How to prune roses: keep your rose plants healthy

Follow our advice on how to prune roses and enjoy healthier plants with more blooms year after year

how to prune roses
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Learning how to prune roses correctly will make all the difference when it comes to maintaining the health and flowering potential of your rose bushes. Roses are some of the most rewarding garden plants to grow, but they also are prone to disease and loss of shape if they aren't pruned regularly. 

We discuss the best pruning times and methods for all the common garden rose types below, and if you're planning to add more roses to your garden this year then  check out our guide on how to plant bare root roses for more expert tips.

Why should I prune roses?

flowerbed filled with beautiful pink roses

(Image credit: Beth Murton)

Technically, you don't have to prune roses, and some gardeners have healthy bushes that aren't pruned. The main purpose of pruning is to encourage the rose to produce lots of flower buds on a well-spaced framework of branches. At the same time, you should remove crossing and congested branches, as well as all dead and diseased wood. If your rose bushes look healthy, though, there's nothing wrong with just leaving them alone. 

When should I avoid pruning roses?

If the soil is waterlogged, avoid pruning unless you are working on boards. Similarly, don’t prune if the weather is icy or frosty, as the pruning cuts can crush the stems.

Using the best secateurs, always cut to an outward-pointing bud, making a sloping cut about ¼in (6mm) above the bud.

Pruning Bush roses (Hybrid teas, Floribundas and English roses)

After removing dead, diseased or damaged wood, prune hybrid tea stems back to three or four buds above last year’s cut, just above an outward-facing bud.

Floribundas and English roses (the fairly new rose group introduced by breeder David Austin) can be cut back a little less hard to four or six buds above last year’s cut.

How to prune patio and miniature roses

The pruning of these is basically similar to that recommended for bush roses, but tip back the stronger stems to 4-6in (10-15cm) for miniatures, and a little higher for patio roses. Occasionally strong, over-vigorous shoots are thrown up, which spoil the overall look of the plant. Remove these entirely, so that the plant has a balanced framework through the growing season.

Pruning modern shrub roses

As with bush roses, an open centre (to prevent stems from growing inward and rubbing) is ideal. However, it is arguably more important to build up a branching framework with sideshoots that produce flowering ‘spurs’.

Reduce the main stems by around a third, and the sideshoots by a half to two-thirds. Only thin out one or two older stems if necessary.

When is the best time to prune roses? 

Mortimer Sackler climbing rose

(Image credit: David Austin Roses)

The best time to prune roses is late February to late March – most roses are dormant during this time, and pruning later in winter reduces the risk of pruning during a hard frost. Of course, if you live in a place with very cold winters, you may need to wait a little longer, until very late March. The key is not to miss the window between deep winter and spring when your rose will start growing again – you really don't want to prune fresh growth, as that will mean your rose will not bloom that year. 

It is also possible to give roses a lighter prune in late summer, after they've finished flowering. Avoid hard pruning during this time, but you can remove dead or diseased branches and deadhead spent flowers. 

Head over to our guide to pruning shrubs for more top tips on keeping your garden in great shape. 

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