How To Prune Roses

 I read a quote some years ago…

“It can take years for you to become an expert at pruning roses, but don’t be put off by any lack of skill in that area, it is always better to prune your roses badly than not at all.”

It’s definitely not going to take years. In fact by the end of this page, you will know more than enough to hold your own with those “experts”! 

We can break roses into threee main groups, each requiring a different pruning technique. Shrubs, climbers and ramblers. Let’s look at these individually. 


Pruning Shrub Roses

Many hands make light work. Michael Manners, on Flickr

Just to prove the fact, take a look at the images below. The first two, show a very straggly Iceberg rose. The next two show the rose “pruned” to roughly 1/2 the size. To be honest, it was more a rough hack than an actual prune. Any dead wood, unwanted branches and twigs removed etc. And the final images show the same bush coming into bloom the following summer, 3 months later. As you can see it’s flowering well, even though the pruning was less than expert.

Basic Rose Pruning Tips

Before you go out to start pruning your pruning your roses you will need to make sure you have all the correct equipment, this will include a thick pair of work gloves, a good sharp pair of secateurs and some gardening string or twine. Always make sure your tools are clean and sharp before you use them, to ensure clean cuts and no contamination from other plants that may carry diseases. Some people will use a small pruning saw as well but for beginners this is not a necessity.

When to Prune Roses:

Roses are summer flowers and will bloom during this time, you should always prune while the plant is in its dormant stage. Autumn (fall)is the best time for pruning to be done but if you are living in a climate where you can experience frost over the winter months then it may be better to prune during the early spring months after any ice has thawed.

Bare root roses will require pruning as well. Be sure to remove any blackened roots or rot, as this will affect the plant as it grows. Its also good to do before transplanting to make things easier to handle.

Before you start pruning, stand back and take a look at the plant as a whole, it will give you an idea of the overall shape of the plant and what needs looking at and what parts need the most attention. Always start your pruning from the bottom of the plant first and work your way up to the top and out. Firstly you should remove all the dead leaves and twigs from the bush, any twig that looks weak, thin or dead should be cut off and discarded.

You should also cut any twigs or branches that are growing towards the center of the plant, you want the rose bush to breathe and open out without getting too crowded and overgrown in the middle. When looking for a good place to cut a branch that needs to be cut back, you should go for a place that is a few millimeters up from the bed. You need to get rid of the old and lengthy part of the branch but the new bud should be left near the top. The cut should made at a 45 degree angle facing away from the bud and always be done with sharp tools to avoid a raggedy and disheveled edge.

If you are living in an area that has a ‘cane borer’ problem then you should use a sealant on the end of the branch after cutting to ensure it does not get diseased. Once you have finished your pruning you should clean around the bottom of the plants and make sure there are no snails, slugs or dried leaves left around the bottom and take all the cut and mulch away from the area. You can then give the plants a good watering and a bit of food and wait for them to bloom beautifully in the summer.

Pruning Climbing Roses

Pruning climbing roses is a little bit more of a different beast than a bush or shrub. Good habits can make it a strong grower that looks great in your garden!

With ramblers, it can often be several years before you’ll see any significant blooms or flowers. During this time you really don’t need to worry about a prune. Focus more on proper training and direction so that the flowers grow evenly on your arbor, trellis, or other structure.

How To Prune

Trim out weaker wood at the bottom of the climber. Also, be sure to cut off any canes that are in the wrong direction. A lopper is a very handy tool for this.

You also need to take into account the plant itself. A repeating bloomer should be pruned during the winter or early spring. While a one-time bloomer, should only be cut after it has bloomed for the season, removing about 1/3 of the growth. Cut the lateral canes to just a couple of buds, down to about 12 inches or so from the main canes. You can be very aggressive on the smaller offshoot canes. Some people will say that you can trim these offshoots throughout the season but its not a necessity, as long as you are doing the seasonal trimming. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll get the best blooming on one year old growth. Older canes will probably not produce as much.

Sometimes you’ll have a main cane that is damaged or wounded or weak. Look for one of the lateral canes off of it and find a healthier offshoot. You can then train this healthier offspring to your trells and allow the damaged cane to be a lateral offshoot. The rose will then train itself to the new configuration.

Pruning Rambling Roses

While pruning ramblers might take the most time, due to their immense size, they are in fact the easiest to prune. There is onlyone thing you need to remember with these…

Ramblers flower on old wood, so don’t wait until the traditional time of mid winter to prune. Do it right after the flowering season.

If you wait until mid winter to prune, you are removing canes that were going to flower next spring/summer. It will decrease the number of flowers dramatically, so always prune as early as you can.

As for techniques, that’s easy… just take off whatever you want to, in order to keep the bush to the size and shape you want. Yes, it’s that simple. Look at the images of a bansia we have in our garden. It was massive, and the pergola holding it up was on the verge of collapse.

We pruned this HARD, and it came back beautifully. In fact, it’s due for another haircut this year.

After a hard pruning
After a hard pruning
2 months after pruning
2 months after pruning