How to Prune Roses

Sally Painter
Woman pruning rose bush in garden

You can learn how to prune your roses in a few easy steps. The process for determining how much and what to prune is simple when you start with rose pruning basics.

How to Prune Roses With the Right Tools

You want to assemble your gardening tools before attempting to prune your roses. You may already have these items in your gardening arsenal.

  • 1 pair long, thorn-proof gardening gloves (covers forearms)
  • 1 pair bypass loppers (pair of curved blades, longer reaching)
  • 1 pair bypass hand pruning shears (pair of curved blades)
  • Wheelbarrow to collect pruned canes, leaves, etc.

Step One: Decide Pruning Height

You need to determine the height you want to keep your rose bushes. This height will guide your pruning efforts to ensure consistency in your rose bushes. A basic rose pruning rule to follow is for long stemmed big blooms, prune low. For more flowers (smaller) with shorter stems (canes), prune tall.

Step Two: Prune Leaves From Canes

You want to cut away any leaves on the canes. This will give you an excellent idea about the height and shape of the bush as you work.

Step Three: Cut Out Deadwood

The brown, dried canes (stems) are the first ones you want to tackle. These canes are no longer viable. You need to cut deadwood canes all the way back to the base (bottom) of the plant. If dead canes are difficult to reach, break out the bypass loppers.

Step Four: Prune to Open Center of Bush

Once you've removed the deadwood, you're ready to prune the live wood. These branches and canes are green. As you prune, keep in mind the desired finished shape you want for your rose bush is a V-shaped appearance. This is often referred to as a vase shape.

Woman trimming rose branch

Cutting the Vase

To prune your rose bush into the vase shape, you need to remove any branches that cross each other or are leaning against other branches. By removing these branches, you'll end up with the iconic vertical rose stems (canes). When you prune out these branches, the center portion of the bush opens up and provides an excellent shape to showcase your beautiful roses.

Step Five: Remove Thin Scraggly Stems

The next pruning step is focused on the unruly, scraggly, thin stems. Be ruthless in cutting these out. Keep anything that has the thickness of a pencil or larger. The rest needs to be removed. The bypass hand pruners make fast work of this.

Man trimming a rose bush

Step Six: Prune Remaining Canes

Once you've removed the deadwood and thin stems, you're ready to tackle pruning what will be the final shape of your rose bush. Using bypass hand pruners, begin pruning the rose bush to the desired height. As a general rule, you want to remove part of the plant volume somewhere between one-third to one-half. Most gardeners prune their rose bushes to about one-half to one-third in height.

Woman clipping rose bush

Cut Above Bud Eyes

Make cuts above outward facing small bumps (bud eyes). Cut about 1/8" or slightly more above the bud eyes. This is the area where stems will emerge next season and grow outwards, thanks to your cuts. You want each cut to be a 45° angle. Some gardeners believe these angles need to lead out and down from the bud. This is thought to prevent water from filling the cut and allowing harmful bacteria or fungi from collecting in the cut. Other gardeners believe the angle directions are inconsequential as long as they are near 45° angles.

Step Seven: Protect Roses by Sealing Pruning Cuts

At this point, some rose growers seal the pruning cuts, but many gardeners espouse not sealing their plants. Instead, you should cover your roses as soon as you're finished pruning to protect them from diseases and insects, such as sawflies, wasp-like raspberry horntails, girdlers (beetles), and flathead borers. These insects lay their eggs by boring inside the canes.

Step Eight: Dormant Sprays

Once you're through pruning your rose and have disposed of the prune canes and leaves, it's time to protect your plants. Some gardeners apply a dormant spray to protect the vulnerable plant from various insects and diseases.

Step Nine: Rose Covers

Whether or not you choose to use a dormant spray, you still need to cover your plants immediately after pruning to shield them. You can use rose cozies, cones or other type of protective cover until spring.

Helpful Tips for Pruning Roses

Pruning roses is a way to keep them healthy by clearing out dead and even diseased area and preventing insect pests from moving in and taking over. Healthy plants survive better than neglected ones that succumb to insects and diseases. Before you set out to pruning your rose plants, consider a few helpful tips. You may save a little time when you understand some of the pitfalls other rose gardeners made.

  • Best time to prune roses is after the last spring frost and just before the plants awaken from dormancy (sprout leaves and develop buds).
  • Don't use anvil garden pruners. This straight single blade shears tends to damage or bruise the cane bark and makes it more susceptible to diseases and insects.
  • If you suffer from carpal tunnel or a weakened grip, a pair of ratchet pruners requiring less hand strength may ideal for you instead of bypass pruning shears.
  • Some roses, such as climbing roses (repeat bloomers) or rambling roses (one-time bloomers) are pruned to maintain shape and keep plants healthy.
  • Miniature roses are pruned to maintain shape, clear out deadwood and keep plants healthy.
person pruning the rose bush

Learning How to Prune Roses

Pruning rose plants is easy once you understand the objectives and techniques used. When you learn how to prune roses, you improve the chances of your roses surviving year after year and producing beautiful blooms.

How to Prune Roses