Rose Pruning Guide

Coastal rose growers begin to prune their roses immediately after Thanksgiving. Most folks, however, will wait until the Holidays are over. Some of you, whose gardens sometimes experience freezing temperatures, maybe waiting until early February. Whenever you get it done, the pruning you do in this season will set the stage for healthy spring growth, long straight bloom stems, and a bounty of beautiful flowers.

Most of you will be pruning Hybrid Tea Roses. If they have grown tall, begin by 'topping' them down to about three feet in height. Clear away dead leaves and other trash from around the base of the plant, and check the bud union carefully for signs of crown gall or other disease or damage. Look for 'suckers'. Suckers are canes which spring from the rootstock, rather than from the bud union. Suckers will not be in bloom at this time of the year, and their foliage is usually rather different in appearance from the rest of the plant. Follow such canes carefully down to their point of origin below ground before cutting them away.

Your best blooms next spring will come from healthy, sturdy new growth. Old wood, grey and dry-looking, is near the end of its productive life. Such canes should be removed, leaving the plant to support three or four of its best new canes. Ideally, the new canes should be growing up and slightly outward in a 'vase' shape. Remove the old canes flush with the bud union. Avoid leaving stumps on the bud union. These will become hard and woody, and prevent the emergence of new canes. When that happens, your rose bush will bloom less and less, and finally should be replaced.

Cut away all growth that is diseased, damaged, or dead.

Now you must decide what you want from your roses in the coming year. Do you plan to show your roses? Or, do you want to fill vases with armloads of long-stemmed blooms? In either case, you want to prune fairly hard. Leave behind no lateral growth.

Even if you never cut your roses, and are aiming for a bountiful garden display, you should remove all growth that is smaller than the diameter of a pencil.

Shrub image

Severe Pruning

A severe pruning yields fewer (but larger and finer) blooms. This approach to pruning encourages the growth of long stems.


Moderate Pruning

This more gentle approach to pruning will produce a greater volume of bloom. Stems will be shorter, however, and the individual blooms will most likely be smaller.

Your completed pruning job should produce a rose plant no more than 2- to 4-feet tall, with no remaining foliage. Take into account the natural growth pattern of the plant you are pruning. In Southern Califomia, some Hybrid Tea Roses grow as much as ten feet in height. Others, with a more spreading growth habit, may never achieve more than three feet of growth.

Bud Eye and Cut angle

The final pruning cut at the top of each cane should be made approximately 1/4 inch above an outward- facing bud eye.

Make pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, as shown here.

Housekeeping is vital

Remove dead leaves, fallen blooms, and other debris from your rose beds. Such trash harbors insect eggs and fungal spores. Remove remaining leaves from the plants, prior to spraying.

Pruning those “Other” Roses

he pruning guide above provides a basic primer on pruning the average Hybrid Tea Rose. Many of the questions asked at pruning demonstrations, however, concern pruning techniques for Shrub Roses, Old Garden Roses, Floribundas, Miniatures, and—the greatest bugbear of all—climbers. The truth is that, once you have the basic technique down pat, you can easily transfer your pruning knowledge to all of those 'other' roses.

Floribundas can be left with more twiggy growth than hybrid teas


Floribundas are even easier than Hybrid Teas. Follow the same guidelines, (remove all dead, damaged, or diseased growth) but prune more lightly. Most Floribundas dislike harsh pruning.

Forget that 'smaller than a pencil' rule, and leave your Floribundas some of their twiggy growth. When you're done, the center of the plant should be opened up, and no leaves should remain.

Very large shrubs can resemble a monster from the black lagoon
Self-Pegging Carrots

Shrub & English Roses

Shrub & English Roses scare the willies out of folks who aren't used to them. Don't let them frighten you! If they are small and twiggy in growth habit, prune them like Floribundas, and you'll do just fine. If they're moderate in growth, think of them as Hybrid Teas, and prune them on the moderate side. Once again, you should leave no leaves.

Most of the Shrub Rose queries we receive center around the really big cultivars. How does one tackle a rampant 'Graham Thomas', or a gigantic 'Evelyn'? There are several answers to this question.

You might choose to whack these very large shrubs off ruthlessly, bringing them down to a modest 3-1/2 feet in height. We have done this, and the result is a satisfactory spring bloom. These roses are determined to get big in our climate, however. Following their spring bloom, it has been our experience that they hunker down and grow like crazy, shooting for the sky, flopping in every direction, and forgetting, for the most part, to bloom.

Another approach with these roses is to simply treat them as climbers. Pull their canes out horizontally along a fence, or wind them around a rough 'teepee' of three poles. In either case, the result is an increase in the number of bloom-carrying lateral breaks. We see more repeat bloom using this method.

A third approach to the large shrub roses is 'self-pegging', which we have found to be effective. Remove most lateral growth, and snip off the final, thin, few inches of each cane. Pull the tip of each long cane down and inward. Using that soft, flexible, green garden tape, tie the end of each cane to its own base, or the base of a neighboring cane. The result will be a rather pleasing 'pincushion' shape which will be covered with bloom in the spring.

If this method doesn't give you a good spring bloom, and a satisfactory repeat—consider removing the offending rose. Replacing it with something willing to bloom should lower your stress level considerably.

Old Garden Roses

Old Garden Roses shouldn't be any more of a challenge. If they're small and bushy, (Chinas, and most Teas) treat them more or less like a Floribunda. If they're large and pushy (Hybrid Perpetuals come to mind!) you can prune them like a large Hybrid Tea Rose. Some Hybrid Perpetuals and most Bourbons fall into the same growth category as very large shrubs and should be treated accordingly.

As for Once-Blooming Old Garden Roses—leave them alone!

If you didn't prune your once-bloomers last summer—after they finished blooming—you've missed the boat for the present. If you prune them now, you will remove next spring's bloom. What's that you say? They're growing out into the pathways and blocking the gateway? Well, in that case, they leave you no choice. Whack off the offending canes. It has been our practice to dormant spray the few once bloomers in our garden, along with everything else. Removing all of their foliage beforehand is impractical, but the dormant spray will eliminate much of it. Be sure to go back later and rake up the fallen leaves.

Taming Climbers


That brings us to Climbers. They're easier than they look. For the first few years, Climbers need little pruning- It takes most of them three years or more to approach a stage of maturity which warrants pruning. When the plant has matured, assess the main, or basal, canes and remove at the base any which are diseased, dead, or damaged. Lateral canes smaller in diameter than a pencil are best removed right down to the main cane. Larger laterals might be cut to about 4 bud eyes in length. Remove any remaining foliage, re-tie the canes where needed, you're done!


Miniature roses are easy. They're growing on their own roots, remember—one successful pruning strategy has been to prune them with a lawnmower. Too drastic for you? OK. Try THIS rule of thumb: If it grows like a little Hybrid Tea, prune it like a little HT. If it grows like a little Floribunda, prune it that way. If it is a Miniature Climber, it will appreciate being treated like its larger counterparts.

That's it...pruning in a nutshell. Thanks to Jeri Jennings.

Dormant Spraying

This is the final task of pruning time, and it is a vital one. Dormant spraying should be done immediately after pruning. If you feel lazy, and decide to wait for a few days, you may find that new growth has begun to emerge before you get 'A Round Tuit'. Your dormant spray will damage that tender new growth, setting your plant back, and possibly resulting in deformed growth.

A thorough dormant-spraying offers you your best chance for control of the various fungal diseases that plague roses: powdery mildew, rust, blackspot, insect pests, even downy mildew—all can be reduced by careful dormant spraying.

Volk or Dormant Oil sprays and Lime-sulfur sprays are available at our nursery, and they are very reasonably priced. These materials are usually formulated for combined use. They may be safely used on roses now, while there is no foliage to be damaged. Spray each rose plant thoroughly, and spray the ground around it, as well.