Pruning roses – everything you need to know

Last updated on January 21st, 2020

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Knowing how to prune roses is important for anyone who plans to integrate roses into their beautiful garden landscape not just because it helps keep the rose bushes in line but because it can encourage more beautiful results. You shouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of pruning. There are very specific rules that typically applied to specific types of roses that are designed for exhibits. Casual gardeners who simply need to know how and when to prune roses to keep their bushes healthy and beautiful just have to follow some fundamental guidelines.

If you want to learn how to prune climbing roses click here and to learn how to prune rambling roses click here

What you need for pruning roses

Best gloves for roses and brambles - We compare 5 great pairs and what to look for before buying

The first thing you need is some good thorn-proof gloves. It is recommended that you pick the thickest, Gauntlet style you can get, the type of gloves that will protect your entire forearm and not just your hand and wrist. The last thing you want is to regularly stab yourself during the process and since this is something you will do habitually, the investment is well worth it.

You will also need bypass blades. These are special blades that overlap one another so they make a very clean cut. If you choose Anvil blades that meet in the middle they will crush your rose canes and can damage them so avoid this type.

When to prune roses

Do all major pruning in spring

Pruning roses in Spring is best, in the early spring right as your roses break their dormancy. Most of your heavy pruning needs to be done in the early spring but wait until the last hard frost has passed which is usually February to March. And then follow the steps included later in the article.

Deadhead and remove diseases stems and foliage in summer

You can deadhead during the summer, cutting back dead flowers. By deadheading during the flowering season, you can encourage additional blossoms and keep your shrub looking very attractive. Its also a good idea to remove any diseases stems or foliage in summer as soon as you notice them and sprat with a rose fungicide.

Cut back tall stems in autumn

You can cut back the longer stems in the Autumn to prevent them from snapping during the worst of the winter weather. It is important that you keep your rose bushes protected against strong winds during the winter. If you notice any branches that will be rubbing together they should also be trimmed back. But don’t prune too much because this will stimulate new growth and that new growth will get damaged by winter weather. The goal is to simply cut away what is absolutely necessary to protect the overall bush. If at any time you see disease or dead branches or foliage, cut them off, discard them, and sterilize the cutting tools that you use to prevent the disease from transferring to your other roses.

How to prune roses

Pruning your hybrid tea, floribunda, old English and patio roses requires very few steps, pruning climbing and rambling are done a little differently so we will talk about this further down:

  1. First, get rid of any remaining leaves that you see. This will help you to get rid of any disease pieces that might still be hanging on or lying around.
  2. Second, cut off the dead wood first. You know that the wood is dead because it’s brown and usually has no growth on all. Wood that is living is generally green but can sometimes look brown so be careful not to mistake it for living stems. Anything that is dead should be cut all the way back to the base.
  3. Third, take out any branches that are crossing and will rub against one another. If you allow them to remain in place it will damage them and encourage disease which you want to avoid, prevention is better than cure.
  4. Fourth, get rid of anything that is thinner than the size of a pencil. This type of growth is very weak and won’t render any positive results so you are better off getting rid of it now.
  5. Fifth, prune your remaining canes to your desired height, generally, this depends on how tall you want your roses to grow every year. If you’re not sure we recommend cutting back to 40-50cm by cutting approximately 0.6-1.2 cm above any small bumps known as outward facing eye buds. These are found where the leaf would otherwise meet the stem. New stems will grow in the direction of your buds so you want to encourage them to grow in and out word fashion rather than inward fashion. When you are making your Cuts do so at a 45-degree angle that slopes away from the bud so that water can run off naturally and does not settle on the buds.
  6. Sixth (optional), protect any freshly-made cuts by adding a sealing compound.
  7. Seventh, clean up any of the remaining branches and leaves you cut away and dispose of them. If you leave them sitting near your rose bush they could contain pests or diseases that will find their way into your recently prune plant.
  8. Finally, complete the process by adding some long-lasting fertilizer. Remember that rose bushes are very hungry plants so they require a lot of nutrition so benefit greatly from extra rose feed.

If this sounds far too daunting for you and you simply don’t want to undergo the process of regularly pruning, you could just prune back to 40-50cm every March and remove any dead or diseased stems every year.

Frequently asked questions about pruning

What height should the plant be?

The height to what you prune your rose bush should be whatever height you prefer but make sure that you keep it consistent. Most roses will give an evenual height of 3 to 4ft but in reality, if left unpruned they could easily grow to 6-8ft. So if you want to keep your roses at 3-4ft then we would recommend cutting back to around 2ft. If you think they got a little too tall, just prune them back a little harder next time. Roses can if needed to be cut back very heard.

What if I have climbing roses?

The same rules apply to climbing roses but the difference is that climbing roses typically have two different types of canes, the main cane which makes the main framework for the rose and the lateral side canes that generally get all of the flowers. The main canes that make the framework should never be pruned with the exception of keeping them from with a certain size of framework, such as making sure it grows no taller than 10ft for example.

Trim the side shoots to keep them within the framework but these can be cut every year and a good set of buds.

Rambling roses

You you usually tell if you have rambling roses and not climber as they usually flower later and just once where as climbing roses flower all summer long. Prune back rambling roses after after they have finished flowering and produced rose hips.

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at

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