In the Central Valley, roses can be pruned in January and into mid February. For our area this is the time the roses are the most dormant. During the dormant period the roses have been storing all of their nutrients for the new growing season. Therefore by pruning at the end of the dormant period the bushes are encouraged to start their new growth for the new season. Pruning roses helps encourage new canes to develop which you want to produce the best floweres. Pruning also controls the growth of the plant which can be beneficial if you want height control.


Different sizes of pruning shears that can be used for pruning roses

You will need some basic equipment for pruning. Some type of gloves are neded for protecting your hands from canes and thorns. If you have large rose bushes and climbing roses you will want to have two sizes of pruning shears. A small pair will take care of most canes on floribundas, grandifloras and hybrid teas. Larger shears will be needed for climbing roses and bushes that have larger, older canes. The shears need to be sharpened by using either a file or whet stone. Shears that are not sharpened will not give a clean cut. Canes that have a clean cut will heal over faster. A small, folding hand saw can be used to get hard to reach canes.

Objectives of Rose Pruning

This is a #1 grade bare root rose bush. Ideally this is how a pruned bush should look- three to five canes evenly spaced around the bud union.

The objectives when pruning roses are to cut out all dead wood, remove older canes and shape and shorten the bush. This will encourage new canes and give you the choice of how tall or short you want your bush.

Old and new canes are shown in this branch. The "older" canes has graining almost like tree bark; the newer canes are green and very smooth. You want to leave as many newer canes as possible coming from the bud union when pruning

The number of canes and side branching you leave on the bush will determine how many flowers will bloom and the size of the flowers. The more canes you leave, the more flowers you will have but the smaller they will be. The less canes you leave the less flowers there will be, but they will be larger. A rose bush only has so much energy that must be divided between growth of the plant and production of flowers.

A miniature rose after pruning. The center is left open for good air circulation. More canes could be pruned out for less bloom. There is no bud union because most miniature roses are grown on their own root system.

Pruning Different Types of Roses

Generally people want hybrid tea roses to have large flowers so hybrid tea bushes would be pruned leaving less canes-usually 3-5 canes coming from the bud union. Floribunda roses are usually planted for their abundance of bloom and when pruning them you would leave more canes for more flower production but smaller flowers.

'Perfect Moment', a red blend hybrid tea before pruning.

'Perfect Moment' after pruning. Five newer canes have been left with good spacing around the bud union.

Standard roses or tree roses can grow very tall by the end of the season. Canes on tree roses need to be pruned back to 12-18 inches from the bud union. They can even be pruned back shorter if you want the bush to stay shorter. Leave more canes for more, smaller flowers and less canes for less but larger flowers. Tree roses have two grafts on the bud union. This means that both sides of the bush has canes to make a better shaped plant. Usually six canes centered around the bud union will give the bush a round shape and lots of bloom.

'Secret', a pink blend hybrid tea tree rose before pruning.

'Secret' after prunig. Several canes and some side branching were left for lots of blooms. This would be a medium pruned tree rose.

'Peace', a yellow blend hybrid tea tree rose before pruning.

'Peace' after pruning. 'Peace' is a variety of rose that has been determined by previous prunings that is does not like heavy pruning. Several canes are left tall.


'Gemini'a pink blend hybrid tea tree rose after pruning. This is a heavy pruning for tree roses. Six canes are equally left around the bud union.

Shrub and grandiflora bushes are pruned using a combination of both methods described above. Grandiflora roses have more flowers than a hybrid tea but the blooms are smaller, so you may want to leave more canes than if pruning a hybrid tea. Shrub roses have become very popular for landscaping. There are planted for their blooming ability and would be pruned with more canes for producing more flowers. Shrub roses have many different heights, so the length of the canes will be determined in how tall you want it in your landscape.

'Hot Cocoa', a russet floribunda rose before pruning.

'Hot Cocoa' after pruning. Some side braching is left for more blooms.

Old garden roses that bloom only once a year should have had their main pruning done after their bloom in May or June. Now you can prune out dead canes and shape the bush lightly. For other old garden rose that bloom more than once, they can be pruned now like the modern shrub roses.

Miniature roses can be pruned like hybrid teas or floribundas but it is a lot of work if you have a lot of miniatures. You can prune miniatures easier by simply using electric shears or a weed eater by cutting them back to the desired height. Miniatures grow from 6 inches to four feet tall, depending on the variety. But you can keep them short by pruning them shorter. If you use this method of pruning you should still prune out all dead wood and as much growth in the center to keep it open with hand shears. For more blooms, leave more canes with side branching and for less but larger blooms leave less canes without side branching.

A miniature rose before pruning-notice the height of the plant from the marker.

A miniature rose after pruning using small hand shears. Exhibition miniature roses would be pruned this way.

Climbing roses are pruned differently than other roses. If you don't have climbing roses secured horizontally along a fence or support you can do that now. Climbing roses bloom at their highest point, so if your climbers only have canes vertically secured you will only get blooms on the top of the canes. By securing the canes horizontally you can get bloom along the length of the canes.

Climbing roses are pruned similar to the way grapes are pruned. It is called spuring. When secured horizontally, canes will grow upward along the length of the cane where they are bud eyes. When pruning, cut back these vertical canes to about six to ten inches leaving three or four bud eyes. By leaving several vertical canes along the length of the horizontal cane, you will get bloom along the cane. Two or three canes secured horizontally on each side of the bud union should give enough bloom. Sometimes it takes two years for climbing roses to produce flowers. So if you dont' get bloom the first year give the bush another year.
Pruning Techniques

In most parts of the Central Valley by the end of the blooming season the rose bushes have gotten tall. To make it easier to see what canes you're going to prune cut the top of the rose bush down to about four feet. Now you can see how many canes you have and decide which ones you will leave and which ones you will cut out. You will want to keep the newer canes and cut out the older canes. Older canes will look more brown and sometimes have graining like tree bark. The newer canes have a smoother look and will be more green in color. Cut out the older canes to the bud union leaving no stubs. The number of canes and side branching off of the canes will be determined by how you want your bush to bloom. The height you leave the canes is determined how you want the bush to grow in your landscape. In the picture below you can see how tall roses can grow in the Central Valley. When the pruning is finished on these roses they will be from two to three feet tall. I will have an "after" picture for you to see later in the month. I will also have more "before" and "after" pictures to let you see that even if roses grow six to eight feet tall, you can prune them back to two to three feet and you still will have lots of bloom and growth.

Hybrid tea and shrub roses at the end of the growing season before they are to be pruned

When cutting back the canes cut about 1/4 inch above an outside eye on the cane at a 45 degree angle with the high side of the cut on the outside of the cane. By cutting to an outside bud eye new growth will grow to the outside of the bush. You do not want to prune to inside bud eyes as new growth will grow to the inside of the plant. If there are any canes in the center of the bush they aso need to be removed. You want to keep the inside of the bush open and free from growth to let air circulate through the bush. This can help to prevent fungus diseases by giving the plant good air circulation. When you finish pruning you ideally will have three to five canes coming from the bud union equally spaced to form an urn shape. A lot of times you don't have that many canes to work with. Also, they may not be spread around the center of the bud union and will be growing to one side. In cases like this, still prune to three or four canes. Eventhough your bush will look one-sided new growth will soon cover up the open space and no one will probably notice the bush being one-sided.

This is the correct angle and space above the bud eye that you should cut your canes to.

Clean Up

After you have finished pruning an important part to good rose care is to clean up all old leaves and pruned canes. This includes all leaves on the pruned bush. The leaves can have disease left on them and by removing the leaves encourages the new growth to start. If the leaves did't come off when you were pruning you can gently pull them off the remaining canes.

This cane shows scale. It can be controlled by using a dormant spray.

After the rose beds are cleaned it is recommended you dormant spray your roses. This will help kill disease spores that may be left around your roses and help control some fungus problems that can come back when the spring weather comes. There are several types of dormant sprays to use. If your buds eyes have already popped out and started to show green leaves you will not want to you a lime-sulpher type spray. It is too late and you can burn the new growth. There are other types of dormant sprays that can be used after new growth has started. Check with your local nursery to see what types of sprays they have available. Also, if you have large canes you may want to either put a tree seal or white glue on the ends of the canes. By sealing the canes it will prevent cane borers from entering the cut ends.

If your roses have leafed out this much, it is too late to apply a lime-sulpher type dormant spray. There are year around dormant sprays that you can still use to help control disease problems.

Combating Gophers

If you have had gophers killing your rose bushes during the past year, now is the time you can help control their damage. If you are reluctant to use poison or gopher traps aren't affective, you can line your planting hole with wire mesh when planting bare root roses. This will prevent gophers from being able to eat the roots. They may be able to reach the finer roots but the wire mesh will keep the gophers from being able to damage the main root system.

A planting hole lined with wire mesh

No matter how severe it looks like after you have pruned your bushes, as long as you have left newer canes with bud eyes you have not killed the bush. Sometimes older canes and sucker canes are left after pruning. This can eventually kill the bush. Roses bloom on newer canes-that is the objective of pruning-to get rid of older canes and encourage new canes to develop.

Happy pruning. If you have additional questions please send me a message at my address below. I'll be happy to help you get through the pruning operation.

Sun Flare is a Floribunda that would be pruned by leaving more canes and side branches for more roses.

If you have any questions or comments, my e-mail address is

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Last updated January 18, 2016
@1997 Linda Burg