How to Prune Rose Bushes for Beautiful Results

Cutting back a beautiful rose bush seems counterintuitive, but regular pruning actually encourages new growth, helps shape the plant, and gets rid of dead wood to reduce the risk of fungal disease. While learning how to prune roses takes time and practice, you shouldn’t let that or the thorns deter you.

Rose bushes are extremely hardy and difficult to kill. Plus, most mistakes quickly grow out, which makes trimming rose bushes much more beginner-friendly than it seems. When you know the steps to pruning roses properly, even novice gardeners can achieve fantastic results.

What You Will Need:

Before you begin pruning, you are going to need a few essentials, including:

  • Gardening gloves Make sure to have a good pair of thick gardening gloves prior to pruning. The gloves should extend up your forearms for added protection.
  • Bypass pruning shears Arm yourself with a set of bypass pruning shears for a nice, clean cut.
  • Long-handled loppers Since roses bushes have long, spiny branches riddled with thorns, a pair of long-handled loppers is also a good idea.
  • Heavy pants and a long-sleeve shirt The right clothing will also help keep the thorns from biting you. Thorn pricks can cause a number of different fungal and bacterial infections, so it’s best to avoid them by being careful and wearing protective clothing.

When Should You Prune Roses?

When learning how to trim rose bushes, always remember it’s important to choose the right time of the year. If you’re wondering when to prune roses, the best time to prune is in early spring, just as the first growth is appearing. When the leaf buds begin to swell and turn a reddish-pink hue, it’s time to trim. This could be anywhere from late January to late May depending on your region.

If you prune them too early, the plants will become more vulnerable to frost. However, pruning them too late will remove valuable new growth. That said, as a general rule of thumb, it’s better to trim rose bushes a little late than early or not at all.

It may help to pick a pruning date and mark it on a calendar. Before you do, however, look up your regional hardiness zone for the best estimate on the right time to trim.

While over-pruning and unseasonable weather can still result in problems, there are certain times of year that are best suited to pruning, depending on the zone you’re located in. Those times are:

  • Zone 10: Prune in January
  • Zone 9: Prune in late January or early February
  • Zone 8: Prune in late February or early March
  • Zone 5-7: Prune in late March or early April
  • Zone 3-4: Prune in May

Save for some locations, like mountain elevations, which have sub-climates varying greatly from their surrounding areas, sticking to the guidelines above is generally recommended.

Pruning in Spring

Major pruning should take place after the final frost of the season in early spring. In southern states, this is typically late February to early March. Your roses will also speak to you, but it’s up to you to listen. Whenever they begin to leaf out or bud, it’s time to prune following the steps outlined below.

Pruning in Summer

For most people, learning how to prune roses in summer is not needed. Unless you live in the Arctic, the only pruning you should be doing this time of year is deadheading. Cutting back dead flowers any time in the summer will help maintain a rose shrub’s appearance and encourage more blooming.

Pruning in Autumn

After the first autumn frost, trim down the longer stems to make them less top-heavy and susceptible to winter storms. Any dead or diseased foliage and branches should also be removed; just make sure to clean your shears to keep from transferring disease to other bushes.

Pruning in Winter

In most cases, there’s no need to learn how to prune roses for winter as it will leave your bushes vulnerable to frost. If you live in a warmer climate and do decide to prune during winter, make sure to wait until the very end of the season, closer to spring.

How to Prune Rose Bushes – The Basic Steps

Before you start pruning, bear in mind that it takes a couple of years for a rose bush to become established. Therefore, younger plants only need a lighter trim.

On the same note, you might be surprised at how little rose bushes need pruning. Here are some basic steps to ensure your roses not only survive but thrive.

Step 1 – Remove the Leaves

Removing any remaining leaves will reveal the structure of the rose bush and allow you to see every stem. It will also remove any pests and diseases living on the foliage.

Step 2 – Cut Back Any Dead Wood

When you’re ready to prune, begin with the dead wood, which on rose bushes is most often the brown woody remains of once flowering stalks. Simply cut the dead canes down to the base where the wood is still green.

Step 3 – Open the Rose Bush Up

The next step in pruning a rose bush is opening up the center. You can do this by trimming off any cross branches that can rub together and spread disease. Ultimately, you want your rose bushes to have an open and airy center with plenty of open room between several thick, evenly spaced canes to allow for more air and light.

Step 4 – Remove Smaller Growth

In addition to dead foliage and stalks, any other growth thinner than a pencil should also be removed due to their propensity to bend and inability to support new bud growth.

Step 5 – Prune the Remain Stems

The remaining thicker stems should be cut from the top down at up to half an inch above the first outward-facing bud eye. The bud eye is simply a small bump where a leaf would grow. Cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle above the outward bud eyes to promote outward, rather than inward, growth.

Step 6 – Seal the Cuts

After pruning, fresh cuts should be sealed with glue or a pruning sealer in order to protect the stems from rot.

Step 7 – Clean Up the Area

When finished pruning, clean up the area underneath and surrounding the rose bushes. All of the branches and leaves should be properly disposed of to prevent the spread of pests and disease.

Step 8 – Feed Your Roses

Roses absorb a lot of nutrients and do best when fed with long-lasting fertilizer.


What is the proper way to prune roses?

The proper way to prune roses is to follow the steps above. First, remove the leaves and cut back any dead wood. Then, open up the center of the bush, remove small growth, prune the remaining stems, and seal the cuts.

When should roses be cut back and how much?

The best time to prune is in early spring, just as the first growth is appearing. This could be anywhere from late January to late May, depending on your region. When pruning, thicker stems should be cut back up to half an inch above the first outward-facing bud eye.

How far back can you prune a rose bush?

When pruning an established rose bush, there’s really no need to worry about cutting it back too far. However, as discussed above, a gentle sloping cut made just above an outward-facing bud will help direct new shoots outward for a more open center.

Can you cut rose bushes all the way back?

Yes, but unless you want to wait several seasons for full growth and bloom, it’s best just to follow the steps above.

Still have questions? Visit your local True Value store for helpful advice and to find the pruning equipment needed to transform your roses from just okay to fantastic starting today!