How to prune roses

Pruning and cutting back your roses is not as hard as you think and needs to be done once a year, at least, in time for spring. Here's everything you need to know...

rose pruning advice
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The rose, Rosa, is likely one of the most recognisable flowers out there. Heavily petalled, bearing fragrant flowers and thorns (lots of thorns), – whatever type of rose you have – it’s a stunning and hardy plant that will bloom year after year. While they don’t require much upkeep – a sunny spot, moist but well-drained soil – they do require our attention, on occasion. Pruning. 

Removing a significant portion of the previous year’s (or even two years previous) growth helps direct the rose's energy, making way for new growth and for an even more stunning display come spring and summer. It’s an annual ‘event’ shall we call it, and in essence, pruning is a process of renewal that will allow your rose(s) to bloom bigger and better than ever. 

There's a huge variety of roses out there, and therefore a few different methods for specific cultivars. This method will advise you more specifically on how to prune ‘English’ shrub roses that are repeat-flowering, but what we cover can be applied to most roses, even the ones that you don't know the name of!

For more garden ideas check out our hub and otherwise, put your gardening gloves on. 

What is the best time to prune roses? 

You should prune roses between February and March. This is considered the dormant season, which is late winter. As it’s recommended that you wait until the final frost, you may need to prune closer to March if you’re in a colder part of the country.

How do you prune roses for the winter?

You can prune roses at different times of the year, although this should be considered as more of a ’tidy’ and it’s usually best done in early winter. You may have heard of ‘deadheading’, simply the removal of spent flowers, and this is the main job here. Whether you need to prune your roses ahead of winter really depends on the cultivar of rose you have and whether it gives a single flush of flowers through the year or if it is repeat-flowering so be sure to double check.

The benefits of rose pruning

Pruning roses will: 

  • Improve overall plant health;
  • Improve flower quality and yield;
  • Tidy up the bush to the desired shape;
  • Improve internal airflow.

How to prune roses

These are the tools you'll need when cutting back your roses:

For the best result, when you come to prune your roses in the dormant season, you want to cut back the growth by a third. This may seem like a lot, but it will give the plant a clean and simple structure which will ultimately encourage fuller re-growth. In all, you want to achieve a balanced looking plant with both older and younger wood, so take care and follow our lead…

  1. Start by removing the upper third of the rose (last year’s growth);
  2. Move on to the remove any of the present 3Ds (please see below);
  3. Remove any crossing stems or canes;
  4. Remove any twiggy-like growth that won’t bud;
  5. Cut out any inwards facing branches or leggy stems;
  6. If the centre of the rose is looking a little bare, you can take out a cane or two close to ground level and this will encourage growth.

How to cut back roses

  • Be sure to prune about 5mm above buds that are facing outwards as this will direct the growth in the right direction.
  • Make a clean cut at a 45º sloping (away from bud) angle so that rainwater doesn't stay stagnant which can cause rot and disease.
  • Lookout for and tend to the 3Ds. These stand for: dead, damaged and diseased.