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How to prune roses and when to do it

A red and pink rose bush
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Even the most experienced gardeners will question how to prune roses at times. It might seem like a simple task, but when you get down to it, it can be quite daunting. On the one hand, you don’t want to risk damaging the plant, but on the other hand, it might be overgrown and starting to look messy. 

In any case, all types of roses will need pruning at some point for healthy regrowth and fresh flowers. The task is quick and easy, once you know what you’re doing, and your rose bush will look refreshed once it grows back too. Here’s how to prune roses and when you should do it. 

First you will need to check what type of roses you have. If you’re not sure, don’t worry, as we cover the basics below which will work for all rose types.  

How to prune roses — The fundamentals 

What you will need

Bypass pruning shears

Protective gardening gloves

1. Always use bypass shears rather than anvil-style shears for a clean cut that won’t damage the stem. You also want to wear some effective gardening gloves as well as long sleeves so you’re fully protected from any thorns. If you don’t have these,  the Fiskars Steel Pruning Shears and OZERO Leather Work Gloves are both good options from Amazon. 

2. However far you choose to prune back, all cuts should be made at a 45 degree angle, 5mm above a bud, and should slope downwards away from it.  

A rose stem being pruned by bypass pruning shears

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. If you’re pruning in the spring, start by removing any remaining leaves, so you can better see what you’re doing. 

4. If your roses are relatively new (less than a year old), only light pruning should be required, if at all, as it’s still in early growth and needs to establish its roots. Generally speaking, this means only cutting back by about a third of its overall size.

5. If you have an older plant, you can prune back further to encourage more growth, or just to tidy up the shape. 

6. If you want more outward growth, cut back to outward-facing buds. You can also prune some stems to face inwards if you want to encourage more height.

7. You should also cut back any intertwining stems which are competing for space or risk damaging one another. You can seal fresh cuts if you choose, but it’s not necessary as roses will take care of themselves. 

Someone picking up cut stems while pruning rose stems

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

8. You should also remove any dead or thin stems which are unlikely to produce flowers — cut back to the live wood, which looks green on the outside. Get rid of any diseased branches you spot as well by cutting back to the healthy branch again.    

9. You can also remove the general woody overgrowth, although keep an eye on how thin this makes your plant look.

10. Cut to the shape you want, however if you want more flowers at the bottom, cut the top into a dome, rather than flat.  

11. Bear in mind that if you prune your roses right back, they may not flower again until the following year, as all of the energy goes into regrowing the stems instead. 

Don’t be shy when pruning your roses — most will repair themselves and grow back quickly. It’s ultimately better for the plant that you prune it rather than leave it alone. 

How to prune roses — Knock Out roses 

a pink Knock Out rosebud

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Knock Out roses should be pruned while dormant once they reach a height of 3-4 feet, and you can prune them back by about a third of their overall height. Bear in mind that the regrowth can happen from up to 12 inches below any cuts you make. Deadheading isn’t necessary with Knock Out roses, but it does encourage new flowers. Otherwise, follow the general directions above, getting rid of any old or dead stems first and cutting back to your desired shape.  

How to prune roses — Climbing roses 

White climbing rose bush on a brick wall

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Climbing roses can be drastically reduced when needed all the way to the base — so long as you leave between 3-5 canes which are 5 feet or taller. If your Climbing rose only has one thick stem, don’t prune it back too hard. Cut it back by between a third or a half at most, otherwise it might not grow back. As a general rule when pruning Climbing roses, you should leave the supported framework unpruned and work on the side shoots instead, unless the framework is growing in an unwanted direction which can’t be supported.  

When should you prune roses? 

Late winter or early spring is the best time to prune most rose types, once the final frost has fallen. If you have a rose type which blooms once a year, wait until after the bloom has finished before pruning — this will likely be in the early summer. For Rambling roses, prune in the summer after flowering. You want to get into the habit of pruning your roses once a year for best growth.

Any heavy pruning after this will just reduce the number of flowers you will get in the future. We wouldn’t recommend pruning back in the fall as your roses will be more susceptible to the frost as a consequence. 

Katie Mortram

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed kitchen appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be stand mixers as she loves to bake in her spare time.