Pruning Roses - February 18, 2015
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

While yearly pruning is unnecessary on most ornamental trees and shrubs, most roses truly benefit from proper, purposeful pruning each year. On roses, pruning keeps the plant healthy, promotes new growth, removes dead, broken or diseased canes, and/or trains the plant to a desired shape. Most importantly, pruning encourages flowering, either more blooms or larger blooms, and prolongs the blooming season.

Roses need different types and timing of pruning depending on their variety. Repeat blooming roses such as floribunda and hybrid tea roses benefit from a heavy annual pruning that is done in the spring, just as the buds break dormancy. The best way to judge when to prune is to look at the buds; when they begin to swell, go ahead and prune. Old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom only once a year should be pruned immediately after flowering. Do not prune these types of roses heavily in the early spring since they bloom on wood from the previous year’s growth. Dead, diseased or damaged wood on any rose should be removed as soon as it is detected.

You will need clean, sharp tools: bypass-type hand pruners, loppers, and possibly a small pruning saw for larger cuts. When pruning, keep the hand pruners and loppers in a container filled with 70% isopropyl alcohol. This will sanitize them when not in use to minimize disease transmission. Durable gloves will help protect your hands from thorns.

Certain pruning techniques are appropriate for all roses. The first step in pruning roses is the same for all rose types. Remove all dead, damaged or weak stems leaving only the most vigorous, healthy canes. When pruning, check to make sure the stems show no sign of discoloration. The center of the canes (rose stems) should be white and plump, not brown and withered. If they appear diseased, you will need to cut farther down into healthy wood. If no live buds remain, remove the entire cane.

Prune the bush to make it more open in the center. This will increase air circulation and help prevent diseases. Individual canes should also he “headed” back to the appropriate outwardly growing bud. Make a cut ¼ inch above the bud and angled at the same angle as the bud. Whenever two canes contact and cross each other, one should be removed.

Old blooms left on the plant may begin to form hips (rose fruit). Hips are often very attractive and can be left on some roses for winter interest and bird food. Hybrid tea roses and other roses that can rebloom should not be allowed to form hips, so that the plant will put its energy into flowering. This is called “deadheading”. To deadhead, remove the flower by making a diagonal cut just above the first leaf with five leaflets (you may cut lower if the plant needs to be shorter). This should be above a strong bud that will produce a healthy new cane.

Prune floribunda and hybrid tea roses harder if you want large blooms suitable for cut flowers. This will produce fewer total blooms, but will produce a higher quality cut flower. In the spring, cut out all but three to five of the healthiest, most vigorous canes. Prune these canes down to 15 to 18 inches from ground level. Keep any weak, small or short stems pruned away. Generally with hybrid teas, any cane thinner than a pencil should be removed.

Old-fashioned rambling roses and one-time spring-blooming climbers produce best shoots growing off one-year-old wood, and they should not be pruned until after they flower. Cut away all weak or damaged stems and remove the oldest canes, leaving five to seven strong canes untouched. Remember that flowers are produced on stems at least one year old on most running or climbing roses. The stems that you leave will bear next year’s flowers. Climbers that bloom on the current season’s growth can be pruned more severely.

It seems like there are so many rules, but rose pruning doesn’t need to be difficult. Follow the guidelines provided above, do your pruning, and observe the resulting growth and bloom. I have included additional printed and video resources below.

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Additional Resources

Pruning Roses
Oregon State University Cooperative Extension

Rose Culture
Washington State University Cooperative Extension

How to Prune Hybrid Tea Roses, Fine Gardening Magazine.

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: February 13, 2015
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