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Pruning a Rose Bush

Step 1

Modern bush roses include cluster-flowered floribundas (pictured) and large-flowered hybrid teas that have been bred for their ability to flower freely on strong new growth made during the current growing season. This means they can be cut down hard every year, in early spring, to keep plants compact. 

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Step 2

Start by pruning out dead wood and any shoots that show signs of damage or disease. How do you recognise dead wood? Cut into it — brown is dead, green with white centres is living. Cut any dead wood or diseased growth back into healthy white wood above a bud. Also remove any suckers, if present, pulling them, rather than cutting them, off the rootstock or the root.

Step 3

Next, thin out the centre of the bush, if needed, to remove congestion and provide good air circulation through the plant. Remove branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other, as well as those growing toward the centre of the plant. The goal is to have upward-reaching branches with an open structure in a vase-like shape. 

Step 4

Always make your cuts close to a healthy bud facing in the direction you wish the new shoot to grow. New stems grow in the direction of the bud and the goal is to encourage them to grow outward, not inward. Make a clean cut without splitting the stems or leaving jagged wounds and take care not to make the cut too far from the bud, because disease may enter the stem and cause dieback. Cuts should be no more than 5mm above a bud. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle sloping away from the bud, to allow water to run off the cut surface and reduce the risk of stem rotting.  

Step 5

Remove any thin, weak or spindly shoots that are unlikely to produce anything worthwhile in terms of growth and flowering potential. The basic rule of thumb is to remove anything thinner than a pencil. 

On older, heavy rose bushes, use loppers to cut out one or two of the oldest stems each year, leaving at least two-thirds of the branches in place. This is referred to as renewal pruning which promotes new growth to develop from the base. 

Step 6

Prune the remaining strong, young, green stems down to about four buds (10-15cm) from the base or from the point where last year’s growth began on hybrid tea roses. On floribundas, prune to about six buds or around 25cm from the base. In both cases, cut to above an outward-facing bud. Shorten back any less vigorous shoots to two to four buds (5-10cm) from the base. Aim to create an open framework about 40cm tall. This will encourage strong new shoots from low down which will bear the best flowers. 

Step 7

This is the same bush rose from the start after pruning has been completed. Never cover cuts on roses with any type of sealant as this creates a humid environment hospitable to pests and diseases. After pruning, make sure to clean up the surrounding area underneath. All leaves and cut branches should be disposed of to remove risk of residual diseases and pests.

Care of roses after pruning 

Roses are hungry plants and will flower and grow better with feeding. Give pruned rose plants a boost by spreading a granular rose fertiliser over the soil and mulch them with a 5cm layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure.


Pruning other Rose Types


Rambling Roses 

Rambling roses flower well in early years without any pruning. However, they need annual pruning once established. After flowering, cut side shoots back by about two-thirds their length. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems right down to the base. Avoid pruning the current year's growth as this will carry next year's flowers. On congested plants, thin excessive growth by removing one in three of the oldest stems entirely. 


Climbing Roses 

When pruning a climbing rose, leave the main framework of stems unpruned, unless they are reaching beyond their supports. Remove dead, diseased or dying branches. Prune any flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length. If the plant is heavily congested, cut out any really old branches from the base to promote new growth. After pruning, tie the stems of your climbing rose to its support, ready for the growing season ahead. 


Shrub roses and species roses 

Shrub and species roses are a large and diverse grouping. They are usually larger than modern bush roses and have thornier stems, often with scented flowers. Unlike modern bush roses, shrub roses generally flower on older wood and should be allowed to develop naturally, maintained by light but regular pruning and with a balance of older wood and young, vigorous growth.  

As a general pruning guide, remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood and prune over-long shoots back to contain size, if necessary, just above a healthy bud in early spring. Remove very old wood at the centre of the plant to let in light and, if growth is slow or flowering is poor, rejuvenate the plant by cutting old stems to the ground to encourage a new flush of growth. Those that only flower once in summer, and don’t offer impressive hips for autumn and winter interest, can be pruned after flowering, shortening side shoots by a third if required. If they become leggy and bare at the base, remove one or two stems back to near ground level, which will usually encourage new growth from the base. For English roses, prune back the previous season’s growths by 30 to 50 percent of their length. 


Groundcover roses 

Most ground cover roses require only light pruning. Hard prune any wayward upright growths to within their allotted space and reduce strong shoots by about one-third. Shorten side shoots back to two or three buds. If they become too large or congested they can be renovated by pruning to near ground level, around 10cm from the base, in late winter. 


Patio and miniature roses 

There is great diversity among patio and miniature roses, but most require only light pruning, usually limited to shortening back any weak growths, removal of dead or twiggy growth, and occasional pruning back of older growths to near soil level to encourage new growth from the base. Vigorous main stems should be reduced by about one-third to a healthy bud or lateral stem.