Whether you are completely new to roses or have been growing them for years, pruning them can seem like a bit of a daunting task, but it needn’t be. The first thing I would really like to stress is that no matter how bad a job you make of pruning your roses, you are not going to kill them! As the old gardener’s saying ‘Get your worst enemy to prune your roses’ suggests, roses are tough and can take a lot more abuse than people give them credit for. Just think about how badly butchered hedgerows look along the roadside after the farmer has hacked them back. It’s easy to look at them, resembling nothing more than bare broken and splintered sticks and wonder how these poor roses and hawthorns will ever survive, but they do. Ian pruning with sheers A trial was conducted several years ago at the Gardens of the Rose, St Albans, where some of their roses were rough pruned using hedge trimmers, whilst others were pruned in the traditional way using secateurs. The results showed that actually roses rough pruned in this way can still produce an abundance of blooms and grow just as well as roses pruned carefully with a pair of secateurs. Now, whilst this may be a tremendous time saver for large parks and gardens, this doesn’t mean that I would necessarily recommend you pruning your roses in this way. It should though hopefully help to alleviate some of the fears you may have when it comes to pruning. You may be wondering though, why prune roses at all? Pruning encourages the plant to put on vigorous new growth as well as many more flowers than they otherwise would have produced. Roses can also have a tendency to become a bit tall and leggy if not looked after and pruning will therefore help you create a healthier, bushier plant rewarding you with masses of flowers. When thinking about pruning your roses, it is however important to know that there are a few different types of roses that need to be approached in slightly different ways. To help you get the most out of your roses, here are a few simple tips for tackling theses main types of roses. The best time to prune your roses is during February and March. But some roses may require a light prune in the autumn, such as tall Hybrid Teas that may need a slight trim to protect them from being damaged by heavy winds during the winter months. It is not recommended to hard prune them during the autumn though as the tips can then become damaged by frost. Shrub roses and Moderns Once flowering shrub roses Once flowering shrub varieties, like ‘Rosa Mundi’, ‘Fantin-Latour’ and ‘Tuscany Superb’, generally send 10 to 20 stems up from the base of the rose. To prune this group of roses I would pick out roughly 4 to 5 old stems and cut these back to about 10cm (4 inches) from the base. Take out any dead or diseased wood and then simply take about a third off of the rest of the plant and that’s it. That’s all you have to do to ensure that your roses will give you great results in the summer. Modern shrub roses Modern shrub roses like ‘Felicia’, ‘Comte de Chambord’ and ‘Rose de Rescht’, usually repeat or continually flower throughout the summer. With these simply take off roughly 50% of the plant, to an outward facing bud where possible. This helps to encourage new growth to grow out away from the centre of the plant, helping the plant to stay healthy. If the centre of a rose becomes too dense, it can encourage disease to form as not enough air can circulate around it. Again don’t forget to take out any dead or diseased wood, as well as clearing away any old fallen diseased leaves that may still be lying around from last year. Again this will help to keep your roses in great condition for the year ahead. When discarding any diseased rose leaves, always ensure that you throw them straight into your rubbish bin though and not into your compost bin! This will help to make sure that you don’t contaminate your roses again in the future. It is also a good idea to clean your secateurs and anything else that may have come into contact with black spot. During the summer modern shrub roses require dead heading after they have flowered to help new growth develop to produce another flush later on. Again this is done by cutting around 50% off of the stem to an outward facing bud. Modern hybrid teas and floribundas To prune modern hybrid teas and floribundas, like ‘Royal William’, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Peace’, take 2 thirds off of the plant, pruning to an outward facing bud, ensuring to take out any dead or diseased wood as well. Modern roses also require deadheading once they have finished flowering and this can be done by cutting off the stem which has finished flowering to an outwards facing bud. Whilst pruning back to an outwards facing bud is preferable, it is by no means essential, so don’t worry if this is something that you struggle with. Climbing and Rambling roses Climbing and rambling roses tend to be a little more complicated, purely because there is normally an element of training involved also and sometimes a little bit of imagination is needed as well to picture ahead how you want your roses to look come the summer. If your roses are growing against a wall or fence then the ideal is to have them growing as close to the wall or fence as possible. The other point to really consider is that the more your stems are laid horizontally, the more flowers they will produce. Train or cut off any unwanted growth that is growing away from the wall or fence and trim any stems that flowered the previous year back to about 2-3cm from the main stem. This method is called ‘stumping’ and this will encourage new growth, which will produce many more flowers in the summer. If your climber or rambler is very old and has only a few stems, which are say 4-5 metres in length, with all the flowers blooming right at the top and not much else in the way of growth, then this is when it is probably best to prune very hard and start again. In February cut these stems down to about 15cm from the base. Feed with a slow release fertiliser and mulch with 6cm of well-rotted horse manure and this should breathe new life into your old rose. Hopefully in the spring it should start to shoot prolifically again. If however the new growth is very weak then I’m afraid it may be time to dig it out, change the soil and start again with a new rose. Personally I would never dig out a rose without first giving it a chance to grow back to its full glory though. With practice you will develop the skills needed to assess and adjust to every situation and prune accordingly to achieve the best results. A lot of pruning and in fact gardening, in general, is down to trial and error, but don’t be afraid of it and if possible try to enjoy it and unless you get it terribly terribly wrong, your roses will reward you for it. Among the family of landscape roses, shrub roses tend to be less showy plants with a growth habit that often resembles the wild parent species. There often is one main flowering period during the growing season, sometimes with a second smaller flush of blooms in early fall. Shrub roses make up for their less dramatic flowers by being extremely hardy and easier to care for than the sensitive tea roses and other hybrids. With shrub roses, pruning tends to be a simple process, though the exact methods for pruning depend on the type of shrub rose you are dealing with.

Types of Shrub Roses

There are many ways to categorize shrub roses. But the most basic distinction is between those with an upright, bushy habit and those that are low-growing. Upright shrub roses are often used to make bold statements in a garden due to their blooms and sprawling growth habit. However, these large shrub roses can be somewhat wild and ill-behaved in their growth and must be tamed through pruning that focuses on shaping them. Many of these shrub roses only bloom once a year instead of the “from summer to frost” period of many popular modern roses. Other shrub roses demonstrate a low-growing habit that hugs the ground. This type includes a special class of selectively bred plants known as Knock Out roses. All of these low-growers are often used as ground covers in sunny areas because of their toughness and hands-off maintenance requirements.

When to Prune Shrub Roses

Deadheading, or the removal of spent flowers, should be done constantly throughout the growing season. However, the majority of shrub rose pruning to shape the plant should occur in the spring. But you can remove any broken or diseased portions as soon as you spot them.


Use sharp bypass pruners rather than anvil pruners. Bypass pruners cleanly sever the stems rather than crush them. Crushing can create an entry point for insects and diseases. Make sure your pruners are clean, disinfecting them before and after each use. Many experts divide shrub roses into three groups based on how vigorously they grow. If your rose doesn’t exactly match one of these groups, then select whichever description comes closest.

  • A rose that blooms mostly from an old structure is in Group 1.
  • Roses that produce some blooms from new wood but mostly from old wood are in Group 2.
  • Roses that put up a lot of new growth from the ground and bloom on both old and new wood are in Group 3.

Shrub roses should always be pruned by cutting stems back to a healthy bud. After you cut, look for healthy white wood in the cut. If it is brown, continue to cut until you reach white wood. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above a bud. The goal is to remove all dead or broken canes (stems) and to create a pleasing shape that opens the shrub interior to light and air.

  1. Prune Group 1 Shrub Roses

    Group 1 shrub roses include Gallica roses, Father Hugo roses, musk roses, and Scotch or Burnet roses. Prune these lightly in the spring, getting rid of diseased or dead wood.

  2. Prune Group 2 Shrub Roses

    This group includes the Burgundy rose, cabbage (centifolia) rose, Rosa x alba, damask rose, rugosa rose, and once-blooming modern shrub roses. In the spring, remove the oldest 1/3 of the canes, and reduce the length of any remaining long or droopy canes to create a pleasing shape.

  3. Prune Group 3 Shrub Roses

    Group 3 includes China roses and continuous-blooming modern shrub roses, such as the Knock Out rose family. For these roses, heavily prune the canes nearly to ground level each spring.

Annette Hempfling/Getty Images

Watch Now: Tips and Tricks for Pruning Roses

Tips for Pruning Shrub Roses

Two rules of thumb will let any shrub rose thrive fairly well:

  • Deadhead the flowers: Whether your shrub rose blooms once a year in late spring or early summer or it blooms repeatedly, it will likely benefit from deadheading. This can promote a longer bloom period and might even prompt a second bloom. A few types, such as the Knock Outs, drop their spent flowers automatically and don’t require deadheading. Also, late in the blooming season, you might want to stop deadheading and let the hips ripen for an autumn display or to provide food for birds.
  • Allow large shrubs to remain large: Many shrub roses bloom on shoots emerging from old wood, so you can’t cut back old wood in the spring without sacrificing blooms. When these plants need pruning, do so little by little. Trim out just a few canes in the spring. And then throughout the year, prune whatever is necessary to maintain the plant’s shape. However, don’t expect a large shrub rose to ever look completely tidy.

Tips for Pruning Knock Out Roses

The Knock Out group of shrub roses blooms repeatedly every five to six weeks throughout the growing season. There are varieties with both single and double flowers. The plants typically grow no more than 3 or 4 feet tall with a similar spread, and they tend to be more resistant to diseases than most roses. The general rules for pruning Knock Out roses include:

  • Always prune in early spring when new shoots are beginning to form on the canes.
  • Prune to about one-third of the desired final size. Knock Out roses typically triple in size after pruning.
  • Remove dead or damaged wood when you see it.
  • Every two or three years, remove one-third of old growth to rejuvenate the shrub.

Colleen Tighe/The Spruce, 2019 The instructions in this article cover the pruning of English Shrub Roses, as well as other repeat flowering shrub roses.

WHy should i prune?

Pruning is essential if you really want your rose to thrive. English Roses are naturally vigorous and, if left without pruning, may become large and leggy shrubs. The main purpose of pruning is to create a shapely, attractive shrub, with good structure, you can do this by simply removing parts of the plant during the non flowering season. Pruning encourages fresh new growth and plentiful blooms for the following season.

video tutorials for pruning a shrub rose

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How to prune a newly planted Shrub Rose

Pruning after the first summer of flowers.

Watch the video on

How to prune an ESTABLISHED shrub rose

how to prune a shrub rose

Pruning requirements vary depending on the age of your rose. If pruned properly, your rose bush will look signficantly smaller and bare. Do not be alarmed, the growth will strengthen and re-establish quickly in the spring. The diagram shows a 2+ year old shrub before and after pruning, once all stems have been cut back by half.

Year One

We define Year One as any rose that has completed its first season of flowering. At this stage your rose will still be establishing its roots to support growth in the future, thus only very light pruning is required.

  • Step 1 – cut back the flowering shoots by 3-5 inches and any very strong shoots that are disproportionate to the rest of the plant.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains. This is where disease spores can lay dormant ready to challenge your plant next year.

Year Two

Your plant will still be developing its root system and will not be at its mature size or shape.

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems by one third. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Three

By the third year your rose will be a fully formed plant. Your choice of how much you cut back is a little more flexible. You now have the opportunity to influence the size and shape of your shrub. Before pruning, choose from one of the following:

  1. For a taller shrub – cut back by less than one third.
  2. To maintain its current size – cut your rose back by one third.
  3. To reduce its size – cut back by a half or even more. This will reduce the size of the shrub without impacting the amount of flowering.

Then follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems depending on your choice from above. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Four and Beyond

To ensure your rose performs to its optimum, we recommend following the steps in Year Three every year.


Remember these key points to ensure effective pruning:

  • Shaping is essential. Try to create a rounded shrub.
  • Don’t worry about where you cut a stem. Accepted wisdom suggests cutting just above a leaf joint with a sloping cut away from the bud. However, there is no evidence to prove this is necessary.
  • Don’t worry about cutting back too much. Roses are extremely strong and will grow back even if you cut all of the stems right back to the base.
  • Carefully dispose of foliage. Foliage should never be composted and should be removed from your garden. This ensures spores that can initiate disease are removed from your garden.
  • Look out for loose roses. Look out for any roses that are loose in the ground due to the wind rocking them to the point where they are no longer standing upright. Firm around the base of each loose rose and cut them back a little more to reduce wind resistance.

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Quick facts

Suitable for: All shrub roses
Timing: After flowering and in late winter (February to March)
Difficulty: Moderate

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    • Suitable for…
    • When to prune shrub roses
    • How to prune shrub roses
    • Problems

Suitable for…

Shrub roses are a large and diverse group of roses. They are usually larger than modern bush roses and have thornier stems, often with scented flowers. They may repeat flower or flower only once in summer. Many shrub roses are suitable for hedging as well as making excellent specimen plants.

When to prune shrub roses

Roses can be pruned during late winter when growth is just resuming, usually mid-February in the south, but in northern and colder areas wait until March. Deadheading is carried out in summer after flowering.

How to prune shrub roses

Unlike modern bush roses, shrub roses generally flower on older wood and should be allowed to develop naturally, maintained by light but regular pruning and with a balance of older wood and young, vigorous growth. Bear in mind that a large number of old garden roses have an arching habit and need adequate space; shortening stems simply to restrict spread spoils their graceful shape.

Shrub roses that have a single flush of flowers

  • Prune in late summer once flowering is completed
  • The main requirement is to keep the plants free of dead, diseased and damaged wood, crossing or rubbing branches, or spindly growth
  • Avoid excessive build-up of older, unproductive wood that is causing the centre to become crowded, removing one or two older branches from the centre if necessary
  • If they become leggy and bare at the base, remove one or two stems back to near ground level, which will usually encourage new growth from the base

Includes: Species, Shrub, Minature and Rugosa groups; which includes the cultivar ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’. This method also works for: Alba, Centifolia, Damask, Gallica, Hybrid Musk, Moss, Scots and Sweet Briar groups; which includes the cultivars ‘Charles de Mills’ and ‘William Lobb’.

Repeat-flowering shrub roses

  • Maintain a balanced framework by reducing strong new growth in late winter by up to one-third. “English” roses: prune back the previous season’s growths by 30 to 50 percent of their length
  • Shorten strong sideshoots to two or three buds
  • Mature plants require a light renewal pruning each winter by cutting some of the older main stems back to the base. This encourages vigorous new shoots from the base that will flower the following summer
  • Deadhead spent blooms as they fade in the summer, to encourage production of further flowers

Includes: Bourbon, China and Portland groups, and remontant roses. These contain the cultivars ‘Duchess of Portland’ and ‘Reine Victoria’. To prune other types of roses, see our advice topics below;

  • Rose pruning: climbing roses
  • Rose pruning: hybrid tea and floribundas
  • Rose pruning: groundcover roses
  • Rose pruning: patio and miniature roses
  • Rose pruning: rambling roses
  • Rose pruning: general tips (includes a section on pruning an unknown rose)

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