Rose Feature #4 – Pruning

Rose Feature #4 – Pruning

Above image: An Unpruned Rose

Mid to late winter is the time to prune your Roses.

Roses will respond well to pruning – they will produce much more new growth and you will get many more flowers. Most roses will go completely dormant in winter, however some roses, like the Iceberg Rose will continue to flower on and off throughout the cooler month – it is still okay to prune them when they have a few flowers on them.

It is also worth noting there are a few species such as the Banksia Rose that only flowers once a year (in late winter or spring) so they will require pruning after flowering not during winter.

Why Do You Prune Roses?

The three main reasons to prune roses:

  1. Appearance - Pruning will take away old or dead wood so they will look better and more flowers will be encouraged.
  2. Health – removing any diseased stems and old flowers will help maintain their health and help stop the spread of disease.
  3. Control –Some Rose species will grow wildly everywhere so pruning will help keep them contained.
How do you prune a Rose

Most roses will need to be cut back by about one-third of their pre-pruned size. The first thing to do is step back and take a look at the plant, you should treat each plant individually as they will all have their own unique shape.

Remove unwanted growth such as;

  • Remove the top taller growth on the plant by one third. 
  • Remove any suckers or water shoots – this is the growth from below the bud union or graft point. (Cut down at ground level or base of the stem).
  • Cut out any dead or diseased wood (Cut down at ground level or base of the stem).
  • Cut down any old wood (Cut down at ground level or base of the stem).
  • Check if any stems are crossing over – remove the lesser branch to prevent this from happening.

Shaping of the plant

  • Select three or five healthy stems that can be used to form the framework of the rose bush.
  • Remove any other stems
  • Cut the selected framework branches back to above an outward facing leaf bud. This will encourage the new leaves to grow away from the centre of the plant
Pruning Cuts

Make your pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, about five mm/ half a cm above a leaf bud. Slope the cut down and away on the opposite side away from the centre of the plant. This will mean there is good air circulation through the centre of the plant which in turn will help prevent disease.

Some additional Tips for Rose Pruning
  • I would recommend that when you're pruning the roses you should have some sort of large container or bucket or a wheel barrow close by to put all your cuttings in – the worst thing is finding old rose branches in the garden six months later when your weeding the same area.
  • If you are removing diseased wood on any plants, not just roses you should wipe down your blades between plants. You could wash blades with warm soapy water and then wipe down with tea tree oil, diluted bleach or methylated spirits. Rinse off this then wipe dry. This will stop the spread of disease from one plant to another.
  • If your roses have been badly affected by any insect attack or fungal disease in the past, now is the time to treat them with a Lime Sulphur application. Much to many traditionalist gardener’s opinions I tend to disagree with having to do a preventative spray on any plant. I always hesitate in adding another task to your to do list which is why I put so much importance on giving your roses regular applications of fertiliser to make them stronger plants that will survive an insect or disease attack. Any chemical or pesticides added now as a preventative spray will still require constant applications for them to work properly. I hate spraying plants so maybe if your roses are constantly suffering from pests or disease attack, then it would be better to grow a more suitable plant. In our location I never spray any lime sulphur or for that matter any other pesticide/fungicide and the roses seem to thrive. The reason for this is it’s the right plant for the location.

A leaf bud

A note on Climbing Roses

The timing for pruning a climbing rose can be a little different. If it is a rose that only blooms once a year then trying to prune them after the flowering is best. Once again I would suggest stepping back and looking at the overall shape of the climbing rose first is important, check on where it is growing, where you don’t want it to grow and how you will train it. In the early years the focus should be on training rather than hard pruning. I would remove any dead or diseased wood and any wayward shoots. Then lightly prune stems down by one third. Never prune the main stem as this is providing the structural support for the rose to climb.

A note on China Roses

Many of these roses will only need a light shape after flowering. You will still need to remove dead, diseased or damaged flower.

Pruning Tools for Rose Bushes

When it comes to do any rose pruning or any work in the garden for that matter, you should attempt to have the right tools for the job. These tools can vary between gardeners depending on what you like to use, it all comes down to personal taste. I always like to use the following tools;

Long handed and short handed loppers

The two different lengths in handles allows you to reach into different sections of the rose bush depending on their size. Also, the different thickness or width of the rose stem may require some extra leverage for cutting.

Pruning saw

I use this almost as much as my secateurs. The saw allows you to get into tight areas where your secateurs can’t reach.

Long sleeved gloves

These can protect your arms and clothing from the spiky rose thorns. I have an aversion to spiky plants. It is just not fun to spend all of the day getting spiked in every direction whilst you are trying to do a garden task so wearing some extra protection will definitely help you work a bit quicker.


My Felco No 2 secateurs are my ultimate favourite garden tool of all time! If you speak to many gardeners especially those who garden professionally you will know that a pair of secateurs are a very personalised item, one that I can’t live without. It is the only item in my garden tool kit that I would not share or lend out. I have a strong attachment to mine and they are moulded to my hand shape so much that when you are completing a lot of pruning they feel like an extension of your hand. You always need to ensure they are sharp and the fittings are tightened before you do any large amounts of pruning.

All pruning tools should be sharp before you use them so that the pruning cuts are smooth and clean leaving no jagged finishes to the stem. Using power equipment is not ideal on bush Roses.

Glenice Buck