How to prune roses

Roses should be pruned each spring. Cutting back rose canes (i.e. the stems/branches) every year helps to foster healthy, good-looking plants and encourage more blooms. The time to prune is in the spring, once you start to see buds emerging.


If you didn’t protect your roses for the winter, and you live in a climate like mine, you may not have much plant left to prune! So hopefully you did that last fall (or planted really hardy roses).


The most important piece of equipment for pruning roses is a very sharp pair of secateurs*. Dull secateurs are frustrating to use and can cause damage to plants. If you’re looking to purchase new secateurs, click here to read the article I wrote on choosing secateurs.


The second important tool is a pencil.

A pencil is going to show you how much of your rose bush you should be cutting back.



The general rule is that any canes thicker than a pencil should be cut back to about 10 buds or at about 11″ high.

Any canes thinner than a pencil should be cut back to about 3″ or less.



The above photo shows a cane that is thinner than a pencil, so I want to cut it back to about 3″ in length.

The cut should be made just above an emerging bud.




Don’t cut a long ways above the bud, as large pieces of stem remaining above the bud will die off or rot.

But the cut also can’t be so close to the bud that you damage it.



The above photo shows a nice clean cut, at about the right point.


Exceptions to the pencil rule

If you’re growing climbing roses and you have healthy thick canes (like the one in the first photo that was thicker than a pencil) you can choose to leave them taller. Read my post: Notes on Pruning Climbing Roses.


The other exception is that tiny canes, anything the size of a piece of cooked spaghetti, can just be sheared off or trimmed at the bud closest to the main cane. They’re so small that they’re not going to amount to much


Pruning for shape

Look at the direction that the bud you’re going to cut above is pointing. That is the direction that the new cane is going to grow. In the photo above, the bud is pointing off to the right and this is the direction the new branch will take. If I had cut the cane one bud lower, the branch that emerged would be pointing towards the camera.

Consider this as you decide where to make your cuts–your decisions will determine the shape of your mature rose bush. For most roses, you’re trying to guide the plant towards a vase-like shape.


Protecting yourself

I have a lot of roses and some of them have pickier thorns than others. I wear thick gloves (usually called rose gloves) that extend almost to my elbows. I highly recommend getting a pair if you have a number of plants to deal with. I also wear jeans and a thick canvas jacket/shirt on pruning days.


Be sure to pick up all of the canes you prune off and dispose of them. It’s no fun to be weeding or happily digging with bare hands near your roses and come in contact with a piece of old rose cane. It’s equally unpleasant to kneel down for a moment (especially while wearing shorts) and “find” the rose cane pieces you didn’t bother to tidy up earlier in the season (or the season before). After many such experiences I have finally learned to drag a yard waste bag along with me as I prune.


And the final tip for pruning roses (or any plant): you can always cut more off but you can’t glue a piece back on!


*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Notes on Pruning Climbing Roses













  1. Janet on April 20, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Great post! Very helpful information. Thank you for explaining how to prune roses using practical and easy to understand methods.

    • Jennifer on April 21, 2017 at 7:48 am

      Thanks Janet! Glad you found it straightforward.

  2. Kent on November 15, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks, great article and good information!

    • Jennifer on November 17, 2018 at 1:01 pm

      You’re welcome, Kent. I appreciate the feedback!

  3. Laura on November 18, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    I have knockout roses planted by my deck. They have grown about 2 ft above the rail. Is it too late to prune them back? I live in Texas and we’ve not had any hard freezes yet.

    • Jennifer on November 18, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Laura, I would wait until spring. If you cut them back now they might start to put out new growth, which would get frozen off (as it won’t yet be mature) when winter hits (presuming it gets that cold in your part of Texas.) Sounds like your roses are thriving if they’re that tall–super!

  4. Joanne Hallis on April 30, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Good article I am glad I was doing it correctly. I do clean up my canes and I have sharp edges on my cutters. Thank you for the article. Very good information and easy to read and understand.

    • Jennifer on May 1, 2019 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks for your kind comments Joanne–I appreciate them!

  5. Eileen Kerkoski on August 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    I live in Colorado and Spring snows can be harsh. I have 18 roses in my rose bed and would like to know how to prepare them for Winter.

  6. Eileen Kerkoski on August 14, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    Great article on winterizing roses. I will follow your suggestions exactly as outlined.

  7. Paula on July 24, 2020 at 1:06 am

    this artical was super helpful to me!! Now i can prepare for the up coming Sping to Trim my Roses into beautiful Shape. Thank you!! Paula

    • Jennifer on July 28, 2020 at 7:57 pm

      Glad to hear it Paula, thanks!

  8. Franco on January 4, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    I love your articles thank you. I live in San Francisco Ca, and my rose trees are staring to show buds do I have to wait till spring to prune them?

    Thank you


    • Jennifer on January 14, 2021 at 5:34 pm

      Thanks Franco! If you’re not expecting any more below freezing temperatures, you can prune. But if you think you might get more weather below freezing you should wait.

  9. Barbara on April 21, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    finally I know more than sometimes. Thank you very much – you have a great gift for imparting knowledge.
    Maybe something else about a neglected grape bush, I’ll be very thankful.

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