Pruning Roses

Depending on your disposition, pruning roses can be seen as either the final task of winter or the first activity of spring. Either way, roses should be pruned just before they come out of dormancy and put out new growth.

In most regions of the country mid to late February is the ideal time to shape up your plants, even if you live in a mild area where roses never go dormant. If you live in a cold climate, pruning should be done when you remove winter protection and the danger of a hard freeze has passed, which may be as late as April in very cold zones. Check with your local cooperative extension or fellow gardeners for the dates they recommend.

Roses come in many forms, but whether you are growing a hybrid tea or an old fashioned climber, pruning is basically the same for each type. The hardest part is making the first cut. Here is a set of guidelines to follow that will help ensure beautiful blooms this spring.

Why Prune?
Hybrid Tea Rose
Pruning promotes healthy, vigorous stem growth. If you stop to think about it, it just makes sense. Stronger stems result in larger blooms, while spindly growth will produce smaller roses.

Pruning removes dead, frost damaged and diseased wood, which lays the groundwork for a healthy growing season.

Pruning opens the center of the plant, promoting good air circulation, which is essential for healthy roses.

Pruning helps maintain an attractive and well-balanced shape to the plant.

In warm climate gardens, pruning creates a period of forced dormancy so your roses can rest before the growing season gets into full swing.


  • Sharp Hand Pruners – For a clean cut select the bypass/scissor type and not anvil pruners. Anvil pruners are better suited for cutting back dead branches and stems.
  • Long Handled Loppers
  • Pruning Saw
  • Heavy Gloves – Don’t skimp on the gloves. One nasty tangle with a thorny cane can bring a swift end to your love affair with roses.
  • White Glue – Glue that dries clear is an easy and affordable pruning seal.


The Right Cut
For the best results you should make your cuts at a 45 degree angle, about 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud. The lower side of the angle should be opposite the bud. The plant will now direct energy to this top most bud for producing a new stem. The position of the bud on the cane indicates the direction of the new growth. By carefully selecting which bud becomes the stem producer you can manipulate the shape of the rose. Ideally, you want the rose bush to grow out, but in some cases you may want it to develop in a certain direction. This is especially true of climbing roses you want to train to grow up a trellis or over an arbor.

How To Prune
Begin by removing dead and diseased wood. Small stems can be cut back with your hand pruners, use your loppers on larger canes.

The next thing to do is remove any large, old canes and cut them at the base of the plant. Old canes will be gray and rough textured. For the best result, use your pruning saw and cut the cane flush with the bud union.

Once the plant is cleaned up, take a close look at its form. Pick out 3 or 4 of the strongest canes and remove the others.

Now cut back about 1/3 of the top growth and any crisscrossing stems to promote good air circulation. The rule of thumb is to take out stems that are smaller than the diameter of a pencil.

Remove any leaves left on the plant from last year. This will help prevent carrying over black spot and other fungi and pests from one year to the next.

Seal newly pruned stems with a white glue that dries clear, such as Elmers. This will help shed water and keep insects from getting into the center of the cane and damaging the plant.

To finish the job, pick up all the resulting debris, bag it and throw it away.

Special Notes
Old fashioned roses should be pruned with a lighter hand than hybrid teas. Simply remove any dead or damaged wood, the top 1/3 of growth, and crisscrossing branches.

Old fashioned roses that flower once each growing season, such as Damasks and Mosses, bloom on old wood. These types should be pruned in the summer after they have flowered.

Knockout Roses do not need to be pruned every year. In spring you can remove dead or damaged wood and shape if you wish taking out some of the ‘twiggy’ growth to improve air circulation and about every 3rd year remove about one third of the old branches to stimulate new, fresh growth. Since they are continuously flowering throughout the season, it really makes no difference when, where or how much you prune.