Pruning roses: expert tips on how and when is best
When and how to cut roses? In this article, we will show you how to prune roses correctly and what you should pay attention to when cutting back roses.
Cutting various types of roses (Rosa) is not as difficult as is often assumed. Even hobby gardeners can achieve the perfect rose cut with just a little practice. All you have to do is to be informed about the different growth habits and flowering behaviour of the rose type you are growing in your garden. In this article, we will explain in detail how to cut roses correctly. We will show you what you need to consider when pruning roses, so that your roses grow luxuriantly year after year and produce an abundance of flowers.
When to prune roses?
Roses should be pruned in spring and only if the weather is mild. In areas prone to late frosts and if roses are unprotected from cold, the first cut can be postponed until May. This is because frost can cause damage to the fresh cuttings and the new shoots.
When to cut back roses in summary:
- Pruning: Should be done in spring (March to May), regardless of whether the rose is planted in autumn or spring.
- Annual spring pruning: This can be done on all types of roses and is also done between March and May. How it is done depends on the growth and flowering of the rose. In the following paragraphs, we will explain in detail what this means.
- Annual summer pruning: Summer pruning is limited to the removal of unnecessary shoots and withered flowers. When it comes to deadheading roses, i.e. the removal of withered flowers, there are some differences in how it should be done depending on the rose type.
Tip: A sufficient supply of potassium makes your roses more resistant to cold winter frosts. For example, the beauty of your roses can be strengthened with a dose of our potassium-rich fertiliser. Even during lukewarm winters, which are often followed by sudden cold spells in spring, you should cover the young, sensitive shoots with some sort of winter protection.
How to prune roses?
These basic rules should be followed when cutting roses:
- Use sharp scissors for a smooth cut
- Always cut above an outward pointing bud
- Cut about 5 mm above the bud so that it is not damaged
- To prevent diseases cut at an angle so that water can run off the wound
Tip from a professional: Roses have the so-called buds on their shoots, from which side shoots can develop. In roses these buds can be easily recognised: they form a kind of inverted “V” or a rounded base of the soon-to-be shoot.
Pruning roses when planting
Pruning roses can help promote good rooting of the plant and ensure an even balance between the underground roots and above-ground shoots. If you plant your rose plant in autumn, postpone pruning until spring. If you plant in spring, pruning can be done immediately. Here are a few small and simple rules to follow:
- Root pruning: Shorten the roots to a length of about 20 – 30 cm below the grafting point. This stimulates the branching of the roots and the rose will grow quicker.
- In shrub and wild roses, all shoots should be shortened by half so that they are about 40 cm long.
- Climbing roses are cut back to 10 buds above the ground.
- All other roses should be shortened to 3 – 5 buds above the ground.
- You can use these rose pruning rules also when planting roses. By slightly pruning roses when planting them, you can promote healthy growth and rooting of the freshly planted rose plant.
Cutting roses in spring
Spring is the best time to prune all roses. The following three basic rules apply to all types of roses, according to which the basic pruning is carried out:
- Removing dead wood: Dry and withered wood is removed close to the transition to healthy wood or, if necessary, right at the base.
- Removing thin and diseased shoots: These rob the healthy and stronger shoots of the strength to flower. They are completely removed at the base of the plant or at their origin on a stronger shoot.
- Thinning out shoots that grow too densely: If the shoots are too close together, the one with the weaker growth or less favourable direction of growth should be removed. In this way, the air circulation in the rosebush can be improved, thus preventing rose diseases, such as mildew on roses.
These are the basic rules for the most primitive type of pruning. Pruning can then be also individualised to the needs of your specific plant – depending on what kind of rose you are growing to promote healthy growth and abundant blooming. This will be explained in the following.
Tip: An exception is the group of ground cover roses. These are not cut with this basic cut explained above.
We have summarised the correct pruning technique for each rose group for you:
|Type of roses||Pruning in spring|
|Heritage and old garden roses||Only the basic pruning described above is carried out on old and heritage garden roses. If necessary, dense or rotten shoots are removed at the base.|
|Once flowering climbing roses and ramblers (flowering in June and July, then declining)||In the case of climbing roses that bloom once, only the basic cut described above is carried out. If necessary, dense or rotten shoots can be removed at the base.|
|Once flowering shrub roses|
(flowering in June and July, decreasing thereafter)
|For once blooming shrub roses, only the basic pruning described above is carried out. If necessary, dense or rotten shoots can be removed at the base.|
|Wild roses||For wild roses, only the basic cut described above is carried out. If necessary, dense or rotten shoots can be removed at the base.|
|More often flowering shrub roses|
(flowering June - September)
|In the case of more frequently flowering shrub roses, light thinning out is carried out as required by removing whole shoots. Every 4 - 5 years, older shoots should be removed directly above the ground.|
|Ground cover roses||Ground cover roses should not be pruned annually. Every 3 - 4 years, they are trimmed to a height of about 30 cm without regard to their buds. Use a hedge trimmer to prune them.|
|Tree roses||The crowns of the tree roses are cut back to 3 - 5 buds above the grafting point.|
|Hybrid tea roses||Hybrid tea roses are pruned to 3 - 5 buds above the ground. Weakly developed shoots are cut back more thoroughly than the strongly developed ones.|
|English roses||Depending on the flowering habit of the English roses, they should be pruned in the same way as once or more often flowering shrub roses.|
|More often flowering climbing roses|
(flowering June - September)
|After the first flowering in spring, the side shoots growing on the long shoots are shortened to 3 - 5 buds. Only old, long and rotten shoots are removed completely at the base.|
|Garden bed roses||Cut back to 3 - 5 buds above the ground. Weakly developed shoots can be removed. Keep the more strongly developed shoots. Extremely strong growing varieties (like 'Gloria Dei') are not cut back quite as deep (6 - 9 buds above the ground), dwarf roses are cut back thoroughly (2 - 3 buds above the ground).|
|Hanging or trailing roses||Hanging or trailing roses are treated as once or more often flowering climbing roses, depending on their flowering behaviour.|
Cutting roses in summer
No other major pruning operations are carried out in summer. What you can do is remove wilted rose flowers. Here, too, each removal should be done above the buds that point outwards. This promotes growth and further formation of flowers.
Tip: If you want to keep rose hips as a bright spot of colour in the garden or as food for the birds, you should not remove withered inflorescences from once blooming roses, as no further flowers will be formed. With roses that bloom continuously, you should not cut off the flowers in late summer, so that the rose hips can form.
Rose hips are an amazing natural source of vitamin C. If you would like to boost your immune system, you should definitely keep the withered flowers of roses on the plant and then make some tea from rose hips in autumn. You can learn more about fruit rich in vitamin C here.
Identifying side shoots on roses and removing them
In spring and summer, grafted roses – i.e. almost all garden roses – might have a side shoot growing out of their rootstock. Unnecessary side shoots, sometimes referred to as wild shoots, can be easily recognised by their smaller, lighter leaves. They also have at least seven or more leaves on a pinnate leaf, whereas grafted varieties usually have five leaves on the pinnate leaf.
Cutting roses in autumn and winter?
In autumn and winter there is not much to do in rose care. We do not recommend pruning roses in autumn or winter, mainly because this might stimulate the formation of new shoots. These young shoots would then be defenceless against the cold. However, what can be done during winter in terms of rose care is winter protection. To protect your roses from cold, cover the grafting point with a small heap of soil, mulch or with fir branches. Of course, correct fertilisation is essential to keep roses resilient in winter. To do this, use organic rose fertilisers that are rich in potassium in autumn.