Roses have long held a special place in the hearts of gardeners and non-gardeners alike and there are so many rose garden ideas you can incorporate into gardens of all styles and sizes. They are one of the most commercially valuable plants in the world and prized for their beautiful, scented blooms.  How to prune roses will depend on the type of rose you have; not all roses require the same treatment. Learn how to prune climbing roses or ramblers, if you are pruning that variety. When you are designing a rose garden ensure that you will be able to get close to all of your rose bushes or shrubs to prune them when required. It’s worth noting that while the flowers are delicate and elegant, the plants are tough and hardy. They are very resilient to being pruned, so you shouldn’t worry about getting out the pruning shears or secateurs. Even an overzealous prune is unlikely to harm them, so you can cut with confidence.  As when planting roses, you will need thick gardening gloves to protect your hands from the thorns – preferably leather gauntlets that will also cover your lower arms.  If you follow the simple rules in this guide, you can cut with confidence and create stunning blooms ever year. 

How to prune roses – what you need

Before tackling rose pruning, make sure you have the right tools for the job – starting with a good pair of secateurs.  ‘It may sound obvious, but the most important thing when pruning roses is that your secateurs are sharp, so they won’t tear or harm the plant,’ says Period Living’s gardening expert Leigh Clapp. You can sharpen your secateurs at home using a sharpening stone or diamond sharpener, although some tool manufacturers offer a cleaning and sharpening service. While secateurs are suitable for pruning most green rose stems, for thicker, mature branches and dead wood you will require loppers or a hand saw. Rose thorns can harbor harmful bacteria, so if you do cut yourself, clean the wound with an antibacterial spray.

How to prune rose bushes

It’s important to prune rose bushes at the right time of year. ‘Prune in late winter to early spring, just when the first growth is beginning,’ says Richard Austin from world-renowned rose grower David Austin (opens in new tab). If you prune your rose bushes too early, you risk making the plant more vulnerable to frost damage; too late and you will be removing valuable new growth, and you don’t want to reduce the blooms of fragrant roses. The exact timing will depend on the hardiness zone where you live. Austin advises that it’s better to prune them late than not at all, so even if spring has sprung, you should still proceed. But never prune when the stems are frozen or frost-covered. Bear in mind that roses take a couple of years to establish, and young plants need a lighter trim. ‘Don’t prune shrub roses too hard until they have established over the first couple of years, to help the stems mature and support the large blooms,’ says Leigh Clapp. ‘For correct pruning, check which rose group they are as this will differ. The principles are the same, however: remove dead, diseased and dying wood first, then open up the centre of the bush this will help with airflow to reduce potential issues with black spot,’ explains Jon Webster, curator at RHS Garden Rosemoor (opens in new tab), home to one of the UK’s largest collections of roses. 

How to prune tree or standard roses

Tree – or standard – roses, which are grafted on top of a long central stem, should be pruned in the same way as rose bushes. However, closer attention should be paid to creating a nicely rounded shape.  When pruning a rose tree, you want to minimize stems that are growing very upright, favoring those with well-positioned outward-facing buds. Try to ensure you have a good balance of stems growing in each direction. With tree roses, you also need to pay close attention to ‘suckers’, which are stems growing from the base of the trunk, from the root stock, that take energy from the main rose. Remove these as they appear. After the first flush of blooms, tidy up the shape by giving the tree a light trim. This will also encourage a second flowering.

How to prune roses for winter

It is not a good idea to prune roses for winter, as you will leave them vulnerable to the cold and frost. For the best results, time your pruning for the very end of winter and the onset of spring. However, where rose branches are damaged in the wind, it is best to remove them from the plant. You could also take rose cuttings in the fall or winter, to grow new plants.

How to prune roses in summer

Most roses don’t need pruning in the summer, with the exception of rambling roses. ’Prune ramblers just after flowering, as they then will produce new wood for next year’s blooms,’ says Clapp. However, after the first flush of flowering, you can tidy up your roses with a light trim to maintain their appearance and encourage more buds to develop.

Pruning neglected roses

If you have inherited a rose that is overgrown or covered with a lot of dead wood, you can rejuvenate it by giving it a hard prune at the end of winter, just as spring is about to emerge. This advice will work for whatever type of rose it is.

When should roses be pruned?

The best time to prune roses is at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Be careful not to prune roses too early, when they may be susceptible to frost, or too late when you risk cutting off new bloom producing growth.

When should roses be cut back and how much?

Roses should be cut back in late winter or early spring, before the new flower buds start to develop. Pruning should always be done on a dry day with a clean, sharp pruning tool. You can cut roses back quite hard, and they can be pruned back to around 12 inches tall if necessary, but it will depend on the size and shape of the plant you want, but you can be bold when pruning as they will often come back bigger and stronger with time.  The general aim with pruning is to reduce the size of bush roses by around a third, give groundcover roses a light trim and cut back climbing roses after flowering to suit the structure they’re covering.  David Austin Roses are designed to be very forgiving if you are new to pruning and they need to be cut to generally about half their size, creating a rounded shape. Wild roses, such as the rugosas, need no annual pruning, just cut away the dead branches from the underside of the shrub every few years.

How do you cut roses so they will bloom again?

To cut roses to they will bloom again, remove the dead flower heads to encourage new growth. It is easy to learn how to deadhead roses, and roses can be encouraged to bloom for many months using this method.  Deadhead any spent blooms unless you also want the rose hips, as setting seed saps energy for flower production.  Diseased material should also be removed to encourage healthy plants that can support lots of blooms. 

Do you cut off dead roses?

You should cut off – or deadhead – roses once the blooms are faded as this will encourage the growth of new flowers. ‘If, however, you have roses, such as rugosas, with lovely hips for autumn, leave the finished blooms on the bush,’ says Clapp.