Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Prune Roses

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Beginning gardeners often feel intimidated by the process of pruning roses, but for those who are growing roses just for their own enjoyment, the process is not that difficult. There’s little you can do while pruning your rose that you can’t correct next time, and the plants really do benefit from some attention to promote healthy and vigorous growth and blooms. A little attention to pruning will make sure you have the largest, showiest blooms around!

When to Prune Different Types of Roses

Before you begin pruning, you need to determine what type of rose you have and how it blooms, as this will affect both your timing and technique.

  • Repeat bloomers (such as hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, and polyantha) should be pruned in the late winter or early spring.
  • Single bloomers (such as some antique roses and shrub roses) should be pruned after they finish blooming in the late spring or summer.

If you aren’t sure, look for the metal tag at the base of the main stem – it will give you the name of the rose variety, and you can easily look up the type. If there isn’t a tag, hold off on pruning until you’ve observed when the rose blooms.

Tools Needed for Rose Pruning

  • Small bypass pruning shears
  • Bypass lopping shears
  • Fine-toothed pruning saw (if plants are very large)
  • Alcohol, bleach, or hydrogen peroxide for sterilizing tools
  • Wood glue for sealing cuts (if desired)
  • A good pair of nitrile or rubber-coated gloves


Don’t be afraid to prune hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, and polyantha roses.

Pruning Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas, and Polyanthas

These roses are repeat bloomers that flower on “new wood,” which is the recent thick, green growth. These plants naturally shed old canes every few years, and pruning helps that process along. Don’t be afraid to take the pruners to these plants in late winter or early spring. While they might look stubby when you’re finished, it won’t last long. Follow these steps for successful pruning of repeat bloomers:


Remove old brown canes.

  1. Sterilize tools.
  2. Remove dead, blackened, diseased, or old and striated canes by cutting them off flush with the crown.
  3. Next, take off any suckers that are sprouting directly from the root stock below the crown by ripping them downwards to remove all material where the sucker joins the roots.
  4. Thin the plant by removing any branches that rub, overlap, or face inward, as well as any spindly branches. You may remove just the branches or the entire cane. For the largest blooms, most gardeners then take off all but the newest, thickest, strongest green canes (anywhere from 3 to 8), keeping canes that contribute to a nice vase shape. If you don’t wish to prune that severely, just remove enough canes to open up the center of the plant so light and air can penetrate.

  5. A proper cut should shed water.

  6. Head back the remaining canes by a third to a half. Areas with colder winters will need to cut more due to freeze damage. Make sure you cut back until you reach healthy white pith.
  7. Make all cuts about 1/4″ beyond an outward pointing bud. Angle the cut at about 45° to shed water away from the bud.
  8. Apply wood glue, if desired, to the cut ends.
  9. Clean up and discard all fallen leaves and cuttings to prevent the spread of fungus or disease.

Pruning Antique Roses and Shrub Roses

Antique and shrub roses are garden roses, rather than show roses, and are pruned more lightly to give them a more natural looking shape. Follow these steps when pruning them:

  1. Sterilize tools.

  2. Cut canes flush with crown.

  3. Remove any canes that are dead, blackened, or diseased by cutting them off flush at the crown (where the main stem was grafted onto the root stock). It is a noticeable bump right near ground level. For non-grafted roses, the crown is where the canes originate from the roots.
  4. Thin the plant very lightly, by removing branches that cross, rub, or grow inwards. If the plant is dense or tangled, thin out a few of the oldest canes.
  5. Head back the remaining canes by just cutting off the tips. If the plant is spindly or too large, you can cut it back by up to a third.
  6. Make all cuts about 1/4″ above an outward pointing bud. Angle the cut at about 45° to shed water away from the bud.
  7. Apply wood glue, if desired, to the cut ends.
  8. Clean up and discard all fallen leaves and cuttings to prevent the spread of fungus or disease.

Pruning Climbing Roses and Ramblers

Follow these steps to purne climbing or rambling roses:

  1. Sterilize tools.
  2. Remove only dead, diseased, or unproductive canes by cutting them off flush at the crown.
  3. Next, remove any suckers that are sprouting from the root stock, below the crown. Remove suckers by ripping them downwards to remove all material where the sucker joins the roots.
  4. Climbing roses and ramblers bloom all along the canes, on small side branches called “laterals.” Lightly nip back the tips of the laterals to encourage new growth, leaving 2-3 leaf buds on each branch.
  5. Apply wood glue, if desired, to larger cuts.
  6. Clean up and discard any fallen leaves and clippings, to discourage disease and pests.

Further Information



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3 Comments on “How to Prune Roses”

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  1. Jane Watt Says:
    March 9th, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I am trying to find out why my New Dawn rose blooms only one time in the spring. I have had it 3 years and it is so big that in our area as the rose bush that ate the neighborhood. However it only blooms in the spring, but is advertised as blooming all the season. You may not respond to this question, but I thought I would give it a try.
    Jane Watt

  2. martha wright Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I have exactly the same problem – it’s the biggest healthest rose ever – blooms like crazy in the spring and then nothing – I planted it because it was supposed to be ever blooming and am very diappointed – those that I have asked about this problem are baffled as theirs bloom all summer – the answers I have received have been inconsistent – from fertilzing too much to too little- maybe someone else will see this and give us an answer!!

  3. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 29th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Jane and Martha,
    Your question about your ‘New Dawn’ rose has been answered by Julie Day, our lawn & garden writer, at ‘New Dawn’ Rose Not Blooming

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