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Pruning Roses  

Last Updated: Sep 14, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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The LuEsther T. Mertz Library 
The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10458


Noteworthy Books on Pruning Roses

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Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning - Cass Turnbull
Call Number: SB125 .T87 2012
ISBN: 9781570617515
Publication Date: 2012-11-20

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Climbing Roses of the World - Charles Quest-Ritson
Call Number: QL 145 .R6m Q83 2003
ISBN: 0881925632
Publication Date: 2003-04-15

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Right Rose, Right Place - Peter Schneider
Call Number: QL 145 .R6 S388 2009
ISBN: 9781603424387
Publication Date: 2009-09-16

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Roses - Lois Hole; Jim Hole
Call Number: QL 145 .R6 H59 2000
ISBN: 0968279163
Publication Date: 2000-02-01

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Roses Without Chemicals - Peter Kukielski
Call Number: QL 145 .R6 K85 2015
ISBN: 9781604693546
Publication Date: 2015-02-28

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Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guide to Easy Practical Pruning - Barbara Ellis
Call Number: SB125 .E47 1997
ISBN: 0395815916
Publication Date: 1997-09-09

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The American Rose Society Encyclopedia of Roses - Charles Quest-Ritson; Brigid Quest-Ritson
Call Number: QL 145 .R6 Q47 2003
ISBN: 0789496755
Publication Date: 2003-10-06


Pruning Roses

 Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at NYBG; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

 Rose Classification

There are many varieties of roses and the classification of roses can be confusing. The American Rose Society divides all roses into three basic types: Species Roses which include all wild roses, Old Garden Roses which existed before 1867, and Modern Roses that came into being after 1867. Within these last two groups there are various classes. Modern Roses have 13 classes and Old Garden Roses have 22.

Modern and Old Garden Rose Classifications

Floribunda Alba Hybrid Sempervirens
Grandiflora Ayrshire Hybrid Setigera
Hybrid Kordesii Bourbon Hybrid Spinosissima
Hybrid Moyesii Boursault Misc. Old Garden Roses
Hybrid Musk Centifolia Moss
Hybrid Rugosa Damask Noisette
Hybrid Wichuriana Hybrid Bracteata Portland
Hybrid Tea Hybrid China Tea
Large Flowered Climber   Hybrid Eglanteria             
Miniature Hybrid Foetida
Mini-Flora Hybrid Gallica
Polyantha Hybrid Multiflora
Shrub Hybrid Perpetual

Rose Pruning

Here are some basic guidelines for pruning your roses. As a general rule of thumb, roses that flower only once in a season should be pruned right after flowering and roses that flower several times during the season should be pruned in late March or early April once the buds start to break (swell and green up): the adage is to prune your roses "when the forsythia blooms". Once-blooming roses flower on old wood and continuous-blooming roses flower on new wood.  Most Old Garden Roses flower only once; a few, such as 'Autumn Damask' and some Portlands, Hybrid Perpetuals, Bourbons, Chinas and Noisette roses tend to flower again. The majority of modern roses flower over a long period.

There are three main techniques for pruning roses:

  • Hard Pruning - drastic pruning where you cut the rose back to 3 to 5 buds per stem from the crown (the base) of the plant.
  • Thinning Out - cutting certain canes out at the base of the plant - usually done with old or diseased canes. It is also a way of opening up the center of a congested plant. As a general rule, take out ⅓ of the oldest canes in a rose so that it is continually rejuvenating.
  • Heading Back - this is a moderate pruning where the plant is cut back by ⅓.

Pruning Basics

  • Always remove dead, damaged and diseased wood.
  • Remove central wood where canes are crossing over each other and growing into the center of the plant. Crossing canes rub against each other and cause scars that allow infections to take hold. Removing central canes promotes good air circulation.
  • Find a healthy, outward-facing bud on a strong stem; cut the stem about ¼ inch above the bud and at a downward-facing, 45 degree angle. The angle should be away from the bud, so that water can run freely off the new cut.
  • If you have a grafted rose, remove any suckers that are emerging from the rootstock. Suckers will look different from the normal basal shoots on your rose. Make sure that you don't simply cut them down to the ground, otherwise they will re-sprout with even more vigor. Dig the ground away at the base of the plant, find out where they are emerging from the rootstock and cut them out. They will eventually take over the plant if left to grow.
  • When deadheading your rose or cutting its flowers for arrangements, cut back to a strong part of the stem where there is a leaf with five leaflets rather than just three leaflets. Cut just above an outward facing bud if possible. The new shoot will grow in the direction of the cut.

 (Bud Safe From Dying)     (Bud May Dry)     (Stub May Rot)           
Drawing from Virginia Cooperative Extension School website
 ( Publication Number 430-459, December 2002


General Rules

Hybrid Teas, Floribundas and Grandifloras: Prune in early spring when about half the buds are swollen, but before the leaves start to expand. Take off  ⅓ to ⅔ the length of the canes, cutting back to an outside bud. Reduce the plant to a total of 3 to 6 canes.  These roses respond well to hard pruning. The lower the pruning cut the stronger the new growth will be. A hard pruning encourages the growth of strong canes from the base of the plant that will produce the best flowers. When finished pruning these roses, the framework is anywhere from 6 inches to just over one foot tall.

Repeat Blooming Modern Shrubs and Repeat Blooming Old Garden Roses: These roses will bloom on new growth as well as laterals of one- and two-year old canes. Cut back main canes by half and laterals to just two buds. Thin out branches that are older than three years.

Repeat Blooming Climbing Roses: Do not prune a climbing rose for the first three years; only remove dead, damaged or diseased wood. After three years, cut back laterals in the early spring to two or three buds or about six inches. On a mature climber, selectively thin out older canes by cutting down to the base.

Once Blooming Modern Shrub and Old Garden Roses: Prune in mid-summer after flowering (usually mid- to late-June). Prune these shrubs lightly to shape them. They generally do not need a severe pruning, but benefit from being thinned out.

Fall Pruning

Some people like to prune their roses in the fall. If you are covering your roses up for the winter and protecting them with burlap or a wire cage stuffed with leaves, pruning will be necessary to reduce the size of the rose. Here, in the NYBG Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, we pull mulch up around the base of the rose to form a 6 to 8 inch mound. This creates a protective winter coat that is removed in early spring. They are not pruned at this time of year since there is no way of anticipating which branches will die or be damaged during the winter and which ones will survive. The selection process is therefore made in the spring. An exception would be if a rose were too large and there was concern about the stability of the rose and the possibility of wind damage. Then, the rose would be pruned back to a more compact shape.

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