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How Far Back Should I Prune My Roses?

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Rose pruning is a basic and essential chore for the rose gardener. When the time comes, many gardeners are not sure how much to prune their roses. The answer depends on what you want to accomplish.

Spring Pruning

The object of spring pruning is to encourage vigorous growth and multiple branching. After all dead, diseased and crossed canes are removed, the remaining canes should be cut back 1/3 to 1/2. For a rejuvenative pruning, the canes can be cut back to 12 inches.


Repeat blooming roses need deadheading as their flowers fade. Snip back spent blooms to encourage new flowering. Long and spindly stems can be cut back closer to a main cane to encourage stronger branching.

Winter Trimming

Roses do not require pruning in preparation for winter. If you have any long or stray stems that might whip around in winter winds, cut them back to a manageable size. It is always appropriate to cut dead or diseased canes back to healthy tissue.

Prune Roses

Like most flowers, rose bushes benefit from regular deadheading—pinching or cutting off spent blossoms to invigorate continued blooming. It is especially important with hybrid tea roses—shrub roses can be left to their own devices, generally. Pruning a rose bush helps to open up the center of the plant to let in more sun and air. The “how” is pretty straightforward and universal. As for the timing, most gardeners prune their roses in spring, but exactly when depends on the local climate and the particular conditions of the season. Rose canes can be tough and will splinter and fray if your pruners aren’t sharp. Clean cuts are best for the plant. If you have mature roses, you may also want to have a pair of loppers on hand for cutting heavy canes, especially dead ones. Pruning a rose bush follows a basic sequence. Cut away any dead brown wood, cutting back to live tissue or removing dead canes entirely. Very thin canes and suckers sap energy from the plant and are unlikely to produce nice blooms. In addition, some gardeners like to prune their roses quite short, which produces fewer but larger blooms. You cut in this way for two reasons: 1. Again, you may opt to leave them longer. When you’re done pruning, the general growth and shape of the plant should tend outward from the base, and then upward, roughly like a hollow vase. You can always pose this question at a local garden center or, better still, consult the nearest extension service. Forsythia blooms when the ground reaches about 55 degrees F.
* Check the ground temperature.

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