How to Prune Roses of Every Type to Maximize Blooming and Color

Keep your rose shrubs, climbers, heirlooms, or modern hybrid roses looking their best with these time-tested tips for trimming back your roses each year.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Roses have a reputation for being difficult to prune. But don't let their prickly limbs and sometimes unruly growth habits intimidate you into believing this misconception. Once you've learned the simple step-by-step process for how to prune roses, you might look forward to your rose pruning tasks as a relaxing activity. Plus, you'll see almost immediate rewards, such as an expanded yield of blooms throughout the season; healthier, more long-lived plants; and a much more elegant-looking garden. So pull on a thick pair of gauntlet gloves, grab your favorite pruning shears, and keep these tips in mind while clipping back your roses.

detail of rose bush cane getting pruned
Blaine Moats

When to Prune Roses

Plan to give your roses a good pruning at least once a year. For once-blooming rose varieties, wait until early summer to prune them just after they've bloomed. They can be shaped up a little more in late summer, but beyond that, pruning healthy stems (also called canes) will reduce the number of blooms you get next year.

For most other types of roses, the best time to prune them is in late winter or spring, right after your last frost date. You'll want to track your local weather forecast because late frosts can vary by weeks or even months from year to year. Though it's not something to stress over, optimal timing will help prevent injury to your plants and save you from having to prune out new cold damage repeatedly.

red roses in garden
Laurie Black

How Much to Prune Back Roses

There are a few different approaches to pruning roses, depending on what you want to get out of them and what type of rose they are. Newly planted roses should be only lightly pruned during their first year so they can spend more energy on establishing strong roots instead of growing stems and leaves.

You can experiment with these three styles for older, healthy roses.

Light pruning removes less than a third of the plant. If a rose has a nice natural shape with good bloom and little disease, you can be very selective about your cuts.

Moderate pruning cuts the plant to 18 to 24 inches high with five to 12 canes from the base. Do this if you want to improve the branching structure of your plants, which will encourage new growth and better flowering.

Severe pruning takes roses to 6 to 10 inches in height and three to five canes. It's ideal for long-stemmed flowers like classic hybrid teas or to refresh any older plants that aren't performing well. Remember that some varieties may not bloom well right after being cut back this much. Instead, they may focus on regrowing stems that may not bloom until the following year, even if the rose would typically repeat bloom all season.

Climbing roses are an exception. If they've gotten overgrown, you can drastically reduce their overall size by removing excess canes at the base of the plant, but you should leave at least three to five canes, and don't cut them shorter than 5 feet.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Gardening gloves
  • Pruners
  • Rake
  • Cardboard box or dustpan


  • White glue (optional)


pruned rose bush cane angled cut
Blaine Moats

How to Prune Roses, Step by Step

Even after you decide how much you want to prune your roses, it can seem complicated to know where to start. Use the following steps to guide what you should remove in order of priority. Make all final cuts at a 45-degree angle above an outward-facing bud eye, pictured above. You don't need to seal most cuts because the plant will take care of that itself, but some gardeners like to use a dab of white glue on cut surfaces to help prevent disease and pest problems such as cane borers.

As you work through these cuts, remember that roses are vigorous plants that are hard to hurt. In most cases, new growth will quickly repair any mistakes you make. When you're all done, it's time for what may be the most difficult part: clean up. Raking clippings into a large makeshift dustpan, such as a cardboard box, is the easiest way. Then, you can step back and watch your roses thrive and bloom for another year.

  1. Remove Dead Parts

    Remove dead branches and canes. Cut back to live wood; it usually looks green on the outside.

  2. Prune Branches

    Prune diseased or damaged branches back to healthy wood.

  3. Remove Crossed Branches

    Clip away branches that cross through the center of the plant.

  4. Clear Weak Growth

    Remove any growth that is much thinner or weaker than the rest.

  5. Remove Suckers

    Remove suckers from the base of grafted roses.

  6. Eliminate Old Growth

    Take out older woody growth, unless it would thin out the plant too much.

  7. Prevent Rubbing

    If any remaining branches rub against each other, cut away the smaller ones.

  8. Shape Plants

    Shape plants to taste, adjusting the overall height and width. Shaping the plant's top into a rounded dome rather than a flat top encourages flowering from top to bottom.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What tools do I need to prune roses?

    The exact tools you need to prune your roses will depend on the size and type of rose bush you have. Some smaller or more delicate rose bushes can be trimmed using only pruners, while others need more hefty gear like electric hedge trimmers. In addition, you'll want to wear gloves to protect yourself against painful thorns.

  • What happens if I don't prune my roses?

    Leaving your rose bush to fend for itself instead of regularly pruning it can ultimately lead to its demise. Rose bushes thrive on care and will be more productive and healthy with regular pruning. A lack of pruning can lead to more incidence of disease, pests, and fungus.

  • Can I cut back an overgrown rose bush to the ground?

    As a general rule of thumb, you should not prune your rose bush back more than 1/3 to 1/2 of its overall size. Doing so can cause the plant to go into shock, often leading to an untimely death.

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