Pruning Methods
(also consult the American Rose Society : Pruning)

Annual heavy pruning is essential to insure the prolific bloom and long-life of a rose bush.

Explaining the concept of rose pruning without a live bush to demonstrate on is difficult, so let your mind loose to help visualize the following steps in rose pruning.

Pruning of roses is actually done year round. Every time you cut off old blooms and remove twiggy growth you are actually promoting new growth. There are two times a year when you prune more seriously, spring and fall.

You will need the following items:

  • a good pair of hand pruners (preferably the scissor type, not anvil type)
  • a sharp keyhole saw and large loppers
  • a heavy pair of leather gloves
  • a pruning compound
  • a dull knife.

Steps to Pruning Roses – Spring

Spring pruning in South Central is normally done between the third week of February and-the first week of March. The length of time taken for a bush to bloom depends on the number of petals in the bloom and how deeply it has been pruned. For multi-petalled roses, the spring blooming can take as long as 60-70 days, while fewer petalled varieties can take 35-40 days. Weather is also a factor in bloom cycles. Cool and warmer temperatures will weather will lengthen these periods cause the soil to heat up faster and blooming to occur sooner.

  1. The first step in spring pruning of Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas and Climbing roses is to remove any canes that are dead or just old and non-productive. These canes are usually gray in color and scaley. To prune hybrid tea and grandiflora roses follow certain principles including:
    • High pruning for more flowers earlier or low pruning for fewer, bigger flowers later
    • Pruning to remove weak and crisscrossing canes
    • Removing growth an inch below a canker
    • Removal of damaged, dead, or broken canes back to healthy growth
    • Removing sucker growth as close as possible to main root.

    This pruning will encourage future “basal” breaks which are the life blood of any rose bush. Basal breaks refer to new shoots, soon to be producing canes, which arise from the graft union. These should not be confused with “suckers” which arise from the rootstock below the graft union. Remove all suckers.

  2. The next step involves taking a good look at the bud union. If you have any old, dry scaley wood on the union, remove it. Use the dull knife to scrape the bud union to remove the scaley wood. By doing this it will again make it possible for new basal breaks to come about.
  3. Beginning to fine tune the pruning, remove all twiggy growth on the remaining canes. (Note: The fine tune pruning on climbing roses should be done after they bloom in the spring.) Try to clean out the middle of the bush as much as possible. This allows for good air circulation to prevent insects and disease.
  4. Now you are ready to prune on the good healthy canes. With the early flush of growth on the roses the most important procedure this year is to prune each cane back to a dormant bud. A bud that has already begun growth will continue to grow vigorously and bloom very little. A dormant, non-growing bud will initiate growth after pruning and will produce an abundance of blooms.

    One comment always heard is to “prune to an outside bud.” The basic technique for most pruning is to cut 1/4 inch above the nearest outward-facing bud with the cut at a 45-degree angle (the higher point above the bud). This means when picking the point on a given cane to cut back to, make sure there is a good bud on the cane facing toward the outside of the plant. This will insure the growth of the new bud is to the outside, therefore keeping the center of the rose bush clear and open for air circulation.

    Another guideline in pruning back an individual cane is to cut the cane at the point when the diameter of the cane is the size of a pencil or slightly larger. Because of the need to prune back to a dormant bud, the size of the cane may be larger and the cane length may be shorter.

    If old and large canes have been removed to the bud union, it is a good practice to seal these large cuts. This helps prevent insects and diseases from infecting the cuts. Smaller canes in many cases don’t need to be sealed. Use some sort of sealing compound such as orange shellac or even Elmer’s glue.

  5. When pruning is completed remove any old foliage left on the canes and spray with a mixture of Funginex or Benomyl and Orthene or Diazinon as a clean up spray. Spray the entire bush and the ground around the bush.
  6. The final product of your pruning should be a rose bush about 18 to 24 inches tall with 4 to 8 canes. Add some fertilizer and regular pest spraying, and that pitiful looking rose bush will soon give you a shower of flowers.

Floribundas are usually not pruned as severely as hybrid teas. Even so, be sure to remove any dead, broken, damaged, or blotched branches back to where the pith, or center of the cane, is white and healthy looking. Next, remove weak, spindly canes, canes growing toward the center of the bush, the weaker of two canes that crisscross, canes that grow out, then up, and suckers, if any. Finally, trim all remaining canes back to one-half their former height.

Miniatures – In the spring it is best to cut miniatures almost down to the ground ( i.e., 2 to 3 inches). Moreover, if they are over three years old it is a good idea to divide them by cutting the whole plant in half or more. Be sure to leave some roots on each division.

Old-Fashioned (Antique) and Shrubs – Remove any dead canes and lightly trim remainder of bush, removing about a third of the growth. Mass blooming is the aim with these roses. Additional light grooming throughout the year is encouraged since everblooming varieties bloom on new wood. Varieties that bloom only once during the season should be pruned AFTER they have bloomed since they bloom on old wood.

General – If the bush is over two years old, cut out one or more of the oldest and largest canes using a keyhole saw. Also, clean off the bud union with a dull knife. Seal any large cuts with Elmer’s glue or shellac. Remove debris from beds and any leaves remaining on bush after pruning is completed.

Steps to Pruning Roses – Fall

The fall pruning is lighter than in the spring and consists of removing twiggy and unproductive growth along with any crossing or dead canes. All foliage is left on the bush at this time. Labor Day is a good time to do the fall “grooming.”

Climbers are not pruned in the same manner as Hybrid Teas. To encourage growth of more flowering laterals and stimulate production of new canes, you should not cut back long canes unless they are outgrowing the allotted space. Varieties differ in this respect since some will produce new canes from the base each year, while others build up a woody structure and produce long, new canes from a position higher up on the plant. Thus, when pruning, the following practices are recommended:

Everblooming varieties — Cut back to two or three bud eyes all laterals that bore flowers during the past year. Remove any dead, diseased or twiggy growth. For established plants, oldest canes are removed annually at the base. Remaining canes are repositioned and secured, if necessary. For routine maintenance, remove all spent blooms and cut back to a strong bud eye. Canes are tied in place as they mature. Avoid attempting to do this before the wood matures, as soft tender growth is easily broken off.

Ramblers and once blooming varieties – These types should be pruned after blooming as they will normally bloom on year old wood. Thus, after spring bloom, cut out old, unproductive wood and weak canes.

A good practice is to avoid severe pruning for the first two or three years after planting, as it takes this long for most climbers to mature. During this period, remove all dead and weak canes and spent blooms (in some instances, climbers will bloom very little for the first couple of years). New canes of most climbers should be trained horizontally to encourage the growth of flowering laterals. Strips of old pantyhose make good “ties”. Pillar roses will grow and bloom upright.

Summer Care of Roses

Summer is the most important time of the year for continued care of rose bushes. Most people have a tendency to slack off due to an increase in other activities. For bushes to be healthy and productive, they must have water. One to two inches a week is generally recommended. Keep an eye on beds next to a fence or house, even after a good rainfall there is an excellent possibility they will still be dry. Maintain a systematic spray program. To maintain moisture in beds, keep mulch on the beds.

Fungus diseases are not as prevalent in the summer months. Blackspot and powdery mildew, however, can be a problem if a regular spray program is not maintained. The spray interval can be lengthened to 10-14 days if we are having the hot, dry summer that we usually can expect in this area.

A regular spray program for insects is not necessary. Too much spray is harmful to the plants, so only spray when insects are present. Thrip are persistent warm weather insects. For control of these pests, start spraying the buds every couple of days, prior to sepals coming down, with Orthene or Cygon. If this doesn’t eliminate them, continue spraying after the bloom has opened as these insecticides will not harm the petals. The spider mite is another warm weather invader, which, if left unchecked, will cause the leaves to eventually shrivel and fall off. Some degree of control can be obtained by using an insecticidal soap spray or water washing the underside of the foliage every three days or so with a hard spray of water.

Continual light feeding of roses during the summer months is recommended in this area. if using a granular food, use monthly. During the hottest months, a weaker solution of liquid food may be used.

Pruning an English shrub rose

The instructions in this article cover the pruning of English Shrub Roses, as well as other repeat flowering shrub roses.


English Roses are naturally vigorous and if left without pruning may become large and leggy shrubs. The main purpose of pruning is to create a shapely, attractive shrub, with good structure. This process also encourages fresh new growth.


We recommend pruning in late winter, during the period maximum dormancy of your roses. This is generally between December and February but this may vary depending on where you live.

If your roses are susceptible to be damaged by wind rock, a light pruning of longer stems at the end of autumn is often advised.

In Regions with a Mountainous climate and a late spring, it is often best to prune around mi-to-late-April. Elsewhere (oceanic, Mediterranean and continental climates), we recommend to avoid pruning your roses after the end of March as this may deplete the plant’s energy and only encourage spindly shoots which will be vulnerable to late frosts.


The process varies depending on the age of your plant.

Year One

We define Year One as any rose that has completed its first season of flowering.

At this stage your rose will still be establishing its roots to support growth in the future, thus only very light pruning is required.

Step 1 – cut back the flowering shoots by 3-5 inches and any very strong shoots that are disproportionate to the rest of the plant.

Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.

Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains. This is where disease spores can lay dormant ready to challenge your plant next year.

Year Two

Your plant will still be developing its root system and will not be at its mature size or shape.

Step 1 – cut back all stems by one third. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.

Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.

Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Three

By the third year your rose will be a fully formed plant. Your choice of how much you cut back is a little more flexible. You now have the opportunity to influence the size and shape of your shrub.

Before pruning, choose from one of the following:

For a taller shrub – cut back by less than one third.

To maintain its current size – cut your rose back by one third.

To reduce its size – cut back by a half or even more. This will reduce the size of the shrub without impacting the amount of flowering.

Then follow these steps:

Step 1 – cut back all stems depending on your choice from above. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.

Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.

Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Four and Beyond

To ensure your rose performs to its optimum, we recommend following the steps in Year Three every year.

Key Points

Remember these key points to ensure effective pruning:

Shaping is essential. Try to create a rounded shrub.

Don’t worry about where you cut a stem. Accepted wisdom suggests cutting just above a leaf joint with a sloping cut away from the bud. However, there is no evidence to prove this is necessary.

Don’t worry about cutting back too much. Roses are extremely strong and will grow back even if you cut all of the stems right back to the base.

Carefully dispose of foliage. Foliage should never be composted and should be removed from your garden. This ensures spores that can initiate disease are removed from your garden.

Look out for loose roses. Look out for any roses that are loose in the ground due to the wind rocking them to the point where they are no longer standing upright. Firm around the base of each loose rose and cut them back a little more to reduce wind resistance.

To ensure you achieve the healthiest and best-shaped roses, which in turn give you the best flowers, you need to prune roses annually – and this can be carried out at any time from November to March.

The aim of pruning is to encourage the rose to produce lots of flower buds on a well-spaced framework of branches. At the same time, you should remove crossing and congested branches, as well as all dead and diseased wood.

Dead and diseased wood

If the soil is waterlogged, avoid pruning unless you are working on boards. Similarly, don’t prune if the weather is icy or frosty, as the pruning cuts can crush the stems.

Always cut to an outward-pointing bud , making a sloping cut about ¼in (6mm) above the bud.

Cut higher than a bud

There are many different types of rose in UK gardens, but their pruning requirements can be divided into seven main types, as follows:

1) Bush roses (Hybrid teas, Floribundas and English roses)

After removing dead, diseased or damaged wood, prune hybrid tea stems back to three or four buds above last year’s cut, just above an outward-facing bud.

Floribundas and English roses (the fairly new rose group introduced by breeder David Austin) can be cut back a little less hard to four or six buds above last year’s cut.

Bush Roses

2) Patio and miniature roses

The pruning of these is basically similar to that recommended for bush roses, but tip back the stronger stems to 4-6in (10-15cm) for miniatures, and a little higher for patio roses. Occasionally strong, over-vigorous shoots are thrown up, which spoil the overall look of the plant. Remove these entirely, so that the plant has a balanced framework through the growing season.

Miniature roses

3) Modern shrub roses

Shrub rose

As with bush roses, an open centre (to prevent stems from growing inward and rubbing) is ideal. However, it is arguably more important to build up a branching framework with sideshoots that produce flowering ‘spurs’.

Reduce the main stems by around a third, and the sideshoots by a half to two-thirds. Only thin out one or two older stems if necessary.

Pruning Roses: 8 Steps for Healthy Rose Bushes

Learn how to trim rose bushes — it’s not as difficult as you think! By Linda Hagen


Bypass shears are ideal for pruning roses — their overlapping blades make a clean cut. Photo by: Fotoschab |

When you know the basics of pruning roses, even inexperienced gardeners can achieve beautiful results. Don’t be intimidated by pruning—the rules and warnings are mainly for those who grow roses for specimens or exhibits. But for the casual gardener who simply wants beautiful, healthy rose bushes, there are really only a few fundamentals to follow.


  • Good gloves — Buy on Amazon
    Gauntlet-style recommended for extra protection up your forearm.
  • Bypass shears, not anvil — Buy on Amazon
    Bypass blades overlap and make a clean cut; anvil blades meet and can crush or damage canes.
  • Heavy long sleeves
    The right clothing will prevent getting “bit” by the thorns.



Major pruning should be done in early spring, after the last frost in colder climates, by following the 8 Basic Pruning Steps below. You can also let the roses tell you — when they start to bud or leaf out, it’s time.

If you’d like to mark your calendar, or set yourself a pruning reminder, here are general estimates of when you might expect your last frost to occur:

  • Zones 3 and 4 – May 1 to May 31
  • Zones 5, 6 and 7 – March 30 to April 30
  • Zone 8 – Feb 22 to March 30
  • Zone 9 – Jan 30 to Feb 28
  • Zone 10 – Jan 30 or earlier

For a more specific prediction of your last frost date, use this frost date calculator from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

More Ways to Keep Your Roses Healthy

  • Get rid of aphids
  • Treat powdery mildew
  • Control Japanese beetle infestations
  • Improve your soil


Dead flowers can be cut back at any time in summer. Carl Bennett, longtime Rose Breeding Manager of David Austin Roses, says that during the flowering season, deadheading will encourage more blooms and maintain an attractive shrub.


After the first killing frost, trim longer stems to keep them from snapping in winter storms. Keep rose bushes from being top heavy to protect them from being uprooted in strong winds. Crossing branches that could be damaged by rubbing together should also be trimmed back. Take it easy though, as too much pruning can stimulate growth, and that new growth may be damaged by freezing weather. Remove any dead or diseased branches and foliage, and clean your cutting tools well to prevent transferring disease to another plant.


You’ll be surprised to learn that modern roses don’t need as much pruning as you think. Follow these steps to ensure your roses will thrive:

1. Remove all remaining leaves.

This allows you to see the structure of the bush and clearly see all the canes (stems). This step also removes any pests or diseases that may have been hiding over winter in the foliage.

2. Start with dead wood.

How do you know its dead? Cut into it — brown is dead, green is living. Cut any dead wood back to the base.

When pruning roses, your goal should be to open up the center and create a vase-like shape. Photo by: Avalon/Photoshot License / Alamy Stock Photo.

3. Open up the center of the plant.

Take out crossing branches which can rub, causing damage and encouraging disease. The goal is to have upward-reaching branches with an open structure in a vase-like shape.

4. Remove any thin, weak growth.

The basic rule of thumb is to remove anything thinner than a pencil.

5. Prune the remaining canes.

Prune by cutting 1/4” to 1/2” above an outward-facing bud eye (a small bump found where a leaf would meet the stem). New stems grow in the direction of the bud and the goal is to encourage them to grow outward, not inward. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle sloping away from the bud, allowing water to run off.

6. Seal fresh cuts.

Protect freshly cut canes from rot and rose borers by sealing the wounds with a compound like Bonide’s Garden Rich Pruning Sealer.

7. Clean up.

After pruning, make sure to clean up the surrounding area underneath. All leaves and cut branches should be disposed of as diseases and pests could be lurking.

8. Feed your roses.

Roses are “big eaters” and need proper nutrition, so feed them with a long-lasting fertilizer like Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer Spikes.

Oso Easy Double Red™.
Photo: Proven Winners® ColorChoice®.


If the steps above sound daunting, you don’t have to forgo growing roses. Landscape roses are a simple way to add lots of color to your garden. Unlike hybrid teas, these resilient plants don’t require precise pruning or other care.

Pruning landscape roses is easy: come spring, cut out any old or dead wood and then trim the whole plant back by about half its height. That’s it! No need to be fussy with these vigorous, easy going varieties.

The Oso Easy® series is a great choice if you don’t want to deal with heavy pruning or constant deadheading. Plus, they’re also highly disease resistant—which means no spraying either!


Pruning height:

Prune to the height you want your rose bush to be, keeping a fairly consistent height throughout. If it is in the back of a border, leave it a little higher; for the front of a border, trim lower. For hybrid teas in particular, the lower you prune, the bigger the flower and longer the stem — good for cutting and exhibiting. Leave them a little taller and you will tend to get more blooms, although smaller and on shorter stems.

Climbing roses:

Most of the same rules apply to climbing roses but there are a few differences, mainly the way that climbers grow. Climbing roses have 2 types of canes, main and lateral. The main canes come directly from the base and should never be pruned. Climbers put their energy into growing first and flowering second. Therefore, if energy is spent on regrowth of the main canes, it will not flower. The lateral canes are the ones that produce the flowers and pruning these will encourage blooming. There’s no need to fuss about pruning to the outward-facing buds, as shaping climbing roses in this way is unnecessary. Lateral canes can be pruned anytime of the year to keep the climber in shape. For more information, see: Pruning Climbing Roses.

Knock Out Roses:

Just like climbing roses, pruning rules for Knock Outs are similar, but with a few exceptions. Knock Outs are generally ready for their first pruning in their second or third season, after reaching a mature height of 3-4 feet. The timing of pruning is the same as other roses, in late winter or early spring when buds start to form. Knock Outs bloom on new growth, so old, dead, or broken canes should be the first to go, cutting them back to the base. Overall, Knock Outs can be taken back by about 1/3 of their height, keeping in mind overall finished shape. Knock Outs tend to grow in phases (bloom – rest – bloom). If a mid-season trim is in order, it is best done following a blooming period while in the resting phase. Deadheading will also help to stimulate new bloom clusters and overall growth. Knock Outs tend to produce a lot of rose hips that inhibit flowering (triggering dormancy), so trimming these off will keep your Knock Out blooming.

In warmer climates, leaving the rose hips on through fall and winter helps trigger dormancy.

Rose hips:

In warmer climates, leave rose hips (the small, round, orange or red fruit produced after pollination of the flowers) on through the fall and winter; they tell the rose it’s time for dormancy. So instead of deadheading the last blooms of the season, simply remove the petals, allowing the rose hips to form. In colder climates, roses are naturally triggered to go dormant, but in warmer climates they may need this nudge.

Pruning is vital to the health of the rose bush, it helps prevent disease by removing areas that may harbor infestations and also encourages flowering. Your roses may look stark after a good pruning, but roses grow very prolifically and will fill in quickly. It’s almost impossible to kill a rose bush by over-pruning. Following these few simple rules will ensure your roses are happy, healthy, and will provide you with a season of beautiful blossoms.

Last updated: January 17, 2020

Rose Care for Beginners
Pruning Hydrangeas
How to Prune Shrubs & Perennials

Pruning Shrub Roses in Spring

May 16, 2018 2:42 pm

By: Mike Darcy

Pruning shrub roses in spring…exactly what does it mean when a rose is called a ‘shrub rose’? In Taylor’s Dictionary for Gardeners a shrub is defined as “A woody plant that is shorter than a tree and usually has several stems that branch from the base”. This definition would certainly fit many rose types, like floribunda (shrub rose crosses between polyantha and hybrid teas roses.), grandiflora (shrub rose crosses between hybrid tea and floribunda roses), rugosa (Rosa rugosa), musk rose (Rosa moschata), or other species shrub roses.

Putting the word ‘shrub’ in front of the word rose has several different connotations. On the Royal Horticulture Society website, they describe shrub roses as flowering just once in the summer and requiring little formal pruning, which is not true for contemporary, ever-blooming shrub roses. As I continued reading their website, I realized they were using the term “shrub rose” to denote what we would call old garden and species roses, (hybrid musk, damask, moss rose, gallica, etc.).

Modern Shrub Roses

Pink Double Knock Out® is one of several roses in the series. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Most gardeners that I know would refer to a shrub rose as one that is bushy, has smaller flowers, masses of blooms, and requires very little maintenance. These are the roses that, here in Portland, we would see along the freeways with flowers that almost cover the shrub throughout the summer. These roses are also often used in commercial parking lots, and some homeowners use them as a mass planting in the front of their home in the space between the curb and the sidewalk.

One of the most popular of the shrub roses are those in the Knock Out® series, developed by Star Roses®. Introduced in 2000, the original Knock Out® is now the most widely sold rose in the United States. This ever-blooming shrub rose has rosy pink flowers, but new selections have been developed with flowers of pink, white, and yellow. It is a very vigorous shrub and is black spot resistant which has made it a favorite of Pacific Northwest gardeners. In my own garden, I have a grouping of Knock Out® roses and they provide a bright spot of color all summer and I have never seen a sign of black spot.

Peach Drift® is one of many shrub roses in the Meilland group of roses. (Images by Jessie Keith)

These are not the only shrub roses on the market, though. Many more, featuring more refined blooms are available through vendors, such as David Austin English Roses. Many of these choice shrub roses are award-winning and selected for disease resistance as well as their voluptuous blooms with great fragrance.

Another recommended group are the popular French Meilland® landscape roses, which are available as a groundcover, bush, or larger shrub roses and feature numerous flowers all season long. They are available in lots of colors and are also markedly disease resistant and low maintenance.

Pruning Shrub Roses

These hard-pruned Knock Out® shrub roses will look full and flowered by summer.

Before doing any rose pruning you’ll need sharp pruning shears or loppers and a pair of thick rose gloves with gauntlet cuffs that resist thorns. I also think it is a good idea to wear safety glasses. The months of February or March are ideal for pruning shrub roses. It is easier to make cuts when the foliage is absent and pests and diseases are yet to be a problem.

When pruning shrub roses, I go back to the Royal Horticulture Society and their web article about shrub-rose pruning where they suggest “little formal pruning.” This is largely because older shrub rose varieties bloom on old wood, but newer shrub roses bloom on new wood, and seasonal pruning can keep their height in check while helping them look tidier.

Thin out smaller branches to open up the bush to more light and air circulation.

When you think of pruning Knock Outs®, these are the freeway roses that maintenance crews prune with power hedge shears! While I would not suggest that sort of extreme pruning for a homeowner, this does give an indication of how receptive they are to rough pruning. Home gardeners will see desired results if they cut shrub roses back just below the final desired height and width; well-established roses will branch out far beyond the cuts you make. Then prune out any dead, diseased, or broken branches, and thin out smaller branches to open up the bush to more light and air circulation. large, old shrubs can be renewal pruned back to 18 inches if they grow far beyond their boundaries.

My Favorite Shrub Rose

Rosa glauca is a species shrub rose with blue-green leaves and single roses. (Image by Rich Baer)

One larger shrub rose that I particularly like, is a species rose called Rosa glauca. This tall-growing shrub reaches 7-8 feet tall in my garden. It is a once-blooming rose with single pink flowers followed by red hips, however, another feature of this rose is the bluish color of the leaves. This is a beautiful background plant; even without flowers, the foliage looks good all summer. Each year I prune my plant to about half its height in March.

Do not be bashful about pruning your shrub roses. They are quite resilient and any cutting mistakes you make in March will probably not be evident by June.

I hope you, the readers of this Black Gold article, also have had an opportunity to see my Black Gold video on pruning hybrid tea roses.

A well-pruned shrub rose looks better all through the season.

About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

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Dead-heading is the removal of faded flowers before they can develop seed. Dead-heading is a form of summer or day-to-day pruning. The standard recommendation is to cut the flower stem back to an outward-facing bud above a five-leaflet or seven-leaflet leaf.

This “rule” applies best to plants that are vigorous. If the plant is weak or small, you may not want to cut off as much material. Each time you remove this much wood you are removing a lot of the food-making ability of the plant. This method works well for most recurrent-blooming types of roses. With rugosa and other shrub roses where hips are a part of the display, you may not want to prune off the old flowers. In this case, simply clean the spent blooms away with your hand, leaving the hips. Flowers should not be cut after October 1 to allow the plant to begin hardening off for the winter. Dead-heading is also a good way to lessen the likelihood of diseases such a botrytis from becoming a problem

General Suggestions

The pruning of rose bushes can be confusing, especially when you start talking about hybrid teas, old garden roses, shrub roses, once-blooming roses, and English roses. This confusion leads to doubt and improper pruning or no pruning.

The class of rose and the time of year it blooms influence the type and amount of pruning. General pruning principles apply to all roses, but there are differences between classes. The closer one gets to species roses the less severe the pruning. Hybrid teas have the distinction of requiring the most severe pruning for optimum bloom and plant health.

Because of the variety of rose types available, one may need to have an understanding of how the rose flowers. Pruning should also be looked at as applying a few common sense principles to accomplish several tasks. These tasks are to remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood; increase air circulation; keep the shrub from becoming a tangled mess; shape the plant; and encourage the growth of flowering wood.

The majority of pruning is done in the spring. Many rose growers suggest waiting until the forsythias start to bloom as a good signal for the pruning season to begin.

The goal of spring pruning is to produce an open centered plant. This allows air and light to penetrate easily.

Basic pruning fundamentals that apply to all roses include:

  • Use clean, sharp equipment.
  • Cut at a 45-degree angle about 1/4 inch above outward-facing bud. The cut should slant away from the bud.
  • Entirely remove all dead or dying canes. These can be identified as canes that are shriveled, dark brown, or black.
  • If cane borers are a problem, it is suggested to seal the ends of the cuts to prevent the entry of cane borers. White glue works well.
  • Remove all thin, weak canes that are smaller than a pencil in diameter.
  • If roses are grafted and there is sucker growth, remove it. The best way is to dig down to the root where the sucker is originating and tear it off where it emerges. Cutting suckers off only encourages regrowth of several suckers where there once was one.

Modern Ever-Blooming Roses

Roses like hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and miniatures produce the best flowers on new or current season’s wood. To ensure this type of wood, these roses are pruned very hard in early spring. This usually means removing about one-half to two-thirds of the plant’s height and reducing the number of canes.

Suggested pruning sequence:

  • Remove all dead canes; cut them off at the base or point of discoloration.
  • Remove small, weak canes.
  • Leave 3 to 5 healthy, stout canes evenly spaced around the plant.
  • Cut these canes back, leaving 3 to 5 outward-facing buds.

Repeat-flowering shrub roses bear flowers on mature stems that are not old and woody. Severe pruning of these roses would result in reduced flower production. In their first two or three seasons in the garden, shrub roses can be left unpruned. Wait to see what shape develops and then try to prune so that the shape is maintained. Many modern shrub roses are pruned by a method called the “one-third” method. Suggested pruning sequence:

  • In the spring, remove one-third of the very oldest canes. This helps keep the plant from becoming an overgrown thicket of poor-flowering canes.
  • Replace these canes by identifying about one-third of the very youngest canes that grew the previous season.
  • Remove the remaining canes.

The result of this one-third method is that you are continually renewing the rose while at the same time keeping enough mature wood to ensure a good supply of flower-producing wood.

Old Garden Roses

These roses are pruned much like modern shrub roses with some important considerations based on class. Old once-blooming roses such as Alba, Gallica, Centifolia, Damasks, and Mosses produce flowers on old wood, all pruning should be delayed until after flowering. Then, you do as little or as much pruning as is required to maintain the plant. Thinning and removing old wood is encouraged. These roses may not need annual pruning if there is no dead or damaged wood present.

Repeat-flowering old garden roses such as Bourbons, Hybrid Perpetuals, and Portlands bloom on both new and old wood. These can be pruned before they flower and pruned harder without fear of losing blooms.

Climbers and Ramblers

Climbers and ramblers may need a few seasons in the garden before pruning is necessary. In many cases, pruning is limited to removing winter-damaged wood. Pruning is similar for both classes. The difference is in the timing. Because ramblers are once-blooming, they are pruned right after flowering in early summer. Because climbers are repeat bloomers, they are pruned in early spring. Reducing the side shoots or laterals to 3-6 inches stimulates flower production, resulting in more blooms. Training canes to grow more horizontally encourages the growth of bloom producing side shoots.

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