Pruning Roses - The Basics

Pruning in warm and cold climates

Different types of pruning are required in places having warm and cold climatic conditions. Usually, the roses grow somewhat large in the warm climates and it is not desirable to prune the plants to specific (very low) heights, because that will actually take away a lot of the plant. As an alternative, you may cut back the roses to about half or two-thirds of their original height every winter or during the start of spring. Ideally, this can be achieved by getting rid of the older canes (shoots) and cutting back the other ones. On the other hand, plants growing in cold climates undergo lot of damages during the winter and, therefore, their pruning height should be determined according to the winterkill. Prune the canes to such a height that no sign of winter damage remains on the plant. You should do this even if this means bringing the plant almost to the level of the ground.

Here is an important fact. The higher a rose is pruned, the sooner it will bloom. However, while pruning your roses, you need to be cautious that you do not put the plant's health and vitality at risk by cutting it back very high only to let the plant bloom a few days in advance. In fact, pruning the roses a little lower than the heights recommended above has a few advantages. Dissimilar to the pruning technique called disbudding, perhaps it will not allow the roses to bear bigger blooms.

Preventing disease

While fungal diseases like black spot are visible on the leaves, the spores of these plant diseases possess the ability to survive on the rose canes throughout the winter. In case your roses were troubled by these fungal diseases in the summer before, it is important that you prune these canes even to lesser heights than what has been suggested. This will help you to cut away as well as dispose of most of the cause of the problem. While the spores of these diseases are not visible on the rose canes, what is certain that pruning some additional inches of the plant in spring will somewhat lessen the quantity of these spores. You should be careful not to allow any rose pruning to remain on the ground. They not only make your garden look ugly, but also host several diseases and pests, which may possibly infect the plant again and spread the infection to other plants.

When to seal cuts

You can seal the cuts made during pruning that are over an inch across using a pruning compound called orange shellac or even grafting wax, which are sold at the garden centers as well as hardware stores in your neighbourhood. This is essential if the plants in your area are plagued by boring insects. You should be aware that both orange shellac as well as pruning compound are very easy to use, as you can paint them on the cut area. Some gardeners also use a variety of white colored glue to seal the cut areas, but they are not effective. These glues are water-soluble and, hence, washed away when you water the plants or with the first rain. Hence, it is advisable that you never use these types of glues to seal the pruning cuts.

Timely inspection after initial pruning

After the pruning is over, it is important to inspect the plants. In fact, many weeks after the pruning, you should go all over your garden with your pruning shears. In case the pruning was done quite early, it is possible that the plants may have suffered some damages due to frosts. For instance, a frost occurring late in the season may have resulted in slight dieback on a number of rose canes you pruned earlier. You need to get rid of all such dieback as soon as possible. In addition, some cankers were not visible during pruning and these may have become apparent later. You also need to get rid of them.

At the same time, ensure that you are not very ruthless while cutting back young plants. You should only do away with the scrawny, damaged canes and dead wood from trees that are yet to establish themselves or have not grown energetically for at least two to three years. You can give these young plants your desired shape or shorten them by just removing the older or mature canes. You can cut away the older canes in the subsequent years when more new canes have emerged.

Tips for pruning tall plants

Here are a few guidelines for pruning relatively taller plants. Soon after pruning the plants, you will see new growth emerging just under the pruning cut. It is important to remember this particularly when you are cutting back larger, unkempt plants.

In case you want a rose about 6 feet tall, you need to cut a climber that is directed to cover a part of a 8 feet long fence, you should cut back the plant to a lesser size that you desire, so that there is scope for new growth. On the other hand, if you want a rose shrub about 6 feet tall, you need to prune the plant up to a height of 4 feet. You need to bear in mind that the growth rates of different plants vary and, hence, you should assess your pruning consistent with the past behaviour of a plant.

How to prune roots

In addition to cutting back the plant tops, you can also prune its roots. When you are planting or transplanting a rose bush, you need to first cut away the damaged or broken roots of the plant. At the same time, get rid of roughly 1/3 of the canes from their top with a view to make up for the plant's root loss. Ahead of you transplanting a big rose bush, it would be prudent to cut back its roots using a spade. To accomplish this, you need to dig a circle around the rose bush with the spade. Ideally, this should be done anytime between one to six months before you transplant the rose bush, as this will make the root ball further compact. In addition, this will also make it easier to move the plant.


Right tools are an absolute essential for proper pruning of the plants. However, when we talk about right tools, it does not mean you have to invest substantially to purchase them. While there may be times when you will require a chainsaw to prune a rugosa rose which is about 50 years old, generally the tools you would be requiring include an ordinary hand-held secateurs or pruning shears. To prune a large old rose cane, you may be requiring a pair of lopping shears with long handles.

Various different designs of pruning shears are available in the market and they come in a wide price range. It is certainly delightful to use a meticulously crafter pair of pruning shears whose blades are kept sharp. On the other hand, an inferior type pruning shears will only aggravate your problems, as it will neither cut easily or cleanly. In fact, if you have one such pair of pruning shears, you will need to replace it very soon and get one that is well-built. Some good quality pruning shears are sold along with replaceable parts. In fact, the hook-and-blade type that come with two curved blades opposing each other, is considered to be the best all-round pruning shears available.

In addition to the above, a little hand-held pruning saw may also prove to be an important tool for cutting back your roses. This tool comes with thin, sharp blades that are wonderful for accessing areas that are difficult to reach and remove the branches that may be comparatively large for the pruning shears to deal with. Usually, majority of these types of saws cut the branches on pull stroke. If you want to undertake delicate work on relatively smaller wood, it is advisable that you use a sharp knife with a thin blade. Often this will prove to be the ideal tool for such purpose. Moreover, a knife is not only light, but can also be manoeuvred easily. It can also make clean and smooth cuts.

Various different types of pruning shears are available in the market for working on your roses and two of them are discussed briefly below.

Anvil shears: These are meant for general purpose and come with a straight blade that works on a blunt surface. This type of shears is not very desirable because they often squash the stems while cutting. As a result, the damaged stems may die back or be susceptible to diseases as well as insect invasions. However, they are just the right tool for removing dead wood from your roses.

Looping shears: These are heavy-duty shears and come with short blades. As their handles are comparatively long, they can easily cut the chunky canes and are also effective in pruning outsized, old garden roses, shrubs as well as climbers.

Perhaps the only other tool, if you desire to call it so, that you will be requiring for pruning your roses are gloves. In fact, any effort to prune a rose bush without wearing suitable gloves is simply insensitiveness. When you do this, there is no doubt that your hands will be injured by the rose prickles and bleed. What is worse is that needle-thin rose thorns may also get imbedded into the skin while working without gloves. If you do not get rid of such rose thorns immediately, they will not only agonize you, but also make you remember your stupidity for days.

Here is a word of caution. Never prune your roses with hedge clippers. This is not recommended even if your roses are being grown in the form of a hedge. Hedge clipper are basically meant for general shearing and not for the careful pruning required by your roses.

Just owing the right pruning tools is not enough; you also need to ensure that they are always clean and sharp. If the blade of your pruning shears becomes blunt, they will make your job even difficult and leave irregular cuts that will not only heal sluggishly, but also make the plants vulnerable to diseases and invasions by insects. In case you find that your pruning tools' blades have become dull, you need to touch them up with sharpening steel. On the other hand, you can use a file to sharpen hone saw blades. Alternatively, you can get your tools sharpened by a professional. If it is compulsory, buy new tools to replace the old ones.

At the same time, ensure that your pruning tools are always clean, because contaminated saws and shears can infect the plants. Clean your pruning shears, saws and knives by rubbing alcohol, as this will help to disinfect the tools. Alternatively, you can make a disinfecting solution by adding one part of domestic bleach to nine parts of water. You can dip your tools into the solution for a while to disinfect them. Subsequently, use a clean cloth to wipe the tools dry irrespective of the disinfectant you use.

If you are residing in a place where the humidity is relatively high, wipe the pruning shears and saws after every use to keep them dry. Also ensure that you keep the tools in plastic bags to avoid rusting. You can also prevent rusting by rubbing a little oil on the blades. However, pruning shears that come with non-stick coating blades are unlikely to rust easily, but the bolt and screws that hold the blades together may still be susceptible to rusting.


©2002-2023 herbs2000.com