How to Prune Roses

Prune roses either in late fall or early spring before their buds open, removing dead stems and old foliage as needed. Be sure to clean all pruning tools after each use to avoid spreading diseases between plants.

Moderate pruning can reduce a plant to 18-24 inches high with three to five canes, opening its center and encouraging it to bloom more vigorously.

Dead or Diseased Canes

As soon as pruning roses in the spring begins, look out for any canes that appear dead or discolored. These could have been injured through winter injuries, fungus infections, wind damage or simply due to age or stress related decline in plants. Dead canes reduce blooming potential while harboring diseases and pests for subsequent seasons.

Similarly, if a cane becomes infected with botrytis (caused by Botrytis cinerea fungus), which can be seen on many rose plants, it should be cut back well below where diseased tissue occurs and destroyed as soon as possible. Clean pruning shears with one part household bleach mixed into nine parts water between cuts for added safety.

To remove an infected cane, locate its “bud eye”, a small bump that looks like a pimple or dot on the stem just above a leaf scar, and make a cut 1/4 inch above it at 45 degree angles. This will allow lateral buds below to continue growing while cutting away infected canes while opening up air flow for healthier plant development.

Repeat this process on all canes that appear dead or infected with disease, as well as those which appear to be crossing or rubbing against each other, to improve air circulation and decrease incidences of fungal infection. Once all dead and diseased canes have been removed from a plant, collect any fallen leaves around its base to eliminate potential habitat for pests and diseases that could overwinter there.


Suckers are vigorously growing canes that form at the base of a grafted rose plant and steal nutrients away from its grafted variety, weakening it over time. This is how to prune roses – by looking out for potential pests, as well. When suckers appear they must be removed immediately to preserve its health, as soon as possible. 

To remove a sucker, dig down to its source and carefully pull or twist or tear it out with your hands – taking care not to disturb its roots and cause further problems! Some gardeners suggest tracing back its source before pulling, twisting or tearing it off (wearing thick gloves to protect hands from the thorns) instead of cutting – this allows less risk of damaging main rose bush’s roots by not cutting directly.

To help avoid future suckers on roses, apply dormant oil during late winter or early spring. This spray coats leaves, buds, and canes with a soluble substance which suffocates many pests that overwinter on these flowers.

Crossing Canes

As you prune climbing roses, make sure you remove any canes which have crossed and rub against one another, as these rob energy from the plant while also damaging it, providing entryways for pests or providing entry points for disease. Also remove canes which clog up the center of the plant to allow a vase-shaped growth pattern with better air circulation and less disease risks.

Once your pruning session is over, collect all the canes, stems, leaves and debris created during it and discard them without composting – this is to prevent spores, eggs or other problems that existed from last year from reappearing this year. You can click here to learn more about the uses of rose plants. Also do not reuse mulch from last year – as it could contain fungus spores and insects waiting to attack your rose.

Old Canes

Roses in our region often suffer from winter damage, so rosarians must take aggressive action when pruning them. Old canes should be cut back by 8-12 inches above the ground for an open center effect and remaining canes trimmed by approximately one third in order to encourage leaf and bloom growth.

At first, they remove diseased or damaged wood as well as branches that point down or out; any that rub against each other needing removal due to possible diseases; then shape the top to promote a rounder dome shape which looks better and promotes bloom growth.

Climbing roses tend not to require vigorous pruning from gardeners; however, early spring pruning should still take place as this allows plants to recover from winter damage more effectively. Sites like can help you visualize the look of your climbing roses.

As always, when pruning, it’s crucial to use clean cuts and ensure your tools are sharp. A sharp blade allows for cleaner cuts while minimizing crushing or tearing of stem tissue. Furthermore, make sure you clean up afterward; using a yard bag rather than compost pile would ensure no canes, leaves or other debris will become sources of fungus spores or pest eggs develop over time.

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