Tips on Rose Pruning


I’ve made countless “mistakes” through the years and the roses always forgive and come back!

You are basically looking for the 3 Ds …

Dead, Damaged and Diseased Canes

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These tips are best for those who live & grow in my zone 5b.

Here in the midwest, it is  difficult to know when winter is really over and it is time to prune. For many years, I have let the forsythia tell me. When the forsythia is blooming, I start pruning. This year a huge cold snap came after the forsythia bloomed, blowing that theory.😁 MOST of the time, the forsythia plan works.

Tools of the trade…

For this task, you will need to wear protective gloves and have a sharp pair of pruners. My choices are Bionic Gloves and Barnel Pruners from Wendy Tilley, owner of The Rose Gardener Garden Shop and Harlane Garden Labels.

Pruning tips for different types of roses…

Hybrid Teas: For hybrid teas, cut out any dead wood and remove the canes that cross the middle to create more air circulation in the center of the plant which can help control fungal disease. It is also good to look for the “dinky” canes. Ones that are too puny to hold up a rose. These roses I will cut back to about 10 – 12″ high to give them a strong start. Note: After a hard winter you may have to go lower … you are looking for a cane with a cream center without brown. Some years I have had to trim down to a couple of inches. Occasionally I lose HTs from winter kill but not very often.

Note: “Where the cane is black, it is NOT coming back!” Remove the black! (I think my friend Gaye Hammond first said that.)

One of the scary terms in rose pruning is “outward facing bud eye.” BUD EYE …. what is that! 😱 A bud eye is simply the swollen area where the leaf joins with the stem and a new cane is formed.

All that means is to cut down to the tiny bud that is on the outside of the cane. Why? It is going to grow outward! If the bud is on the inside of the cane, it is going to cross the middle of the shrub. Keeping the middle more open allows more air circulation. This is helpful especially for the roses that are more susceptible to fungal diseases.

For Hybrid Teas you want to end up with 3-5 of the strongest canes to start your new growing year.



Gemini HT
Gemini HT

Old Garden Roses and Rugosas: To me bigger is better as far as old garden roses are concerned. Seriously, they not only don’t need a lot of pruning, they don’t like it. For one-time blooming roses, unless the wood is dead, do not prune until after they bloom! And, when you prune, just remove the dead and spindly canes and do a bit of shaping. Occassionally it is good to revitalize the shrub by removing the oldest (and usually largest) canes.

Queen of Bourbon
Queen of Bourbon


Roseraie de la Hay Rugosa
Roseraie de la Hay Rugosa

David Austin English Roses:  The last couple of years I have had success with cutting back the English roses to about 1/2 their size – and in the case of a severe winter, the die back will dictate pruning height. This year required they be pruned to a height of only 12″ or so. Of course as always prune away diseased wood, old canes and canes that cross the middle — leaving the center open for better air circulation.

The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild from last summer. Amazing David Austin!
The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild from last summer. Amazing David Austin!

Shrubs & Landscape Roses: These are so easy. I have several Knockout roses, Drift roses, and many amazing shrub roses from Ping Lim’s Easy Elegance series and Proven Winner’s OSO Happy and OSO Easy series. I trim these power bloomers about 1/3 or 1/2 of their size and remove any dead or diseased canes to give them a fresh start. Clean out the middle and remove canes that are crossing and rubbing on other canes. An open middle is a great way to allow more air circulation and therefore less disease! If you find you have a real tangle and feel the bush need a refresh, search through the middle and remove the oldest canes all the way to the base of the plant. Much as you would do with any other shrub. I know. I know. You have heard the words “air circulation” more than a couple of times as you read through these tips … but it’s true! ☺️

Petit Pink from Proven Winners OSO Happy Series ... A David Zlesak rose!
Petit Pink from the Proven Winners OSO Happy collection … A beautiful, healthy shrub rose hybridized by Dr. David Zlesak. 


Quietness Buck Rose

Pruning time!


There are a couple of videos that I recommend you take  a look at for these…

Paul Zimmerman:

Ben Hanna (Heirloom Roses):

Ben’s tips work well for my Jasmina and New Dawn climbers…

NOTE #1:

For my one-time blooming climbers / ramblers like Peggy Martin, I do very little pruning. She has only been in my garden a few years and there may come a time when I will need to do some more exact pruning. But, for now the trimming up the winter die back and any dead canes I see, seems to be enough! I do try to get some “Air Circulation” going! 😂

During open garden day Peggy Martin just couldn’t be stopped. And, became the “place” to have your picture made — prom style!

NOTE #2:

There is no exact science and you can’t do any real damage.  I could write all day and tell you stories of mistakes I’ve made.

Once you have done this a few times and observe your roses before and after, you will come up with your own best practices.

Have a wonderful blooming season!




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