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When to Prune a Young Rose

Sometimes cutting a rose into shape isn't worth the risk

Young roses
It's generally best to let young roses grow before pruning them. Photo: Paul Zimmerman Roses

I was online surfing some rose forums and someone asked if it’s OK to prune a young rose or should they leave it alone. I’m glad I ran across it, because it is a question I’m frequently asked. Since this is pruning time in some parts of the country it’s a good opportunity to answer it.

First, define a “young rose”

This would be a rose you planted last year, be it spring, summer, or fall. It’s not how old the rose was when you got it, but when you planted it that counts. Bareroot plants can be two years old when you get them, and some own-root bands can only be six months old.

Now that we know what we mean by a young rose, we can turn our attention to the question of whether you should prune a young rose.


It’s a risk to the health of a plant to cut it too soon

In my opinion this is not a good idea, because I feel it’s best to let my roses get to mature size and fully establish themselves first. To get established and truly settle in their root system, they need food to create the energy to do so. A critical part of this involves their leaves—a process known of course as photosynthesis. The less foliage a plant has, the less food it can make and the less energy it has to get established. By established, I’m particularly talking about the root system. Remember the old saying: Roots first, tops second.

If you worry about keeping canes on a newly planted rose nicely shaped, don’t. If everything goes according to plan, the canes that were on the rose when it arrived in your garden will be gone by the third year or so, replaced by new canes that have grown from the base of the plant.

The reason this is a goal on every new rose I plant is because its canes when it arrived had likely been cut back several times during production and while it was for sale. This is done to keep a rose at a sellable size, to get it to bush out better (thereby making it more attractive at the garden center), and other reasons. I feel that chances are good that these canes will never make a nicely shaped plant.

Focus on getting new canes to grow from the base of the plant

These are sometimes called basal breaks. I will allow these canes to grow unhindered to their mature height, and these will form a nicely shaped plant. As these canes come up and I feel I can replace an original cane, I cut the original canes out. Over time all the original canes are gone, having been replaced by new ones.

Of course these new ones need energy to form and grow. Energy provided by the leaves on the original canes. My way of thinking is, the more foliage I have at the start the faster I’ll get those new canes popping up. This is one of the main reasons I do not prune young roses.

TIP: Sometimes there are exceptions to young rose pruning 
If a plant takes off like a rocket and throws out long canes, feel free to keep them in check, particularly if you feel they might snap off in a windstorm. Use a light hand, and try to keep as much of the cane as possible.

When it comes to pruning young roses, my rule of thumb is to avoid it if possible and to use a very light hand if I believe pruning is warranted.

Previous: Summer-Pruning Roses in Warmer Zones Next: Trimming a Rose During the Growing Season
View Comments


  1. PaulineMary 03/06/2013

    Hi Paul,

    Ordered your book, and can't wait for it to arrive! So glad you created this carbon based resource, as it just doesn't feel quite right curling up with a duvet, glass of wine, and a laptop.

    On the subject of pruning new roses, thank you very much for sharing your wisdom. I planted most of our roses last year, and was planning to prune them on the weekend. Now I'll wait till next year, as I want them to thrive and be beautiful.

    One question, please - we had a Sunsprite standard rose in a big pot. Bloomed thrillingly the first year. Did not bloom the second year, so was planted (last fall) in the ground. Do I prune this spring, or wait till next year? I was thinking of pruning the branches half-way back, to about 8 inches long.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated, and meanwhile, I'm meeting the mailman every day to see if he has your lovely book.

    Many thanks,


  2. PFZimmerman 03/07/2013

    Hi Pauline,

    Thank you for ordering the book!

    Regarding your Sunsprite. Outside of dead wood I would let it be. If it appears to be getting top heavy during the season feel free to trim a little to keep it shaped.

  3. PaulineMary 03/08/2013

    Paul, guess what! Your book just arrived and it is gorgeous :) Really, truly, beautiful. Unspeakably tempting, in fact, for someone who works full time online from home. Cannot wait to dive into tonight.

    I'm learning so much from you, thank you very much. Appreciate the advice re the tree rose, I'll upload some pics when it blooms this year.

    Again, many thanks, and congratulations on creating such a beautiful and informative (and reasonably priced) book.



  4. PFZimmerman 03/29/2013

    Pauline. Thanks!

  5. noniecat 04/24/2013

    I was going to ask you how to prune my 2'Knock out'roses
    planted last year and came across your article on pruning
    young roses. I must admit that I did not know this! I have
    always pruned new roses in the spring, along with my
    other roses.
    You article was an eye opener....and it makes
    sense. Except as you mentioned, a rose that just takes
    off and grows extremely tall. I'm thinking of the 6 Kordes
    Fairy Tale Roses I planted in 2011. So I shall leave my
    'Knock outs' alone. I am looking forward to you new book.
    I read your entries and watch your videos. I am the President of the Greater Toronto Rose & Garden Society and have told all
    my members about your columns. (I am an organic gardener and
    live with black spot on some roses, but am looking forward to see how these new behave! My Kordes Roses were clean last
    year.) Thanks for listening to my rant! I'm a great fan of yours!

  6. PFZimmerman 04/30/2013

    I would leave your Knock Outs alone this year except for dead wood and weak growth. The nice thing about KO is you can trim it all year long to keep it in shape.

    Say hi to everyone in Toronto for me and I hope you like the book!

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