The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Pruning Roses

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

My recent speeches are littered with the words "typically" and "usually". This spring has been far from typical and usual so our timing of the typical activities of spring are about two weeks earlier than usual.

Typically April is the appropriate time to prune most roses; however, roses are in full growth gear right now. The exception to early spring pruning is old garden roses. They bloom once in spring, so wait to prune these after they bloom. For all the rest - sharpen your pruners and go for it.

First don't be afraid to prune. Often gardeners are confused about how to prune roses so they just don't prune. Our new shrub type roses can quickly outgrow their space without yearly pruning.

To better determine the hows and whens of rose pruning, it helps if your rose has more of a name than "that red rose" or "that white rose". The amount of pruning between the many different classifications of roses is vast, with Old Garden species types needing less severe annual pruning and the hybrid teas needing the most severe pruning for optimum flowering.

Basic rose pruning for all rose classifications includes:

· Always wear thorn-proof gloves and long sleeves. A fungal skin disease called sporotrichosis is more common among people who have handled thorny stems.

· Use sharp, clean tools. Use a disinfectant spray on tools between cuts if branches appear diseased.

· Remove dead, damaged, and diseased canes. Dead canes appear shriveled, dark brown, or black.

· Remove thin, weak canes that are smaller than pencil size in diameter.

· Make pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle above an outward-facing bud. This technique keeps the center of the plant open and encourages good air circulation to lessen disease.

Roses such as hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and miniatures produce the best flowers on new or current season canes and require the most severe annual pruning. This usually means removing about one-half to two-thirds of the plant's height and reducing the number of canes, according to UI Extension Educator Greg Stack. For these leave about three to five stout canes. Remaining canes are then cut back to about four to six inches, leaving about three to five outward-facing buds.

Modern shrub roses are very popular in landscaping. According to Stack this class of rose bears flowers on mature canes; however, not too mature. Best flowering canes are large, but are green and not woody brown. Generally these roses don't need much pruning the first two to three seasons other than reducing the height slightly. In the case of shrub roses, cut the canes back by about one-half.

Once-blooming old garden roses such as Gallica, Centifolia, Alba, Moss Rose, or Damask combine a very classic rose flower shape with fabulous fragrance. These roses are often pruned in the same manner as modern shrub roses except they must be pruned right after flowering. Heavy spring pruning would remove the flowering canes and result in little or no flowers this season.

Climbers and ramblers may need several seasons in the garden before a lot of pruning is needed. In most cases, pruning is limited to removing winter-damaged canes. Pruning is similar for both of these types of roses. The difference is in the timing. For once-blooming ramblers (that bloom on stems from last year) pruning is done immediately after flowering.

Climbers usually have more than one bloom period so they can be pruned in early spring. Reduce the side shoots or lateral canes to about three to six inches to stimulate flowering. Also, train the canes to grow horizontally to encourage more bloom-producing side shoots.

A rose by any other name - would still need pruning. Check out UI Extension rose website Also UI Extension's You Tube channel incudes great how-to videos on pruning roses.

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