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When and How to Prune Roses

Updated on March 7, 2012

A healthy, vibrant rose garden is many a gardener's dream. Many rose shrub enthusiasts however fall short of reaching their goal for numerous reasons, sometimes because of pest and disease issues, sometimes because they choose the wrong varieties and sometimes because they use the wrong pruning methods.

Pruning roses can be a daunting task at first for the uninitiated. In order to produce large quantities of quality flowers, rose shrubs require regular heavy pruning in both Spring and Autumn (Fall). Roses can handle being pruned back extensively when done at the correct times. Pruning roses this way may at first feel wrong due to the sheer quantity of material being removed, but rest assured your roses will produce abundant large flowers season after season if you follow these techniques.

The following is a pictorial guide to how and when to prune roses, please excuse my rough hand-drawn diagrams, they're here mostly for illustrative, not aesthetic purposes.


Example rose bush branch structure prior to pruning.
Example rose bush branch structure prior to pruning. | Source

Autumn (Fall) Rose Pruning Stage One

Once your rose bushes have finished growing and flowering for the season and before any snow falls you should begin to prune them back.

  1. Remove any branches that are dead. if unsure scrape the stem lightly with a pair of secateurs to remove a small section of bark, if there is green underneath then that section of the branch is still alive. Dead branches snap easily compared to branches that are still healthy which will be more flexible.
  2. Remove any branches that cross with another, leave the branch that you think will create the best form. You are trying to create an open-vase shaped plant at this point so if in doubt take the most inwards facing of the two branches.
  3. Remove any new thin shoots as these will likely die-back during Winter and will waste the plant's energy if left to try to grow.
  4. Thin out the shrub by removing any thin or straggly branches, especially those towards the center of the plant.


Autumn pruning stage 1: Before and after removal of crossed branches, thin shoots and dead branches, as well as thinning of internal branches, as marked by the red lines.
Autumn pruning stage 1: Before and after removal of crossed branches, thin shoots and dead branches, as well as thinning of internal branches, as marked by the red lines. | Source

Autumn (Fall) Rose Pruning Stage Two

After decided which branches to keep in stage one, you can then remove about a third from each of the remaining branches. This helps to prevent any damage to the plant during Winter.


Autumn pruning stage 2: Before and after removal of approximately one third of remaining branches, as marked by the red lines.
Autumn pruning stage 2: Before and after removal of approximately one third of remaining branches, as marked by the red lines. | Source

Early Spring Rose Pruning

In early Spring, once Winter has passed and before the weather warms and your roses start to send out new shoots, you should examine your rose bushes and remove any frost or snow damaged branches. You should prune back each branch to a point where there is healthy wood at least 1cm (1/3 of an inch) thick. If you pruned the rose correctly during Autumn you should have a low, open-bowl shaped plant able to produce strong new shoots as the weather warms that will reward you with lots of large, beautiful rose blossoms. Pruning roses back hard also helps give the bushes a nice compact form, preventing them from becoming leggy after a few years of successive growth.


Early Spring pruning stage: Removal of any snow or frost damaged stems and further pruning back into shape of branches to a point where each branch is healthy and is at least 1cm (1/3 inch) thick.
Early Spring pruning stage: Removal of any snow or frost damaged stems and further pruning back into shape of branches to a point where each branch is healthy and is at least 1cm (1/3 inch) thick. | Source


During the growing season in Spring and Summer, you can shape and lightly prune your roses as you would any other shrub. Any suckers that emerge should be removed as soon as possible.

I hope this guide has given you a better idea of how to prune your rose shrubs for optimal flowering. Happy gardening.


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