Mastering Rose Pruning: Tips and Tricks for a Blooming Garden 

As spring approaches, it is time to gear up for garden work, and one of the first tasks on my list in late winter is pruning my roses. The most frequently asked questions on the blog and on Instagram have to do with roses, specifically pruning. So, I’ve created a blog post to help answer your questions. I certainly don’t claim to be a rose expert, but I will share what works for me and what I have learned through trial and error.

The importance of pruning roses can not be overstated. Pruning roses helps encourage growth, helps shape the plant, and gets rid of dead wood to help reduce the risk of fungal disease. I have partnered with Jackson & Perkins to give you the best information you need to prune your roses to have blooms all summer long. According to Paul Zimmerman at Jackson & Perkins, “it is important to prune the right way at the right time.” As for the right time, I always prune my roses in late winter—either late February or early March—depending on the weather in my Zone 6b garden, and before they start to leaf out. However, what I learned from Paul is to let mother nature decide when to prune. In warmer climates, you can actually prune anytime, and for us in colder climates, it is best to wait to prune until you see the forsythia bushes start to bloom. I thought that was great information, and I will now wait for my forsythia to bloom while keeping an eye on my roses. 

If you forgot to prune, it is never too late; it is better to prune late than never. However, keep in mind our roses might not put on the best flower show that year. Before we start to prune, make sure you have the right tools, which start with a good pair of gloves. Trust me, I learned the hard way—or at least my arms did! Make sure you have bypass pruners and a looper for thicker canes. If you don’t have older established roses, you will not need this tool.

Now let’s talk about the right way to prune rose bushes. A frequent question I get asked is what height to prune. The general rule of thumb is to take down by a third, but you can decide. If your rose is in the back of the border, don’t prune back as much, and if it is in the front of the border, make a harder prune to get the height you need. 

When pruning, the first thing you should do is cut out all the dead branches. After you remove the dead branches, the next step is to remove the thin and weak growth. After that step is complete, proceed to removing any crossing canes. Finally, cut the stem at a slight angle around ¼ inch back to the outward facing bud eye. Keep in mind as you are doing this to make sure you have consistent height. To be honest, I did not do this as precisely as these instructions that Jackson and Perkins gave me, and my roses were just fine. Don’t be intimidated; you will not hurt the rose.

Rose bush at end of season

Rose bush before pruning

After pruning. Really cut back based on location in the garden and the height last year. Remember you determine the height you want your rose.

After pruning from top to see air flow

For climbing roses, the process is similar—remove dead wood and prune weak, thin, and crossing stems. The big thing to remember is never prune the main cane. The main canes are at the base of the rose. You need to prune the side shoots in climbing roses; the bud eye is irrelevant. The key is to prune the lateral branches and tie for support as needed.

Climbing rose end of last year

Climbing rose before pruning

Climbing rose after pruning. Please note, do not prune main canes, only side shoots.

I hope this helps you prune your roses and makes it less of an intimidating process. It is just like pruning any other shrub in your yard. With a bit of effort, you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms all season. Happy gardening—I can’t wait for you all to share your rose pictures with me!

It’s not too late to purchase your own roses from Jackson & Perkins using this link. Enter code OLDCASTLE15 for 15% off any order. Some of my favorite roses from J&P are below!

Sweet Rose of Mine (picture below)

Fairy Shrub Rose

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  1. Your garden of roses is such an inspiration . I cut my climbers for the first time after several years. I am looking forward to the new growth and the thicker healthy flourish that this spring will bring. Will follow for your guidance 😍

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I have a very sweet climbing rose- Jeanne La Joie – growing on the side of my gazebo & never knew how to properly prune her – now I know! Your garden is such an inspiration💕💕💕💕

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