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    How to Prune a Rose Bush

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Just as many of us can benefit from a trim to our hairstyles, roses can benefit from pruning. And just as our hairstyle may dictate the type of trim we get, the type of rose we grow will likely dictate the type of pruning it needs. Pruning helps rejuvenate the plant and encourages new growth and flowers. Hybrid teas, old garden roses, shrub roses, once-blooming roses, and English roses are among the different types. They each may have different requirements, but a few general pruning guidelines apply to most. 

    What is pruning?

    According to Illinois Extension, pruning should be looked at as applying a few commonsense principles to do several tasks. Among them: removing dead, damaged, or diseased wood; increasing air circulation; keeping the shrub from becoming a tangled mess; shaping the plant; and encouraging the growth of flowering wood.

    Rose bush pruning steps

    1. Start with proper pruning tools
    2. Prune at the right time
    3. Begin with maintenance cuts
    4. Asses the inside of rose bush
    5. Know how much to remove
    6. Remove suckers and tidy up 


    1. Start with the proper tools

    Sharp, bypass hand pruners and bypass loppers are a must to make clean cuts. They help avoid damaging the plants from chewing and tearing the stems that can result from dull tools. A good pair of gloves will help protect your own skin from getting beat up. Another good rule of thumb when pruning is to have a small container of rubbing alcohol that you dip your pruners into after completing work on one plant and moving to the next. This helps avoid the spreading of diseases

    2. The best time to prune

    This will depend on the region of country and the type of rose, but typically shrub and other roses that flower several times during the season should be pruned in the late winter, around late February, or early March when the plant is still dormant or just as the buds begin to swell and new growth emerges. In some areas, such as colder climates, the recommendation is to prune closer to the last average frost date. Check with your local garden center or county Extension office for the best times in your area. When it comes to old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom only once a year, the pruning time is usually different. Prune them immediately after flowering and not in late winter or early spring because they bloom on wood from the previous year’s growth; pruning in late winter will result in a season with no blooms. Prune by about one-third after they bloom.

    While most pruning needs to occur in late winter or early spring, depending on your region, fall pruning can be implemented to remove any damaged or unsightly growth. Keep the pruning light during the fall and prune around early September to give the plant time to recover before going into the cold weather season. Heavy pruning in the fall makes the plant more susceptible to winter damage. 

    3. Begin with maintenance cuts

    Step back and take a good look at the plant. Are there any dead or damaged canes or stems? Remove these by cutting them to the nearest healthy, outward facing bud. If there are no buds, cut the cane off close to the base of the plant. One way to tell whether the plant has healthy tissue is to look closely at the cane. A healthy plant will have green bark on the outside of the cane with a white pith core that is noticeable after the cut. Live wood on older canes may look brown instead of green so, if unsure, start from the top down and remove a small portion at a time. 

    4. Assess the inside of the rose bush

    What is the growth like inside the rose bush? Are canes massed together? Are canes crossing other canes or growing horizontal? Are the canes becoming thick and woody? Remove any canes that cross over or are rubbing other canes or are growing sideways. Cut them off close to the base of the plant. Nebraska Extension recommends removing up to one-third of the thickest stems. If your plant is relatively new and all the stems on your plant are relatively small, this step may not be needed. For older, overgrown plants, pruning helps open the middle of the plant which aids in good air circulation and helps reduce the risk of disease. 

    5. How much to remove

    After the maintenance cuts of removing diseased or damaged canes and any cross branching, it’s time to look at other cuts. While the more you remove, the shorter the plant will grow, a good rule of thumb is to remove no more than one-half of the plant’s height on any remaining tall stems. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle, about ¼ inch above a healthy bud that is facing toward the outside of the plant. Slant the cut away from the bud so water can run freely off the new cut. This directs new growth outward, which helps keep the inside of the plant open for good air circulation. What you’re looking for is a plant where 5 or 6 canes grow up and out from the bud union, leaving the center of the plant open for good air circulation. 

    6. Remove suckers and tidy up

    On occasion, suckers or new growth appears below the graft union. Sometimes these end up blooming with a totally different type of bloom than your original plant. Remove them and any other debris around your rose bush to reduce the chances of disease and to keep your roses happy and looking neat.