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Roses Are Plants Too!

Say Goodbye to Rose Pruning Season

Sometimes the best time to trim a rose is whenever the pruners are sharp

pink rose
'Mary' rose is still one of David Austin's greatest roses. You can purchase it directly from David Austin Roses in Tyler, Texas. Tell 'em Paul sent you. Photo: Paul Zimmerman Roses

A reader recently asked a question about her ‘Mary’ rose bush. She had planted it next to a path thinking it would keep to a nice 4 feet tall and wide. Next thing she knew it was throwing out 6-foot canes and costing a fortune in snagged sweaters. First off, let me say that ‘Mary’ roses do usually keep to a nice size, but sometimes in warmer ones they will get larger. The reader asked me what to do about it.

This to me is further proof that roses have somehow become segregated into a separate botanical plant-care category. If it was any other plant, the reader would have done what any good gardener would and simply trimmed it following her own good gardener’s instincts.

But not with roses! Oh no, trimming can only take place once a year during that mysterious time period known as “pruning season.” One only trims roses during that period, and failure to do so will result in the death of all your roses—or worse yet, a stern lecture from a rosarian likely wearing some form of rose-print clothing and a glazed look.

But then if roses are plants too, can’t we trim all season?

You can trim roses at almost any time

Just follow a few simple guidelines to ensure you’re not doing more harm than good. These are the rules I tend to live by when it comes to rose pruning.

Try to trim no lower than around a third of the mature height. Much more may be too much.

The best time to trim and reshape is after each bloom flush. You can trim and deadhead at the same time. Simply trim down to the size you want the rose to be, wait for it to bloom, and trim again.

Take note of how long the new “stem” gets before it blooms. If it’s only 6 inches long before it flowers, then you can cut down to 6 inches below the height you want, and the rose will bloom at the desired size. If the stem blooms at 12 inches, then you cut 12 inches below, and so on. You can figure this out by simply measuring from the previous cut when it does rebloom.

Keep your expectations reasonable. This won’t work if you are trying to keep a rose with a mature height of 6 feet down to 2 feet. That’s too radical. Roses, like other plants, have different heights of maturity, and you need to plant accordingly.

So if your roses are grabbing your clothes or scaring your neighbors, grab your secateurs and start trimming—just like you would with any other plant in your garden.


Previous: August Rose Pruning for Warmer Climates Next: Summer-Pruning Roses in Warmer Zones
View Comments


  1. snollygaster 09/14/2010

    Satori in Victoria! Enlightenment, flooded with sudden knowledge. Duh, I get it - Roses Are Plants, Too!!!! Sheesh, took me long enough to get the point but I've finally got it. Thanks, Paul, that's about the best advice I've ever received regarding roses and believe it or not I've read volumes on the subject. I began the new pruning strategy yesterday but only in my back garden for fear of provoking the F.C. Stepford Wife with secateurs. If all remains quiet I'll sneak out front early one morning and start on the front garden roses. Wow, what a cognition blaster!

    On a similar subject, this summer I planted several Sunsprite roses and must say have been delighted with their colour, charm and fragrance until recently, that is. A couple of weeks ago one shot up a tall spar with a cluster of small terminal buds. The thing looks odd. Do you have any idea of what's happening here? Previously, everything seemed to be going fine and the bushes were growing in a shapely habit. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  2. PFZimmerman 09/14/2010

    I've seen that sometimes happen due to heat, the bush trying to sport or any other odd thing. Just cut it back. If it happens again we might have an issue but I doubt it will.

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