When & How to Prune Rose Bushes?

Overview

No matter what type of rose bush you have, whether it's a hybrid tea Peace, a 10-foot-tall grandiflora Queen Elizabeth or a climbing Lady Banks, you will need to do some pruning to keep your rose healthy and producing. There are some general rules for all roses and some specific rules for certain types. Prune climbing roses and old-fashioned species after they bloom in the spring and prune all others at the end of the winter dormant season when the buds begin to look at bit swollen or puffy but before they are completely formed.

Step 1

Remove all wood that is dead, very old or heavily scaled with clippers or a pruning saw. You will recognize old wood by its gray color. For climbing roses, remove only one-third to one-fifth of the oldest canes each year.

Step 2

Remove branches that cross through the center of the plant or that rub against another branch. Cut these branches all the way back to the base of the plant. Your goal is to open up the center of the plant to allow for maximum air circulation. For old-fashioned species, just remove spindly growth that is thinner than pencil-size.

Step 3

Remove any suckers or stems growing from the ground and not from the base of the rose. Dig down to where they attach to the base of the plant. You can remove suckers at any time of the year.

Step 4

Cut any branches that make the rose appear lopsided.

Step 5

Cut back last year's branches by about one-third to an outward facing bud. You want the new growth to go outward away from the plant to allow air circulation in the center of the plant. For floribunda roses, cut back only by one-fourth. For tree roses, cut back-side branches to leave two to three buds.

Step 6

Seal all cuts with glue to keep pests and disease from gaining a stronghold.

Step 7

Brush the scales and rough growths at the base of the rose bush with a wire brush to eliminate areas for pests and disease.

Step 8

Strip all of last year's leaves and dispose of them along with pruning clippings so that any trace of disease or pests does not contaminate the bush in the new season.

Tips and Warnings

  • Experts at the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery caution that any young rose needs time to become established before being cut back heavily. They recommend gardeners to skip the first two years of pruning beyond removing dead wood and thinning for air circulation. Wear leather gloves to protect against sharp thorns of most roses.

Things You'll Need

  • Leather gloves
  • Sharp, clean clippers
  • Sharp, clean pruning saw
  • Wire brush
  • Carpenter's glue or white household glue

References

  • "Sunset Western Garden Book"; editors of Sunset Magazine and Sunset Books; 1977
  • American Rose Society: Basic Pruning Guidelines
  • Berkeley Horticultural Nursery: Pruning Old Roses

Who Can Help

  • American Rose Society: Ten Principles of Rose Pruning
Keywords: pruning roses, pruning rose bushes, cutting back roses

About this Author

A freelance writer with an extensive career in education, Susan Lundman taught writing and communication at the Military Academy at West Point, at military bases overseas and at community colleges in the United States. Working in a non-profit agency for 20 years, she wrote grant requests, promotional material, and operating guides. Lundman's expertise includes backpacking, dance, gardening and healthy living.