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What Is the Best Way to Trim Roses?

Updated on May 25, 2017
Titia profile image

I love critter friendly gardens, old roses and trees. Sometimes even dangerous plants like the Giant Hogweed. My garden is a biotope.

Abraham Darby Rose
Abraham Darby Rose | Source

How to Take Care of Roses on a Yearly Base

When you don't take care of your roses, they will grow wildly and sometimes as wild as impenetrable bushes. Roses need to be trimmed and/or pruned. The best time for trimming roses is the Spring. You have to wait though until the threat of night frost has gone. A lot has been written about trimming roses and even so many different opinions about what the best time for trimming your roses is have been voiced.

In this article I'll tell you something about what the books tell you and what I do when I trim my roses. I've learned a lot from an owner of a beautiful private rose garden and I've practiced his way of trimming roses ever since.

Abraham Darby Rose

American Pillar Rose
American Pillar Rose | Source

Not All Rose Bushes Are Healthy Bushes

How to Choose a Healthy Rose?

It's very easy and tempting to choose a rose bush out of a catalog and order it online and then get it send to your house. I never buy a rose bush that I haven't seen and picked out myself. It is so important that the rose you want to buy is a healthy plant with at least 3 to 5 equally strong stems which are divided up proportionally. A rose with only one stem or two stems will never grow out to a beautiful bush.

  1. I prefer buying a rose which has been grown in a container. It will be much healthier and much easier to plant, because its hair roots will not damaged when you plant it. You can plant container roses throughout the year. Don't forget to water it often the first week, depending on the temperature. Watch out for rule nr. 3 though.
  2. First of all you should do some research on forehand, either in books or on the internet to find out what kind of rose you want to buy.
  3. A healthy rose plant should at least contain 3 to 5 healthy looking stems which has to be spread out widely and the size of the plant should not be taller than 1,5 to 2 times the height of the container. It it's a large rose in a small container it sure has been in there too long and the chance is that its roots have bonded with the container so they will be damaged when you take it out.
  4. Don't buy a rose that has only one or two basic stem(s), it will never grow into a nice shape. Or if you're more experienced, you can cut it back to at least 15 to 20 cm so it might grow a new stem. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't.
  5. The leaves should look healthy and green without any brown blotches, which would point to the disease black spot. Some roses are really sensitive for black spot. There also should not be black or white flies in the foliage.
  6. I always buy roses that are still in their buds and there should be plenty, healthy looking buds on a rose. Depending of course again what kind of rose you want. There are roses with one flower per stem or multiple flowers grouped together.

Mme. Le Gras de St. Germain - a David Austin Rose

Mme le gras de st. germain rose
Mme le gras de st. germain rose | Source

Do I need to treat all roses the same way?

Does a Rose Need to Be Pruned Each Year?

The overall meaning of pruning a rose is that you cut off all stems quite short in order to stimulate the plant to grow new stems and to direct it into a direction you want it to grow. The most common given advice is that you have to trim the whole rose plant each year. Well, you can do that to some roses, but not all of them.

I once visited a beautiful private rose garden in The Netherlands. This couple had taken over the remaining roses of a rosary that had gone out of business. They were able to purchase about 2,5 acres (1ha.) land right behind their own garden and they turned that piece of bare land into the most awesome rose garden I've ever seen, containing 400 different rose plants, bushes, hedges. You name it, it was there. I would've given you a link, but it appears not to be online anymore. It was several years ago when I visited this garden.

I talked to the owner and asked him in what time of year he pruned his roses and he looked at me and said:

"I don't prune my roses, I just cut off branches where I don't want them. The way people are told to cut off their roses short each year might be right if you have a garden the size of a postage, but such a garden is hardly the right place to grow roses like they should grow. You know, by cutting off all the branches, they cut off most of the flowers each year and the plant has to work so hard to grow back again, it will wear itself out in a few years.

However when you have to cut back a rose, because it's growing out of proportion, the best time to do that is spring, when there's no chance on frost anymore. It doesn't matter if the rose is already sprouting. Cutting a branch short in wintertime, before the frost has gone, big chance that branch will freeze to death and will not flower at all anymore."

I went back home and thought about what he had told me and I couldn't but admit that this man was right. Cutting off too many big branches will result in less beautiful roses and will weaken the rose in the end. Nevertheless it doesn't mean you don't have to do anything at all because different types of roses need different ways to trim or prune them.

You'll Need a Pruning Shear

What Kind of Trimming Shear Can I Use Best?

I have (had) a lot of roses in my garden and it almost became a burden to trim and prune them each year, because the small shears were often too small and the normal loppers were often too big to cut that oversized twig in an easy way. Many times I had to squeeze hard which caused muscle strain in my hands.

Pruning my roses and other bushes became a really easy and joyful job when I found the Master Craft 8-inch Ratcheting Pruning Shears in one of our local warehouses. Never again would I suffer from aching hand muscles after pruning the roses and bushes in our farmhouse garden.

With these ratcheting shears, pruning has become very easy, because it cuts through the thicker twigs in no time without having to use much strength, because it's cutting it in parts, one cut at the time. You have to get used to using this tool, it's not working like the ones you might be familiar with.

When you start cutting you'll notice it will only cut a small part. Then you have to open it a bit until you hear a 'click' (you can feel it too), then squeeze again, open it till 'click' and squeeze again. These shears increase the cutting power up to 300 percent.

You don't have to open it all the way each time, just far enough till you hear (or feel) that one click and bit by bit it cuts through this thicker twig or branch without you having to put in too much power yourself.

Very easy, very enjoyable and a must have for every gardener. I really can speak from my own experience and therefore I recommend it strongly. It will make your pruning time even a more fun time.

Master Craft 8-Inch Ratcheting Pruning Shear


If You Have the Space Then Let Your Roses Grow

This Rose Is Expanding Her Territory


You'll Need Garden Gloves

Different Gloves for Different Garden Jobs

Most of the time I like garden gloves that let me feel what I'm doing.

However, when handling roses you really need some thicker gloves where the thorns won't hurt you the moment you touch them and the stems of some roses are just filled with thorns. Atlas Gloves are certainly suitable for working with roses.

I don't trim all roses each year
I don't trim all roses each year | Source

How Do You Trim Roses and When Do You Trim Roses

Trimming a rose is like giving it a haircut once in a while. Well it depends on what kind of rose it is. I don't trim the rambler roses, unless they grow out of proportion.

I trim my roses all summer long, for instance when a branche has bloomed out, I trim it back at least one third or even half, just above a healthy leave that points outwards. Make sure you cut it the right way, because then the rose will grow a new flower carying branche.

Don't be afraid to cut off a branche of a rose, as long as you don't cut off too many at the same time and don't cut them off too short.

What to Do with Deadhead Roses?

What Is the Best Way to Remove the Deadhead Roses?

Deadheading Roses means: you take out the dead flowers during the blooming time of the rose.

However...don't just take off the flower, because then it won't grow a new one.

Take off the flower a bit lower.

Look for the first or second healthy leave below the flower which is pointing outwards and cut it off just above that leave.

This will stimulate the rose to grow a new flower carrying branch.

Mind you, that will only succeed with roses that will flower all summer.

There are some old roses which will flower only once a year.

Walking through my garden,

I found these roses few,

Rosa Complicata,

I'll sit a while with you.

Rosa Complicata

Rosa Complicata
Rosa Complicata | Source

Dainty Bess is the name,

of this ever lovely rose.

Pink shade petals fragile,

so for a while I froze.

Rose Dainty Bess

Rose Dainty Bess
Rose Dainty Bess | Source

Souvenir of St. Anne,

your name suits you so well,

just because all summer long,

I'll recognize your smell.

Rose Souvenir de St. Anne

Rose Souvenir de St. Anne
Rose Souvenir de St. Anne | Source

I hope you enjoyed

this little stroll with me.

Whenever I feel lost,

in this garden I will be.

Rose Albertine

Rose Albertine
Rose Albertine | Source

Rosa F. J. Grootendorst

Rose F.J. Grootendorst
Rose F.J. Grootendorst | Source

Rosa F.J. Grootendorst

The Rosa Rugose Hybrid F.J. Grootendorst is a beautiful park rose. Introduced in 1918. Blooming from June to October. Growing in beautiful shrubs, height about 1,5 - 2 meters. They don't need much trimming.

Roses in my garden
Roses in my garden | Source

Roses Won't Last Forever

Back in 2011 we had a strange winter in the Netherlands. It stayed too warm until half of January which caused the roses to sprout too early in the season. Then in one night the temperature dropped from +7 to -18C and that was the deathblow to many of my beautiful roses.

As you've maybe read above or heard in one of the videos, that cutting off too many branches at once, could be deadly for the rose, well I didn't cut them off, but nature froze them to death, which has the same result. A lot of the roses fought to stay alive and produced new stems from their roots, but these were very weak stems which would break off easily in a bit of wind (as many did). A lot of roses had no power left to overcome this devastating pruning and also their tiny new sprouts died after a while.

What grieved me most is that my beautiful Mme Le Gras St. Germain who was living in the big Apple tree died too, leaving behind a big crown of black rose branches. It's growing again from the ground up, but it will take years and years before she will look beautiful again.

Strange enough some roses seemed to have had no stress at all, mostly the old fashioned single petal roses, but still.....if you once counted over 200 different roses in your garden and there are about a dozen left it's a sad case.

Mme. Le Gras de St. Germain - growing into an old apple tree

Mme le Gras de St. Germain growing in a tree
Mme le Gras de St. Germain growing in a tree | Source

© 2013 Titia Geertman

Do you like Roses too?

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    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 4 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Lovely photos and lens! I can't wait to get back into the garden after a long winter. Roses are my favorite flowers.

    • profile image

      Auriel 4 years ago

      beautiful flowers..

    • BobZau profile image

      Bob Zau 4 years ago

      Nice pictures. I love the smell of roses and with all the varieties available. There mus be a type that even I can grow.

    • GardenIdeasHub LM profile image

      GardenIdeasHub LM 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed your lens about trimming roses in the spring and I did pick up some good tips.

    • Muebles de host profile image

      Muebles de host 4 years ago

      very nice lens. thank you

    • toronto-wedding profile image

      toronto-wedding 4 years ago

      nice information about gardening.Thanks

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Beautiful photos and great info. Thank you.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      It is so nice to see your roses so gloriously displayed. Your effort and hard work are beginning to pay off. I'm doing a little happy dance for you. Have a wonderful is right around the corner now.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @chezchazz: LOL Chazz, I'm sure you can come up with a different angle of pruning roses. So many gardeners, so many ways to prune roses. I do as little as I can. But I have to start all over, practically all roses you see in the photos are either dead or trying to survive by sending up a few inferior stems.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 4 years ago from New York

      WOW! Can't believe I hadn't seen this lens before. Blessed and featured on Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo and will shortly be added to My Victorian Garden in Summer: Growing Heirloom Roses lens - no point in my writing a lens about rose pruning - you've got it covered!

    • stylishimo1 profile image

      stylishimo1 4 years ago

      Beautiful roses, it's sad that some of yours died, the one growing over the apple tree looked so beautiful. I hope your rose garden flourishes again soon :)

    • LeslieMirror profile image

      LeslieMirror 4 years ago

      Roses look extremelly gorgeous. I guess that it the most perfect present ever!

    • Pmona LM profile image

      Pmona LM 4 years ago

      Roses are such beautiful flowers, with such an amazing fragrance. I've enjoyed looking at your photos.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Beautiful Roses! Thanks for the information it is really helpful.

    • SandraWilson LM profile image

      SandraWilson LM 4 years ago

      Beautiful pictures. I'm so sorry you lost so many roses. Terrible! Thank you for the helpful lens.

    • profile image

      robbieshaws 4 years ago

      Thank you for an informative and beautiful lens. Worth the read.

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 4 years ago from US

      So lovely--it really was like strolling through the garden with you. Beautiful photos. #blessed

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 4 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      I swear I could smell the roses as I enjoyed this article. I appreciate all the great tips also. Now, for Spring to come so I can go trim my roses correctly once.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      My grandmother always had roses...and they always had her "working" so hard, I was afraid to try them. This last spring, Red planted some for me and from your pictures and descriptions I have a much better idea of how to trim them. Thank you!

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 4 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      Hi Tatia,

      I really enjoyed this very interesting and informative lens. I used to grow roses when I was in Houston and loved everything that went along with it. I keep thinking that I'll start growing them again, but so far have not gotten around to doing it.


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