When Is the Best Time to Prune Roses?

— Written By and last updated by

Roses are classic garden flowers that many enjoy but when it comes to care for roses many are often confused with how to best care for them. A question often asked is when is the best time to prune roses. You may hear many responses from fall to winter to spring. You may also hear that it depends on the type of roses. So, what is the answer? Actually some of these responses are true to some extent. Let me see if I can shed some light on the confusion of when to prune roses.

Many people call the office inquiring about how much to cut back roses for the winter. In colder climates to the north, roses are often cut back to reduce breakage of tall canes during winter weather. Here in Eastern North Carolina we do not have to worry as much about winter weather damage so it may not be necessary to prune back roses for the winter.

If you do have a rose that has long canes (rose stems) and feel the need to cut back now, be sure to prune back only after the first good freeze. If you prune back a rose before a freeze, you could awaken dormant buds, which will produce new growth that will be killed when freezing temperatures do arrive. When pruning your roses during the winter only cut off around a third of their height. If you are concerned about protecting roses in case we do have some winter weather like ice or wind, but yet do not want to prune, you can tie the canes of the rose bush together to keep winter weather from pulling down the   canes and causing them to break.

So, if you do not have to prune roses before winter, when should roses be pruned? When to prune roses depends on what type of roses you have. Repeat blooming roses like floribunda and hybrid tea roses should be heavily pruned in the spring just before the buds break. To know when the buds are about to break, look for when buds begin to swell and prune roses at that time. Cut out all but three to five of the healthiest, most vigorous canes. Prune these canes down 15 to 18 inches from the ground.

If you have old-fashion roses and climbers that only bloom once a year, they should be pruned immediately after flowering. Do not prune these types heavily in the early spring because they bloom on wood from the previous year’s growth. Old garden roses do not need the hard pruning that is done to modern roses. Hard pruning can ruin their shape and reduce flowering. Do not remove more than a third of the bush and remove the oldest stems that are no longer productive.

With any type of rose, you should follow a few rules. First, prune any wood that is dead, diseased, or damaged. When making cuts remember to check stems for signs of discoloration. The center of the canes should be white and plump. If a stem is brown and withered, you should cut farther down into healthy wood. Remember to dip pruning shears in an alcohol solution occasionally when pruning to disinfect pruners and avoid spreading diseases. Next, locate canes that are crossing and remove the weakest cane. Look at what direction the canes are growing and remove any that are growing towards the center of the bush. The canes should be growing upward and outward from the center of the bush. Before you know it, you will be an avid pruner.

Reminder:  If you would like to learn more about Horticultural related topics, then join the “Sampson County Friends of Horticulture”. This program offers monthly “How To” Horticultural Seminars. Please call (910) 592-7161 for more information. Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at (910) 592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at sampson.ces.ncsu.edu for any questions you may have.