Knowing Rose Type Makes Pruning Easy

January 29, 2005

By Lee Oliphant,
Master Gardener

Your attention this month is probably focused more on buying those bareroot roses stacked temptingly in front of
the nurseries than it is on tending the ones looking forlorn and neglected in your yard.  There is, however, no task in the cultivation of roses more important than pruning before new leaves appear.  Coastal roses can be pruned as early as December but inland roses will benefit from a good pruning after the last scattering of frozen dew.

The word “pruning” can scare
the overalls off even the most experienced gardener.  Pruning roses consists of the removal of dead, graying surplus wood; shaping the plant; and encouraging healthy canes for good flower production.  In general, all pruning cuts described below should be made at a 45 degree angle above a bud that points to the outside of the plant.  This will encourage new growth away from the center.

To make
the seemingly daunting act of pruning roses simple, I’ll address the basic procedures for each of the major types of roses.

Hybrid Teas produce large single flowers, on new wood, on plants that can grow six feet in height.  Pruning should reduce
them to a manageable 2 - 4 feet.  Limit your selection of canes to 4 - 5 healthy, young canes for the largest, finer blooms.  Cut back small canes (about the size of a pencil) to 4 - 6 inches from the graft (the swelling at the base of the canes where the bush was budded onto the root stock).  Larger canes (about the size of your forefinger) should be pruned to about 8 - 12 inches from the graft.  The largest canes can be pruned 2 - 3 feet or less.  If the large canes do not have growth buds that low, cut them back to just above the lowest bud.

Floribunda roses produce many flowers on each stem.  While
their floral progeny can be used as cut flowers, the plant itself creates a showy garden display.  Floribundas are generally smaller than hybrid teas and are easily pruned by heading back the canes to about 12-18 inches from the graft, leaving some twiggy growth.  When the bush becomes crowded with canes, thin out a few.  Reduce side-shoots by about 1/3 - 2/3 of their length.

Shrub and “old roses” have a twiggy growth habit that is actually easy to prune if you remember that
they flower on old wood.  Minimum pruning is desirable and should be delayed until after flowering.  Mature plants benefit from cleaning out dead, damaged, diseased or weak wood and cutting a few main growths to the base.

Climbing roses and ramblers are easy to prune.  For
the first few years after planting, let them climb and ramble to their hearts content.  Limit the number of climbing rose canes to about 4 - 6.  When the plant has matured, prune any secondary growth that develops from the main cane to the second growth buds.  Repeat blooming climbers should be pruned in fall, single blooming ramblers after summer flowering.

Tree roses are grafted at
the top of the tree stock so only the “bushy head” needs your pruning attention.  Follow the above directions for the type of rose that has been incorporated.  The tree stock itself should need no pruning. 

When you are finished pruning, clean up any debris under your rose bushes and sit back and enjoy
the display.


University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers can provide additional gardening information upon request .Call the San Luis Obispo office at 781-5939 on Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 PM.  You may also call the Paso Robles office at 237-3100 on Wednesdays from 9 AM to 12 PM.  The San Luis Obispo Master Gardeners website is at  Questions can be e-mailed to: