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How to prune roses

Kind of a Big Deal

Difficulty: Beginner

Roses flower on new shoots and never on old wood. Pruning in winter while roses are dormant encourages abundant new growth when the weather warms in spring. The flush of shoots will result in an abundance of blooms. Having healthy, well-shaped, bushy plants is also important.


Pruning when plants have lost their leaves makes it easy to see the basic shape or frame of each plant.


In warmer regions, roses don't go through true dormancy. They will drop most of their leaves at the end of the "wet season" (autumn) but then go on to produce new shoots fairly quickly. It’s best to prune when the leaves have dropped although plants will respond well at almost any time of the year.



Step 1

Make sure your secateurs, loppers and pruning saw are sharp so they cut cleanly. Tearing of stems and bark may allow diseases to take hold. Dip the blades in disinfectant before you start each plant to remove traces of sap and possible diseases, then dry and clean them.


1. Dip secateurs at end.JPG

Step 2

Stand back and assess the rose you are about to prune. Look at its overall height and shape. Consider how much growth it produced last season and how many flowers it had. Also assess the health of its main frame (older branches). Take all factors into consideration when deciding how you should prune it to reinvigorate it.


The rose bush pictured is a 20-year-old Apricot Nectar, a very vigorous and free flowering floribunda variety. It grows at least 1.5 metres tall each year and responds well to quite severe pruning. The base of the plant is quite woody but the branches growing from it are no more than two or three years old.


2. Assess the plant.JPG


Step 3

Start by cutting out old, diseased and damaged branches as close to the main trunk as possible. Then remove spindly twigs and branches that are congesting the centre of the bush and crossing over or rubbing against one another.  Cut branches off cleanly. Don’t leave stubs as these will die back and could be entry points for diseases.


Remove all stems growing from the rootstock, below the graft union.


3.1 Start with old branches.JPG  3.2 Remove branches that are congesting the centre.JPG

Step 4

Reduce last season's healthy branches by about a third, cutting cleanly just above an outward-pointing bud or node. The shoot from that bud will then grow outwards, away from the centre of the plant. The objective is to encourage as much new growth as possible close to the main frame of the bush but leaving the centre of the bush open.


Any tall “watershoots” – the soft and vigorous stems that grow from close to the base of the plant - are best left alone apart from trimming off the faded flowers at the top. They will mature over the following season to replace older branches that are past their best.


4. Cut above the bud or node.JPG

Step 5

When you think you have finished, stand back and look critically at the bush as a whole. Further cutting may be needed if it is obviously lop-sided or there is still quite a lot of old wood present. Expert pruners have a good motto:  “If in doubt, cut it out”.  It works most of the time!


5. Look critically at the bush as a whole.JPG

Step 6

Collect up and dispose of the prunings and leaves into the household rubbish. Do not add them to the compost bin as they could harbour diseases like blackspot or mildews or pests like scale and aphids.


6. Dipose of prunings in household rubbish.JPG


Step 7

During peak flowering times over spring, summer and autumn, encourage more growth and flowers by snipping off spent flowers (known as dead-heading). Most roses will have at least two flushes of blooms – in spring and autumn – while others are "recurrent", flowering continuously for months at a time.


7. Encourage growth by removing dead flowers.jpg


  • Household disinfectant (dilute 1 cap or 30 ml to around 500ml of water)


  • Gardening gloves

  • Secateurs (by-pass blades rather than anvil style for cleaner cuts)

  • Pruning saw

  • Loppers


1. Dip secateurs at end.JPG

2. Assess the plant.JPG

3.1 Start with old branches.JPG

3.2 Remove branches that are congesting the centre.JPG

4. Cut above the bud or node.JPG

5. Look critically at the bush as a whole.JPG

6. Dipose of prunings in household rubbish.JPG

7. Encourage growth by removing dead flowers.jpg

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