One of the appeals of rugosa roses is their self-sufficiency. Winter-hardy in many climate zones, these Asian roses are disease resistant and enthusiastic growers. When dead-headed regularly, rugosa roses will often bloom for the entire summer. Red and orange rose hips provide additional fall color; the hips can be left for the birds or harvested to make jam. Pruning rugosas can be done several ways, from gentle shaping to sucker removal and the clearing of dead canes. Annual or very occasional pruning is all that is needed.
Examine your rugosa rosebushes in early spring to assess winter die-off at the end of stems. Once frost danger is passed, cut back branches with old hips or dead twigs to a depth of 6-8 inches, to stimulate new growth. Those who harvest rugosa rose hips in the fall sometimes do a light pruning then, completing it in the spring.
Remove any dead canes, cutting them to ground level. Thorns abound on these hardy bushes, so gloves and long sleeves are strongly recommended, and you may wish to extend your reach with long-handled cutters.
Check the base of your rugosa rose for new spring suckers. Rugosas both extend their upper branches and send out stems from the base to expand plant size. Remove suckers when you prune to stimulate new growth.
Do additional fall or spring pruning only if your rugosa plant is becoming too large. This may affect overall bloom for the season but will result in bushier growth.