Pruning roses in 6 easy steps
Pruning roses isn't complicated: just follow these simple principles
The key to achieving beautiful, abundantly flowering roses is annual pruning. Pruning removes dead and damaged parts of the plant, lets air and light reach the whole plant, and encourages the rose to grow. Although many gardeners are afraid of pruning roses, it's not actually complicated, and with a little practice, anyone can do it.
When to prune roses
The best time to prune most types of roses is at the beginning of the growing season, once there's no longer a threat of severe frost. The right time to trim roses depends on the climate zone as well as the weather in the current year.
Best time to prune roses by climate zone:
USDA zone 3 and 4 – April to May
USDA zone 5 and 6 – March to April
USDA zone 7 and 8 – February to March
USDA zone 9 and 10 – January to February
In any case, start pruning roses only when the buds are "swelling", but before they sprout.
The exceptions to this rule are old rose varieties that flower only once a year (these should be cut only after flowering) and roses that flower on old wood (in this case, just adjust the shape of the rose bush after flowering and postpone any major pruning for autumn, after the leaves have fallen). If you don't know what type of rose you have, keep an eye on the rose throughout the season. If it blooms on young wood, prune the rose in the spring, and if it blooms on old wood, only do a shaping cut after blooming.
Deadheading roses: With all types of roses, remove spent flowers to encourage further flowering and to prevent the formation of rose hips, which will weaken the rose.
How to prune roses
Pruning roses is really quick and easy. Just follow these steps:
1. Remove old and dead wood – Old wood is less productive and more susceptible to disease and pests.
2. Remove suckers – these are the stems that grow from the roots outside the base of the rose, and should be removed to maintain the strength of the main body of the plant.
3. Remove crossing rose canes – always leave the thicker, healthier stem
4. Remove thin canes – stems thinner than a pencil will be less productive and should therefore be removed.
5. Remove the unpromising canes – this is more subjective, but still straightforward. Step back and evaluate the rose plant as a whole. If it has too many canes, identify the 3-4 thickest canes that grow outwards from the center and are as far apart from each other as possible (forming the shape of an ice cream cone). Leave these and remove the remaining stems as close to the base as possible.
6. Shorten the remaining stems – a good rule of thumb is to cut the canes to 18-24 inches (45-60 cm).
Pruning climbing roses: In the case of climbing roses, leave the main canes that are climbing where you want them (along a pergola, wall or any other construction) long, and just trim the rose to the desired shape and thin out dense growth. Remove any part of the rose that has been damaged by frost or disease.
Always cut rose canes a quarter of an inch (6 mm) above the bud pointing outwards from the center of the rose. The cut should be oblique, sloping at a 45° angle from the bud. A cut closer than quarter of an inch could destroy the bud, and a cut further than quarter of an inch leaves a long stump that would attract pests and disease.
In general, with a shorter cut, we can expect fewer, but larger, flowers with a more compact formation. A light cut, on the other hand, results in smaller flowers on long stems (although earlier flowering is an advantage).
Tools for pruning roses
• Pruning shears for thinner rose canes
• Longer lopping shears for thicker rose canes
• Pruning saw for old and dead wood
• Solid leather gloves for protection against thorns
Rose pruning tips
• Sharp pruning shears ensure clean, smooth cuts, so sharpen them before trimming. This is especially important for roses, as their stems are easily crushed with dull scissors.
• If you are pruning diseased parts of the rose, wipe the blades of the shears with a cloth soaked in alcohol afterwards to avoid infecting the healthy parts of the plant or other plants.
• In warmer climates (USDA zones 9-10), it is necessary to leave a few flowers on the plant to allow them to form hips and induce dormancy. This is because in the absence of cold winter temperatures, the rose may not go dormant, which may prevent it from blooming the following year.
• Do not leave the removed parts (canes, wood) near the rose. Either burn them or move them away from the roses.
As you can see, pruning roses is not difficult and can be done even by a beginner. Moreover, roses are very hardy plants, so you don't have to worry about damaging them badly by pruning.
1. How to grow roses: Ultimate rose growing guide
2. Complete rose types and varieties overview: Rose types and varieties