Pruning roses: how, when & where to cut


I am currently studying agricultural and food economics. As a keen hobby gardener, plants take up most of my free time. A few years ago, I got especially interested in herbs, which is why I completed my studies to become a certified herbalist in 2018.

Favourite fruit: apples, cherries
Favourite vegetables: potatoes, fennel

Roses are a classic addition to any garden, but when and how should you prune them? Read on to find out all you need to know about pruning roses.

Cutting back roses with secateurs
Pruning roses is both essential and easy to do [Photo: perfectlab/]

Pruning roses (Rosa) is not as difficult as people often imagine. Given the right know-how and a little practice, even hobby gardeners can achieve perfectly pruned roses. Understanding how the type of rose you have flowers and grows is the best place to start when approaching this task. In this article, we will explain in detail what to consider when pruning roses so that they grow and flower abundantly year after year.

When to prune roses

Roses are best pruned in spring and only in mild weather. In areas exposed to the cold or prone to late frosts, consider postponing pruning until May. Fresh cuts and new shoots are especially sensitive to frost and easily damaged by cold weather.

When to cut back roses:

  • Prune in spring (March to May) regardless of whether the rose was planted in autumn or spring.
  • Annual spring pruning: suitable for all rose varieties and also carried out between March and May. How this is done depends on the growth and flowering of your rose variety. See the table below for more information about pruning specific rose varieties.
  • Annual summer pruning: limit summer pruning to only removing unnecessary shoots and withered flowers. Here too, it is important to know what variety of roses you have in order to choose the right method for deadheading roses (removing withered flowers).
Pruning bare rose bush in early spring
Pruning roses is usually done in spring [Photo: Karen Kaspar/]

Tip: Even mild winters can be followed by sudden cold snaps in spring. Make sure to cover young, sensitive shoots with some form of winter protection, like a jute sack. Potassium-rich fertiliser, like our Plantura Rose Food, also helps build the plant’s resistance to the cold while supporting the overall health of the plant.

Rose Food, 1.5kg
Rose Food, 1.5kg
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  • For beautifully flowering roses in pots & flower beds
  • Prevents common rose diseases & ensures healthy growth
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

How to prune roses

Here are four basic rules for pruning rose bushes:

  1. Use sharp pruning shears for a clean cut.
  2. Always cut above an outward-facing bud eye to encourage outward growth.
  3. Cut about 5mm above the bud so as not to damage it.
  4. To prevent diseases, cut at an angle.

Pro-tip: Roses develop side shoots from what are known as “bud eyes”. These are easy to spot on roses: they form a kind of inverted V-shape or even the round base of a bud.

Pruning roses

Pruning roses ensures an even balance between root and shoot growth, and benefits the overall health of the plant. If you plant in autumn, postpone pruning until spring. When planted in spring, rose plants can be pruned straight away. Here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Root pruning: Shorten the roots to a length of about 20–30cm below the grafting point. This will stimulate root branching and the rose will grow more quickly.
  • For shrub and wild roses, shorten shoots to about 40cm long.
  • Cut back climbing roses to 10 buds above ground.
  • Shorten all other roses to around 3–5 buds above the ground.
  • These basic rules for pruning roses also apply to the first cut after planting.
Heavily pruned rose
After planting, almost all rose varieties should be heavily pruned at least once [Photo: Antonina Vlasova/]

Pruning roses in spring

In spring, all roses can be cut back. Here are the three basic steps for pruning all varieties of roses:

  1. Remove dead wood: prune back dry and cracked wood to where the healthy wood starts or, if necessary, right to the base of the plant.
  2. Remove thin and diseased shoots: this lets the plant focus its energy on its strong and healthy shoots. Completely remove weak shoots at their origin, whether from a stronger shoot or from the base of the plant.
  3. Thin out bushes that are growing too densely by removing weak shoots and ones that are growing unfavourably. This improves the air circulation through the rosebush and helps prevent rose diseases.

Depending on the rose variety, further pruning steps vary slightly. The following guidelines are variety specific to promote healthy growth and abundant flowers.

Tip: Ground cover roses are the one exception to these guidelines. Below is a guideline for pruning ground cover roses.

Rose plant with white diseased leaves
Diseased parts of the plants should be removed as soon as possible [Photo: Grandpa/]

Here are pruning guidelines for each variety:

Type of roseSpring pruning
Garden roses

Cut garden roses back to 3–5 buds above the ground. Remove weak shoots and keep the stronger shoots. Extremely vigorous varieties (like 'Gloria Dei') can be pruned 6–9 buds above the ground. Cut back dwarf roses more heavily (2–3 buds above the ground).
Hybrid tea roses

Cut hybrid tea roses to around 3–5 buds above the ground. Cut weak shoots back more thoroughly than strong shoots.
Shrub roses
(flowering once from June and into July, wilts shortly thereafter)
Shrub roses only bloom once, so only the basic pruning steps need to be followed. If necessary, remove dense or rotten shoots at the base.
Repeat-flowering shrub roses
(flowers from June to September)
Thin out repeat-flowering shrub roses, by removing entire shoots. Every 4–5 years, older shoots should be pruned as close to the ground as possible.
Rambling roses and single blooming climbing roses (flower once from June into July, wilts shortly thereafter)In the case of rambling roses which bloom once, follow the basic rose pruning principles. If necessary, remove dense or rotten shoots at the base.
Repeat-flowering climbing roses
(continuous flowering from June to September)
After the first flowering in spring, shorten side shoots that grow on the main shoots back to 3–5 buds. Only completely remove old, long and rotten shoots. They should be removed at the base. Read more on how to prune climbing roses here.

Ground cover roses

Ground cover roses should not be pruned annually. Instead, prune them every 3–4 years to a height of about 30cm regardless of their buds. We advise using a hedge trimmer to prune them.
Wild roses

Wild roses only need basic pruning. If necessary, remove dense or rotten shoots at the base.
Heritage and old garden roses

Similarly, old and heritage garden roses only need basic pruning. If necessary, remove dense or rotten shoots at the base.
English roses

Pruning English rose varieties depends on their flowering habit. Whether the variety flowers once or continuously, follow the respective guidelines mentioned above for shrub roses.
Tree roses

Cut back tree rose crowns to about 3–5 buds above the grafting point.
Hanging or trailing rosesPrune hanging or trailing roses depending on their flowering habit. Whether the variety flowers once or continuously, follow the respective guidelines mentioned above for shrub roses.
A blooming garden rose
To prevent garden roses from becoming too overgrown, they must be cut back [Photo: theapflueger/]

Pruning roses in summer

Generally speaking, there is no need to prune your roses in summer. If necessary, remove wilted flowers, cutting just above an outward-facing bud. This promotes growth and the further formation of flowers.

Tip: Wilted flowers do not necessarily need to be deadheaded. Simply leave them on the plant if you want rose hips that will add cheerful spots of colour in your garden and serve as food for birds. Also keep in mind the flowering habit of your rose. Varieties that bloom several times throughout summer should only be left to wilt after their final bloom in late summer.

Identifying side shoots on roses and removing them

In spring and summer, grafted roses – which is almost all garden roses – may develop side shoots on their rootstock. Unnecessary side shoots, sometimes referred to as wild shoots, are to spot with their smaller, lighter leaves. Wild shoots produce seven or more leaves on a stem, whereas grafted varieties only produce about five.

Deadheading a rose plant with secateurs
Also when deadheading, cut just above a bud [Photo: Petr Pohudka/]

Pruning roses in autumn and winter

In autumn and winter there is not much to do when it comes to rose care. There is no need to prune because cutting back the plants now could stimulate the formation of new shoots. These young shoots would then be defenceless against early or late frosts. Many roses, however, benefit greatly from winter protection. This involves covering the rootstock with a mound of soil, mulch or pine branches to protect it from frost. In autumn, an application of potassium-rich fertiliser, like our Plantura Rose Food, will strengthen the plant’s resistance against chilly winter temperatures.

Keen to learn more about roses? Then read our in-depth articles about rose care, care for potted roses and fertilising roses.

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