For the Love of Gardening  

What works & What doesn't...

Pruning Roses

WHEN ? ...

When the Forsythia Blooms.

Pruning roses is easy.

Rose Trees have different needs...

I really hope you did not prune your roses in the fall !!!  By leaving the canes alone in Autumn, the nutrients seep back into the roots, feeding them for the cold winter, making them stronger.

Good for you… so, now when the Forsythia blooms in early Spring, you will see there are wee buds that begin to show dark red all up the sides of the rose canes).  

We prune roses for shape, to encourage new growth and to remove any dead or diseased wood; besides, it is good for them. 

If this reminds you about other pruning - like trees and shrubs, go here

AND, TOOLS? See what works for me...


Pruning them encourages the three main things they need to be their beautiful best…

 Light, air and water

If any one of those is missing, your roses will not do well so you need to remember this when tackling this job… makes it easier to see what do do next. 

Although pruning your roses in the Spring is the best time, you needn’t worry that you have done them any harm.  Being mindful and knowing why you are pruning, you can do it just about any time.  “They” say you cannot kill  a rose by pruning it.  Believe it or not, your roses want to live… they, and all plants, have an incredible will to survive. So, really, pruning roses can only make them better.

TOOLS:  As with any garden tools, they need to be taken care of with pruning roses, that means cleaned and sharpened. (You will need to sharpen them often because if you squeeze the rose stem instead of cutting it with a sharp cut, you leave that stem open to wee bugs or disease - and clean them often with wipes to remove any possibility of spreading any unseen bacteria from one bush to another). It is worth the effort !

By-pass pruners” which act somewhat like scissors are best. 

These above, are made by Felco and although more expensive, you can take them apart to clean and sharpen and replace parts if need be. They are comfortable to use, but you must try pruners (secateurs, actually) for yourself.  If they are not comfortable to use, you will not  use them. (These are my favourites).

Although I have both kinds, I also like these "Trail-blaze" by-pass pruners because I can open and close them with one hand.  The Felco pruners, take two hands. But the Felcos do last longer and they stay sharp longer.  But you need to choose for yourself.

 "Anvil pruners”  behave more like a knife when you slice something on a board; it tends to crush the stem (but so will dull pruners) and that leaves the stem vulnerable to disease and mould.

They should not be  used on living stems but they work well on dead  and brittle canes.

I suggest good gloves- (Atlas; Miracle Gloves are my favourite). I like them because they are washable and I like to have lots of them.  At least one pair should protect you from thorns. At the end of the day I toss them into the washer and hang them up for the next day. You will need some long sleeves too to protect your arms from the nasty thorns.

Now, let's get to the "HOW" of it all.


It is easier to begin pruning roses from the top of the bush - then you can see what  you are doing and you won’t make any huge mistakes if this is your first time.  Start by taking off the top third of the rose bush, and yes, one stem at a time.

This is no place for hedge trimmers as they are for hedges, right?

This great photo by Gail Trimble of the Marin Rose Society shows very clearly the right cut.

You should use a downward angle when pruning roses to make sure water runs off, and not into the cut stem.  Make your cut at about 45 degrees.

Decide which direction you want the branch to grow and then cut above a bud that faces that way because that little bud faces the exact way the branch will grow.  


Check the centre of the bush.  Look for any dead or broken (or even bent) stems or canes and prune down that stem until you find green inside, especially in early Spring. 

Stop there.

You are ultimately trying for a vase shape with this type of rose.

If it is later than Spring when you get to pruning your roses, you will most likely have to move the branches aside to see the centre.

You need enough light and air in the centre that those canes will not die off.


(like The Fairy)

When pruning these rose bushes, you will want to leave some branches growing toward the centre or it will have bare spots.  Use your judgement to see the overall shape as it has to please you too, not just the rose.. 

This photo from the Royal Horticultural Society, shows the ultimate shape you want for a spreading rose.


If there are canes that cross each other or rub against each other - remove them or they will damage the bark and may even create too many shadows for sun to reach inside.

You will often see long stems shoot out of the ground next to the base of the rose.  This is most likely a sucker and it needs to be removed.  Especially on a grafted rose as the sucker will -if allowed to grow, revert back to the original rose and your favourite may not survive.  Take the suckers off down below the earth and break or tear them off, do not cut them  as that just encourages the rose to send  up more shoots.  Suckers don’t often show up on “own-root” roses.

Take out all stems that are smaller than the thickness of a pencil, unless the bush is a miniature.

This photo, also from the RHS, shows pruning out the dead cane in the centre of the bush. It is obvious in its dead brown colour.

I sometimes find myself hesitant when I first begin pruning my roses.  But if I remember that that the new growth always starts at the top bud of any cane I prune, then I know that  particular branch, or cane will grow up another 10 to 12 inches from there.  It gives me an idea how large I want the rose to grow. 

With some larger bushes that grow 3 to 5 or even 6 feet tall, you might want to cut them down to half that.  There are some who cut their roses to the ground.  I am not always that brave. 

But I do find that pruning them hard, does make them bloom better and the canes stronger... I do make every effort not to prune off less than a third or a half....

Besides, there are some roses which bloom on older canes and if they are always struggling to start from scratch each Spring, they may not have enough energy to produce blooms.  Having  said that, once in awhile, if a rose is really not performing, you have nothing to lose.  See what happens…  you might be pleasantly surprised


These are a bit different.  Of course you will take out all the oldest canes, any that cross or also, any that like to reach out toward you…. Those wayward branches need to be trained to grow toward the wall, or trellis.. This is the time to take the bud that  faces backward, and prune to it...remembering that the blooms are on the lateral branches. Every Spring, take out one (or two, if the rose is a few years old) of the oldest canes that come from the base.

Don't cut climbing roses back to the ground..

...they bloom from the branches that grow out to the sides of the tall centre canes.  If you cut the centre canes back to the ground, the rose has to start over again and at some point, will not have the energy to begin again... so do your research first and be cautious.


I prefer not to do any pruning to these roses the first season because I feel they need all the energy possible to establish roots. Some hardened folks insist you cut off all blooms when you plant it so the energy goes to the roots and makes a stronger plant. I have trouble with that, especially if it blooms only once a season.  I cannot bear to give up one bloom.

Any pruning should only include any dead or broken branches, if you prune more than that, the rose may grow too quickly, and use up nutrients that the roots need. Wait until the following spring.

FLORIBUNDAS (with many roses on one stem) and HYBRID TEAS  (have one rose on each stem) are repeat-flowering and so well with a hard pruning. This encourages vigorous growth and strength.

Leave 3 to 5 main, young and strong stems, leaving them about 5 or 6 inches above the soil.Their canes tend to be taller than most with the bloom(s) at the end.  This may lead to bending or breaking if not pruned to promote strength. In the fall, reduce the height by one-third to prevent breaking stems with ice and wind.  Do the rest of the pruning in the spring.

The lovely Astrid Lindgren - a glorious Floribunda rose.


"Bonica" and "Constance Spry" are good examples of shrub roses. Because they bloom on older stems, they do not need  hard pruning. Make sure there is good air-flow through the bush to prevent diesease and remove any dead or crossing stems.

Pruning roses is not that difficult once you start.  Another good thing about pruning roses in the Spring, is that if you make a mistake, it will have lots of time to recover.

Take it one stem at a time…. Take your music to your garden along with your tea, and start pruning.

It can be almost meditative.

The best book...

...I have read on planting, growing and pruning roses, is by Paul Zimmerman called

"Everyday Roses"  

If you love roses as I do, check out his site at