from the archives:

It’s time to prune your roses! The following is by no means an exhaustive how-to. But ample for ensuring a healthy start to the rose season. Refer to this article throughout the summer when maintenance pruning will encourage new growth and bloom, remove dead wood, improve air circulation and provide a pleasing plant shape. Maintenance pruning should not be tackled past August.


  • Do not prune non-recurrent old fashioned or once-blooming Roses ’til after bloom-time or you’ll lose the flowers.
  • Do not prune newly-planted Roses, other than dead wood, and be very conservative when pruning Roses that have been in the ground for only a year.
  • “Knockout” Roses are an exception on many fronts.  I’ve noted successful fall pruning with little or no die-back.  If you wish to maintain a thick, rounded shrub form, which is what these easy-care Roses do, then merely reducing to a manageable size and shaping as you please is required.
For all other classes of roses:
  • Keep pruners clean, sharp and well-oiled. It’s always good practice to dip pruners in alcohol before moving to a new plant.
  • Wear durable gloves and long sleeves! The thorns don’t get you, you get them, though it seems otherwise.
  • Remove debris (leaves, etc) from around the plant.
  • Look at the entire plant, but begin pruning by looking first at the base. You’ll make better decisions that way. Make cuts at a 45 degree angle, about 1/4 inch above a leaf bud that faces to the outside of the plant. See image below. Too much above leaves an unsightly stub. Too close to the bud means it won’t develop.
  • Cuts must be clean, not ragged. Hence sharp pruners!!
  • Remove all dead, diseased wood (branches that look black, shriveled, mottled). The pith (interior) of the branch at the cut should be white…if discolored, prune lower to find white pith.
  • Remove any branches that are thinner than a pencil.
  • Remove sucker growth below the graft.pruningcuts
  • Remove any foliage that remains on the newly-pruned bush. This is important to ensure that any latent infection is not carried forward.
  • Plan to prune 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the bush. Remember that you’ll always wish you’d pruned more aggressively once the bush hits its stride.
  • Once you’re done, step back and look at the plant. If you think it’s still too congested at its center, remove more canes so that air will circulate well. If you’re pruning a shrub rose,create a desirable shape.
  • Scratch compost (manure, mushroom compost, household compost) into the soil around each rose. I mulch my rose beds with mushroom compost.


Developing technique takes practice, but remember that you’re not likely to kill the plant if you make a mistake…and once the weather warms, your roses will grow like crazy anyway.
“You are responsible forever, for what you have tamed.   You are responsible for your Rose.”   Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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