good attempt at pruning is often better than no pruning at all.
To prune a rose bush, begin by removing any dead, diseased or winter damaged wood, cutting it back to where it’s healthy. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a stem is dead or not, since its coloration can be the same (dark brown to black). One way to know for sure is to cut off a little from the tip of a stem. If it’s green inside, it’s alive. If it’s dark brown to the core, it’s not coming back!
Tip: Make pruning cuts at a 45° angle to prevent water from setting on the pruned area.
To remain healthy, roses need plenty of air circulation (see Cultural Requirements of Roses). Remove any large branches that run through the center of the bush. These will reduce airflow once leaves develop. Also, remove shoots that are growing across other plant parts and any thin, spindly stems that are smaller in diameter than a pencil. Make these cuts as close to the plant as possible. If a small stub remains, new growth will develop. After cuts are made, seal them with a pruning paste to prevent disease and cane borer problems.
Once you have opened up the center of the plant, move on to pruning for shape and appearance. How you groom will depend on the type of roses you have. Different varieties require different pruning approaches. For example, you need to carefully prune old garden roses stem by stem. With miniature roses, an overall “buzz cut” will suffice. Shrub roses need to be trimmed back, but don’t require heavy pruning.
For hybrid tea, grandiflora or floribunda roses, strive for a plant that’s shaped like a vase, broader at the top and narrower at the base. The bush’s remaining stems should be cut at various lengths between 10 to 15 inches long, to promote continuous blooms.
Climbing roses require special treatment. For one thing, don’t get trigger happy with the pruning shears. After planting, wait a couple of years before pruning. This will give the plant some time to get established. However, don’t totally neglect its “hygiene.” Young climbers still require some grooming while they await the big pruning. Remove diseased or dead wood and tie canes to a trellis or other support as they grow. Once the plant grows long canes, lateral branches will begin to produce flowers.
As with other types of roses, only prune climbing roses in the early spring. Remove old and unproductive wood and then cut it back to two or three buds. Also, remove all of the laterals that bore flowers the season before. If you have misbehaving canes that are growing the wrong way, try training them. If that doesn’t work, remove the uncooperative ones.
Tip: Womanswork gloves have won out in independent testing against other leather gauntlet gloves, and are recommended by rose growers across the country.
Regardless of the type of rose you are pruning, try and make sure that the growth buds on the remaining stems are all facing out (see Basic Pruning Cuts). While this may take a few years of pruning to achieve, it will keep branches growing away from the center of the plant. Having trouble finding buds? Look for a slight scar or line on the bark of the rose.
Once you’ve finished pruning, it’s time to clean up. Rake any leaves or debris from under the plant so you don’t create a home for invasive insects. Also, apply a lime/sulfur spray or a Bordeaux mixture of copper and lime to destroy any insect eggs that may be present.
1. Always use clean, sharp garden tools.
2. Prior to pruning, take into consideration the overall shape of the bush, but always start at the bottom of the plant.
3. Prune to open up the center of the plant. This will promote more air circulation inside the bush, slowing insect attack, and reducing fungal problems.
4. Prune stems at a 45 degree angle, just above a growth bud that is facing away from the center of the plant.
5. When pruning, do not damage the plant. Cuts should be sharp and precise.
6. Remove any dead, diseased or winter damaged wood, cutting it back to where it’s healthy. You’ve reached healthy wood when the center of the cane is white.
7. Remove small twiggy shoots and those that are crisscrossing other growth.
8. Seal cuts to prevent disease and cane borer problems.
9. Remove suckers that grow below the graft (bud union).
10. After pruning, clean areas around and under plants to reduce problems with disease and insect pests.