‘Speak to any professional gardener and they will advise that pruning back your rose bushes too early could kill or seriously set back the health of the plant,’ advises Homes & Gardens garden writer, Rachel Crow. ‘You can have all the tools and techniques and know how to prune roses, but get the timing wrong and your rose bushes may not recover.

When to prune roses – get the timing right

Green-thumbed gardeners live by nature’s calendar and the seasons. There are some plants that are more forgiving of a free-and-easy approach to care, but roses are not so forgiving.  Knowing when to plant roses, how and when to take rose cuttings, and the timing and technique for how to deadhead roses will keep your rose garden ideas looking beautiful year after year. We consulted rose experts and gardeners to discover when to prune roses, and when it’s best to leave them untouched.

When to prune roses according to your location

‘While there are expert guidelines on what time of year is best to prune roses, ultimately it will depend on where you live. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (opens in new tab) is your go-to reference for growing and tending plants, depending on the temperature, weather and other climate factors in your region,’ says Rachel Crow.  ‘Generally, it’s best to prune your roses in late winter or early spring, in the sweet spot after hard frosts and before the leaf buds on your plants have begun to open. Exactly when that is will depend on the weather conditions in your region.’

When to prune roses in winter

‘Pruning can be done in later December, January or February in regions where the winters are mild. In regions with cold winters, pruning should be delayed until spring growth is just starting,’ advises esteemed rose grower David Austin, of David Austin Roses (opens in new tab).  When you prune roses isn’t just about the time of year, it’s also about the age and type of rose itself. ‘Bare-rooted roses will usually have been sufficiently pruned before you receive them. If not, they can be cut down to 18 inches in height,’ says David Austin in his book English Roses (opens in new tab). ‘No further pruning is required in that season. If you have purchased roses in pots, they will not need pruning until the first winter.’

Pruning bush roses in winter

Bush roses are backyard stalwarts – hardy and with reliable blooms. They are also the type of rose that should be pruned in the wintertime. ‘Roses are tough plants and many respond well to a hard prune in winter, particularly bush forms like hybrid teas and floribundas,’ advises head gardener and RHS Master of Horticulture, Benjamin Pope, in his book What to Grow, Sow and Do (opens in new tab). ‘Cut back the previous season’s growth but leave a section of the new stem that’s about 8cm in length and has three or four healthy buds.’ You should also know how to prune climbing roses as these will also need to be cut back in the wintertime.

When to prune wild roses

Wild roses – or those that you have left to grow with abandon, perhaps at the edge of your property or in a ‘wild’ area of your yard – can be lightly pruned back in winter to thin the growth. ‘Wild roses that do not require winter protection should be pruned in late February in frost-free weather,’ according to Franz Bohmig, renowned garden expert and author of The Month-by-Month Gardening Guide (opens in new tab). ‘At most, old, excessively large bushes can be strongly cut back. In doing so, the oldest shoots at ground level should be cut off so that the shrubs with the young shoots can assume their natural growth form again.’

When to prune roses in spring

In regions where the winters are hard or where frosts persist into spring, you will want to delay pruning roses until the ground is frost free. If you have heaped earth around your rose bushes to protect them from cold and frosts, remove this first before pruning. ‘Annual pruning back of roses should be done during the final third of March,’ confirms Franz Bohmig. ‘Roses must be pruned correctly to ensure plentiful flowering and long flower stalks.’

When to prune roses in summer

Shrub roses include some of the best fragrant roses such as species roses and old garden roses. ‘Many will produce a single flush of flowers and can be pruned in late summer after they have flowered (if you don’t want winter hips),’ advises gardener Benjamin Pope in his book What to Sow, Grow and Do.  ‘Shrub roses require a lighter touch than bush types as their growth is usually less vigorous. Remove up to one third of the current season’s growth.’ Repeat flowering shrub roses can be pruned back in the summer after their first flush of blooms to encourage a second showing.

When to prune roses in fall

Fall isn’t the best time to prune most roses, except for rambling varieties that produce long and whippy stems during the summer growing season. ‘These can begin to look untidy in the fall, and the rambling stems can be prone to damage,’ explains our garden writer, Rachel Crow. ‘Wait until your rambling roses have finished flowering, then deadhead and shorten the side stems. If your rose is mature and well established, you may want to consider cutting back one or two of the oldest main stems. This will encourage new growth at the heart of the plant.’