Pruning roses promotes vigorous growth

Courtesy of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Roses are red, violets are blue. Roses need pruning; ensure that you do.

Warm weather in January has gardeners itching to grab a pair of pruners and head to the flowerbeds. While pruning roses promotes growth in the plant, gardeners must make sure it is the right time of year to prune. Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said gardeners may need to tap the brakes on pruning until after the last frost.

“An expert rose gardener will tell you the best date for pruning is Valentine’s Day,” Edwards said. “Honestly, the ideal time for pruning roses is after the last chance of frost, or as the buds begin to swell. Those times will vary depending on the location in the state.”

Why prune?

According to Edwards, most roses bloom on new wood and that is why many gardeners prune their rose bushes each year.

“Pruning is beneficial for several reasons,” she said. “In addition to increasing the quality and size of blooms, pruning promotes growth, reduces overall plant size and improves air circulation.”

Air circulation is key for rose species susceptible to diseases, such as black spot.

Pruning techniques

When pruning, Edwards recommends clean, sharp pruners and a pair of protective gloves to avoid thorns. Initial pruning should remove any dead, diseased or damaged growth. Subsequent pruning will depend on specific rose species. The following are proper pruning techniques for several popular species.

Hybrid Tea Rose

  • Prune canes 12 to 15 inches above ground.

Floribundas and Grandifloras Roses

  • Strategically select three to five strong, healthy canes to leave full size.
  • Remove any smaller canes that may crowd the center of the plant.
  • Cut remaining canes 18 to 24 inches above ground.

 Climbing Roses

  • Many climbing roses bloom on old wood and are best pruned after spring blooming.
  • Leave five to six canes and prune the older canes at the base of the plant.
  • If climbing roses are pruned too severely in late winter or early spring, gardeners may be removing the rose buds.

Knockout and Drift Roses

  • Many of the newer shrub and bush-like roses can tolerate heavy pruning during the winter months.
  • Often when these roses are pruned 12 inches from the ground, they regrow with vigor and have prolific blooms.

Rose gardening tips

Edwards said it is important for gardeners to remember that roses prefer full sun and soil with a high organic matter content.

“Fertilizing the landscape bed with a slow-release fertilizer will help feed your roses throughout the spring and summer,” she said.

Most importantly, Edwards encourages paying special attention to roses and providing ample water during a drought.

“I recommend an inch of water a week for optimum growth and bloom,” Edwards said. “Avoid wetting the leaves since this can lead to disease problems.”

More information

More information is available in the Extension publication Growing Roses. For further information, visit or contact the home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent in your area.