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How to Prune Roses

You've got the shears—now what?

Contributing Writer
how to prune roses
Photography by: Mark de Leeuw/Getty

Do you want your rosebush to lead a long and happy life? Then you'll have to prune it. Your roses will be beautiful and healthy when you give them some attention. Although pruning may seem like a tricky, daunting task to the casual gardener, it actually doesn't have to be all that complicated. To help you get started, we're outlining the basic steps below. 

 

Related: The Secrets of Martha's Rose Garden

 

Time It Right

The time to prune depends on what kind of rose you have. The New York Botanical Garden advises pruning roses that flower once a season—usually in spring—right after they start to bloom. Roses that bloom several times each season should be pruned in late March to early April when the buds start to break. Once you become familiar with your plants growth patterns, it'll be easier to care for it. Just be sure to keep an eye out for dead flowers even after the flowering season—to maintain a healthy rosebush with lots of blooms, cut them back as soon as you can see they're no longer alive.

 

Get the Essential Equipment

If you want to keep it simple, the only equipment you really need in order to prune roses are a pair of bypass pruning shears that are sharp and clean. A heavy, long-sleeved shirt (beware of thorns!) and thick gloves (thorns again) definitely make the job more comfortable, though.

 

Pull Off the Leaves

You may think this is counterproductive but de-leafing actually helps roses grow better. It allows you to see the skeleton of the plant, which will be very helpful when you prune it later.

 

Get Rid of Dead, Damaged, or Diseased Wood

You should cut until the inside of the cane, or stem, is white. Sometimes it's hard to tell when a cane has gone bad. An easy way to check is to cut a snippet—if it's green, it's still good, but if it's brown, the cane is dead. Dry or black branches should be cut off, too. 

 

Related: A Crash Course In Roses

 

Cut Down Any Horizontal Stems

If they're growing in the center of the plant or crossing over each other, they've got to go. Your goal is to keep the center clear because rubbing canes can cause scars that lead to infection, which could the death of your rosebush. When you remove central canes, air circulation also improves. 

 

Cut Back Any Vertical Stems

Cut back vertical stems to an outward-facing bud. Make the cut about a half inch above that bud at a 45-degree angle away from the bud, allowing water to run off.

 

Remove Debris

Pick up any leaves and branches that you removed. If they're diseased and come into contact with the newly pruned plant, they could infect it.