Learn these easy pruning basics to keep your plants blooming throughout the season.

Is there anything more fragrant than a newly blooming rose? For many years we avoided planting roses in favor of other flowers, but once we added our first plant, there was no looking back. Not only do our roses provide some of the nicest blooms in our raised bed garden, they bring us more pleasure than we could have anticipated thanks to their gorgeous color and dreamy smells. They’re also easier to grow than we thought.

The main yearly task is a good pruning. Without this, our plants would grow leggy and produce smaller, sickly-looking blooms. Luckily it doesn’t take long. And guess what? Pruning happens in late winter or early spring, when the rest of the garden is dormant. That’s when we’re itching to get outside, so we look forward to the job. We also consider it the opening of flower-gardening season.

Do you have to prune roses?

If you want your roses to thrive, pruning is an easy task that takes just a few minutes per plant.
It not only promotes healthy growth, but also ensures your roses bloom with radiant beauty. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll demystify the process of pruning, providing you with the knowledge and confidence to nurture your roses into flourishing displays.

What kinds of roses need pruning?

While all roses benefit from a yearly pruning, knowing what type of rose you’re dealing with will help you target your efforts to your rose’s needs. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we love climbers, floribundas, grandifloras, English and shrub roses for a variety of shapes and uses in the garden. Which are your favorites?

English roses

David Austin English rose

English roses bred by David Austin combine the beauty of old garden roses with the longevity of new varieties. Image by Beverly Buckley from Pixabay

English roses, created by rose breeder David C.H. Austin, represent a distinct category of roses that meld the charming characteristics of traditional old garden roses with the repeat-flowering and diverse color palette of modern roses. English roses sport classic, cup-shaped blooms and often have a strong fragrance reminiscent of traditional roses. With their bushy and shrub-like growth, they are suitable for mixed borders, cottage gardens, or as standalone specimens, contributing to a romantic and nostalgic atmosphere. Some varieties may also have a climbing or shrub habit, though this is less common.

  • Pruning goals: Aim for a robust and flourishing plant with substantial blooms. English roses are admired for their classic and aesthetically pleasing forms. Pruning allows gardeners to shape the roses according to their preferred style, whether it’s a more formal shape or a natural, cottage-garden appearance.

Hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras

floribunda rose

Floribunda roses come in a wide array of colors. Photo by Caroline Ashley on Unsplash

These roses are known for their large, pointed blooms on long stems. Available in a broad color palette, hybrid teas bring vibrancy to the garden as well as indoors, as cut flowers. Choose from fragrant and non-fragrant varieties. Hybrid teas have been popular since their introduction in France in the mid 19th century, combining the elegance of classic roses with the desirable traits of repeat flowering and distinctive bloom form. Floribundas (a cross between hybrid teas and polyantha roses) emerged in the mid 1900s, offering compact growth, continuous blooming, and diverse color range. Grandifloras (a cross between hybrid teas and floribundas) came soon after and feature large, elegant blooms arranged in clusters.

  • Pruning goals: Focus on emphasizing shape for the strongest and largest blooms, removing dead wood, and encouraging strong, new growth. Hybrid teas do best when pruned to resemble a vase (or ‘v’) shape, which provides air circulation and base support.

Climbing roses

pink climbing rose

Climbing roses need support and regular pruning, like many other rose varieties. Photo by Dmytro Glazunov.

Climbing roses feature long canes that can be trained to ascend walls, trellises or arbors. Use to cover an unsightly area or to convey a cottagecore vibe, but keep in mind that climbing roses and rambling roses are different: rambling roses generally flower once, early in summer, while climbers flower all season long. Our first climber was a Kiftsgate rose. Twenty years later it still blooms throughout summertime.

  • Pruning goals: Focus on managing sprawling growth, removing old canes and shaping to maintain an attractive climbing form. Formative pruning includes training branches around pillars or across trellises, and tipping main stems to encourage side shoots if they are slow to branch.

Shrub roses

orange colored shrub rose

Shrub roses can bloom all summer long. Photo by Dina Nasyrova.

Compact and versatile, shrub roses offer a wide range of colors and flower forms. In the summer, we cut back finished flowers every few days, ensuring a continuous display of non-stop blooms right through the season. If the plant slows down, a further trim will promote vigorous new growth. While many shrub roses have little fragrance, some new varieties offer beautiful fragrance. Grow in the ground or in raised garden beds.

  • Pruning goals: Trim shrub roses to maintain a balanced shape, remove weak or crossing branches, and encourage robust, bushy growth.

Miniature roses

Prune miniature roses to keep their compact, bushy shape. Image by michigon from Pixabay

Small in stature but big in charm, miniature roses typically grow between six inches to two feet in height, making them ideal for small gardens, containers, raised beds and even indoor settings. Despite their size, miniature roses produce an abundance of small, perfectly formed blooms in a variety of colors, and they often share the same fragrance as their larger relatives. With their versatility, adaptability, and continuous blooming nature, miniature roses prove that good things come in small packages.

  • Pruning goals: Precision pruning helps maintain their compact size, remove spent blooms, and stimulate continuous flowering.

Step-by-step instructions for pruning roses

Keeping in mind the notes above on specific types of roses, follow these general guidelines when pruning roses.

Removed diseased, dying or dead stems.

Now is the time to take out stems that inhibit growth or spread disease. In addition, remove skinny stems (thinner than a pencil), since these are too weak to support most roses. Miniature roses are the exception, though you can still choose to remove the weakest stems.

cutting out dead wood

Pruning out dead wood keeps plants healthy and strong.

Remove branches facing inward.

Branches facing towards the center of the bush are known as ‘crossing’ branches. Removing these will help open up your rose’s growth habit, providing the air circulation necessary to minimize disease and pests.

gloved hand pruning rose

Prune out inward-facing branches for an open plant shape.

Cut above an outward facing bud.

To prevent the crossing branches discussed above, make sure all your shaping cuts are above an outward-facing bud or node. This signals to the rose that you want it to grow outward. Cut slanted or straight across–there’s little difference.

Make cuts above an outward facing bud to retain a rose’s open shape.

If pruning a climbing rose, tie up new shoots.

Fasten new shoots to your climbing support. Prune flowered side shoots back by two thirds. If side shoots are slow to grow, remove tips of main stems.

For most other varieties, cut back tall stems by about one third

For hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, and English roses, cut back tall stems by about one third to further shape your rose bush. Cut shrub roses slightly less than one third, since growth is slower.


Add some all-purpose organic fertilizer, compost, or earthworm castings by scratching lightly into the surface of the soil. Be sure not to damage roots.

worm compost around roses bush

Give roses a dose of complete fertilizer or compost after pruning.

Frequently asked questions

When is the best time to prune roses?
The optimal time to prune roses is typically in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. However, this may vary depending on your local climate. In colder regions, wait until the last frost has passed, while in warmer areas, pruning can begin earlier in the year.

How much should I prune my roses?
The amount of pruning depends on the type of rose. As noted above, for hybrid tea, floribunda, English and grandiflora roses, aim to remove about one-third of the plant’s overall height. Shrub and miniature roses generally require less pruning, focusing on shaping and removing dead or weak wood. Follow guidelines above for best results.

Can I use regular pruning shears for rose pruning?
Use sharp, clean pruning shears designed for roses. Bypass pruners are preferable as they make clean cuts, reducing the risk of damaging the plant. Wear gloves to protect your hands, and sterilize the pruners between plants to prevent spreading disease.

How do I revive an overgrown or neglected rose bush?
If your rose bush is overgrown, start by removing dead or diseased wood. Then, gradually prune to open the center, encouraging air circulation and sunlight penetration. Cut back excessively long canes to a healthy outward-facing bud. Water and fertilize appropriately to support new growth. Luckily, it’s hard to over prune a rose, since roses can produce new shoots from old wood.

What should I do with the prunings from my roses?
Prunings can be repurposed in several ways. Consider shredding them for mulch or compost material. If disease-free, some prunings can be used for propagation by taking cuttings. Ensure proper disposal of diseased material to prevent the spread of pathogens.

Blooming with joy

Whether you’re cultivating hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, shrub roses, or timeless English roses, the principles of pruning remain a cornerstone for fostering health, encouraging blooms, and shaping your roses. Each rose type has its unique needs. With practice, you’ll develop an intuitive understanding of when and how to prune.

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