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How to Prune Roses

By: Sherri RibbeySherri Ribbey
Most roses need a little spring cleanup, whether it’s a drastic pruning or just a light trim. Find a few helpful tips here!

Pruning roses is easier than you think

Annual pruning keeps your roses healthy and ensures more flowers at various levels over the shrub. Check out the basics in the illustration below, then look over the tips for specific rose types. The best time to prune is in early spring after the chance of a long cold spell is past and leaf buds are just starting to emerge.

How to Prune Roses Watercolor illustration: This illustration shows basic tips on how to prune roses.

How to prune roses in spring

Most roses need a little spring cleanup, whether it’s a drastic pruning or just a light trim. Take a look at the illustration above to see what you need to prune out of your roses and why.

  • Trim off any dry, blackened, winter-damaged growth at the end of the canes, looking for an outward-facing bud so new growth is directed out instead of in towards the center of the bush.
  • Remove crossing or rubbing branches. You'll reduce the risk of damage to the plant and create a more open, appealing shape for the rose bush.
  • Cut dead or old canes off as low as you can — brushing soil away if necessary. Old stems are gray, woody and don’t bloom as well.
  • Remove twiggy stems smaller than a pencil width in diameter.

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Pruning tips for specific types of roses

There are a lot of types of roses, here are a few tips to help prune the different ones you might be growing along with the basics above.

Hybrid tea and grandiflora roses

Thin out twiggy growth on hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, leaving six to eight strong-looking stems. Shorten the stems to 18 to 24 inches tall or to a height that looks good to you.

Floribunda roses

Leave any healthy stems that aren’t crossing on Floribunda roses. You can even leave any slender stems that start at the base that you might otherwise remove on other types. These will eventually bloom.

Old garden and shrub roses

Prune lightly to maintain the shape of old garden and shrub roses.

Climbing roses

Removing old growth on climbing roses will encourage green stems that are easier to train on a structure. Bend the long stems to a 45-degree angle or more so sunlight can reach through the foliage resulting in lots of lateral stems that flower.

ht-p-prune-roses-1: To deadhead roses cut just above a leaf that has five leaflets.

How to deadhead roses

When roses are going strong in the summer, they’re going to need a little deadheading to keep them blooming. The photo above shows a couple of things to keep in mind as you’re deadheading a rose.

See the strong new shoot? That’s where the next flower will come from. And notice that the leaf just below that bud has five leaflets? Even if you can’t spot the new shoot on a stem, it’s best to cut just above a leaf like this one. Cutting back to a leaf with only three leaflets often results in weak stems.

Helpful Rose Pruning & Deadheading Tools:
Leather Rose Pruning Gloves with Gauntlet
FELCO Classic Manual Hand Pruner

Prevent cane borers: When you're pruning roses seal cuts wider than 1⁄8 inch with white glue to keep out boring insects.

Prevent cane borer damage after pruning roses

Anytime you cut a stem that is 1⁄8 in. in diameter or larger, you run the risk of cane borers, as you can see in the photo above left. These worms eat the tender pith in the stem, weakening the plant. But there's a simple fix in the photo above right — just seal each cut with a drop of white glue and they can’t burrow into the stem.

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Published: March 13, 2018
Updated: Feb. 22, 2023

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