Roses Are Plants Too!

What Time of Year Should I Prune My Roses?

close up of blooming rose

This is a question I get a lot from folks who live where there is a true winter with freezing temperatures. Everyone seems confused as to when they should prune their roses. Interestingly enough, most seem to feel it should revolve around man-made calendar dates like October or January. Some advocate pruning later, some sooner, and some say just do it when you have time.

Here’s why the timing does matter. Pruning too soon may stimulate tender new growth during a warm spell that could be killed later by a freeze. Prune too late, and you won’t get that great spring bloom.

So what is the best time to prune so you don’t get into trouble?

I have a real simple answer that has nothing to do with the calendar:

Prune when the forsythia begins to bloom.


forsythia in blom


What I loved about this from the moment I heard it is that it’s nature is telling us when it’s time to prune.  You see, we don’t know if it’s going to be a long or short winter, and no annual yanking of Punxsutawney Phil out of the comfort of his home is going to make us any wiser.

But the plants know. If it’s a long winter, they bloom later. During a short winter, they bloom sooner. So keep an eye out for the forsythia—and when it starts to bloom, start to prune.

Web producer’s note:

Some readers have been frustrated by this advice, as forsythia does not grow in their area. In those locales, you can check top soil temperature to a depth of at least 6 inches. If it’s above 55°F, you should be good to prune your roses. Forsythia typically blooms when the top soil warms to 55°F.

View Comments


  1. viktoriamullin 02/28/2011

    This is the answer! Thank you so much, finally, this spring I will not be experimenting with the time to prune my roses; especially with my shrubs which are about 10-12 feet already.

  2. PFZimmerman 02/28/2011

    Glad it helped!

  3. HummingbirdGardensCa 02/28/2011

    This is great advice! This year I pruned half of my roses the "traditional" way and the other half I pruned lightly, removing no more than one-third. According to the author in this link, pruning by only one-third will increase the vigor of the rose bush and increase the number of rose blooms.
    Has anyone else tried it?

  4. PFZimmerman 02/28/2011

    Excellent article. Keep in mind pruning "the traditional way" by cutting them down to 18" etc is designed to give you long stem blooms for exhibition. Also less blooms because you want the few you have to be large.

    I always keep my shrub roses around 3-5 feet when I prune for the exact reason you mention. I want maximum display.

    There is no one correct pruning method. As with most plants it has to do with the what the variety of rose is and how you want it to look in your garden!

  5. seil 03/05/2011

    I've been using this rule of thumb for years. A lot of people think it's an old wives tale but it makes perfect sense to me. No matter where you live the forsythia are not going to bloom until the soil temperature is warm enough to support active growth. A short warm spell won't bring it up enough to do that. But when it's been warming for a consistant and long enough time the soil will warm up enough for things to begin to grow and the forsythia will bloom. And that's when you can prune your roses!

    Always love your articles and advice, Paul, thanks!

  6. pwarrenbaton 03/06/2011

    My late mother always said that, too, and that's when we did it in the Philadelphia area. The forsythia are starting to bloom here and I just started pruning mine today, nine down, four to go--the deer have been pruning them for me all winter, of course. So I did hit all of them with DeerOff...Triangle Area, NC, zone 7B or 8, depending on who you trust (I lean toward zone 8 myself...sure different from growing roses in northern Vermont!)

  7. NWKansas 10/30/2011

    Kind of a stupid answer if there are no forsythia in the area.

  8. CarrieRose 02/16/2013

    Exactly what I was looking for... thank you!

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  10. toriwalsh 06/08/2017

    What is forsythia ??? I'm in the UK and also have black spot ? it's June can I prune it back to save it?

    1. jasonrekker 10/07/2017

      Yes definitely. In general stop pruning woodies such as roses about 8 weeks before first frost so that any new growth has a chance to lignify or "harden off" before freezing.

  11. whoiskevinjones 09/15/2017

    Best feedback ever!! Sounds like advice I will remember always.

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