I need rose pruning advice!

It's rare that I ask for gardening advice in a post. It's not that I don't need advice because I'm an expert in everything related to plants and gardening -- far from it! I'm not an expert, and often do need advice. It's just that I like figuring things out myself. I like trying something that seems to be logical to me, then seeing if it does what I expected. This approach usually works pretty well, as it's difficult to make terrible mistakes with most of the plants I grow. Despite my unintentional attempts to harm them, they overcome and keep on going.

Today is different though. I've decided that I finally need some advice on pruning my shrub roses. If you know anything about pruning these types of roses, please keep reading and post a comment!


I have three types of "shrub" roses in my garden. They all have a similar growing habit in that they get pretty bushy and flower all summer long. They also get "pruned" by deer, and in June they attract Japanese beetles like crazy.

First up is 'Morden Sunset':

'Morden Sunset' blooms from last year.

It's really starting to leaf out already, as you can see in this post's first photo. This doesn't grow as wide as the other roses, and this seems to be one that the deer seem to like the most, maybe because of its location more than flavor.

I usually just cut this one back to about 3' tall, but I may cut it a little shorter this year. This is probably the easiest of my rose pruning cases, since it's not as vigorous as the others.

Next up is 'Nearly Wild', a pink-flowered variety:

A couple more months and it will look like this again.
This one is getting pretty wide, and since it's next to a path I need to reduce its size a bit.

It's also quite congested, with some pretty old canes in there:

Do I need to worry about removing old canes? Do I need to thin them out any?

'Nearly Wild' rose blooms from last season.

None of these roses have problems with disease, and I want them to stay shrubby -- I don't want to be able to see through them -- so thinning doesn't seem necessary to me. Maybe some thinning would be beneficial though? I just don't know.

Finally I have three 'Home Run' roses. This one is the biggest:

This post shows how I cut it back last year. It was about 3' tall after pruning, and it got almost 6' tall this year, which is too big. So I want to prune it more than I did last year. Here's the base:

Do I need to remove anything from here? I'll take out any dead canes that I find, but there are usually only one or two smaller ones. It's the old-but-not-dead parts that I don't know what to do with.

'Home Run' roses last summer. The deer helped prune this.

I really want these plants to stay full and bushy, but not get quite as big this year as they did last year.

If anybody has advice on what I should be doing when pruning these shrub roses, please let me know!


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anne  – (March 26, 2011 at 8:29 AM)  

I could write out a bunch of instructions, but I like to refer to the following website (they have a section on a Nearly Wild rose as well and in turn refer you to this pruning section I am linking you to)


Although you will read much of this in the above website, personally, I would take out the dead wood and make sure you cut on a good angle to avoid borers etc as much as possible. Take out branches that are crossing over. Make cuts just above buds that are facing outward and take off (push them off with your gloved finger) inward facing buds. You really want branches to grow outward. Here's a good video to watch as well:


Your roses look beautiful so whatever you are doing works!

Janet  – (March 26, 2011 at 8:32 AM)  

The pink rose looks like a rosa rugosa to me. When we lived in orkney we were so exposed to the salr laden winds that this was about the only rose we could grow. They have beautiful flowers in pink or white, enormous hips that I used for jelly. But they tend to sucker like mad. If it is a rosa rugosa you can thin taking out about a third or you can whack it right back. They're hard to kill.

The Sage Butterfly  – (March 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM)  

You don't seem to have been doing too bad, but here is a good site to help...with step-by-step instructions and good illustrations.
www.Urban ext.Illinois.edu/roses/prune.cfm

Good luck!

Masha  – (March 26, 2011 at 12:10 PM)  

I have two things to say:
1. It seems a little late to prune because they are leafing out already - if you prune now you will delay the spring flush and more of it will go to Japanese Beetles.
2. The object of pruning is not to reduce size (although it is often done, but because the gardener needs it, not the rose) but to rejuvenate. Absolutely remove the old growth - look at which canes are the least productive (have the least amount of bloom), and remove them gradually (a few a year). A rose with more young wood will be more vigorous and bloom better. Also removing old wood will give young growth more of a chance to emerge and not get tangled in or shredded by the old canes.

Christine  – (March 26, 2011 at 1:00 PM)  

Hi Alan - I really love that "Nearly Wild" rose! Beautiful!

I have a DVD here on which South Africa's expert on Roses, Ludwig Taschner, demonstrates how to prune roses. I never understood before by reading books or looking at pictures - but this was so easy to understand and I now feel confident that I will do it right next time. I'd GLADLY post a copy of the DVD to you if you would like it? It would be my pleasure for all that I've learnt from you. Let me know your address and we'll post it. my e-mail address is info (a) thegardeningblog.co.za. Seriously - it would be a pleasure to send it to you. Here is a webpage by him: http://www.ludwigsroses.co.za/content1.php?id=28&type=1&aksie=update but it's much easier when you actually see someone do it properly.

anne  – (March 26, 2011 at 2:49 PM)  

one more thing - not sure if any of your varieties is a once-bloomer, but the website link I gave you above has info on pruning all kinds of roses....

Alan  – (March 26, 2011 at 4:21 PM)  

Masha: Late or not, they're getting cut. That short heatwave we had a week or so ago woke them up, but it's much colder again -- below freezing at night. I pruned them this late last year and there were no problems, so I'm not too concerned. That's why I like shrub roses: harder to make mistakes. Thanks for the 2nd point too. Good info.

Christine: These are shrub roses, which get pruned differently than "normal" roses (hybrid tea roses for example), at least that's what I think. Since I don't grow "normal" roses, I don't know for sure.

Anne: thanks for the link. I'll check it out while I'm waiting for the new snow to melt... up to 4" they say. It won't last long, and I'm glad for the moisture, but still... what happened to the warm temps?

Oregon Coast Gardener  – (March 26, 2011 at 6:18 PM)  

A few points I'll share from my experience and what I was taught back in hort school:
1- Roses bloom on new wood (this season's growth). Therefore it's not too late to prune them, even after leafing, if you encourage strong growth with proper soil fertility.
2- One of the goals of pruning is to produce more flowers or fruit. By pruning more, and stimulating more new growth, you get more flowers (again with adequate fertility).
3- You mention pruning one of your varieties harder to keep it smaller. It probably won't work; plants that are established respond to vigorous pruning with vigorous growth. You will have a better result by pruning more lightly, a couple times during the season, and not when spring growth is pushing.
4- It never hurts to remove old, unproductive and especially dead canes in roses. Helps air and light penetration, and looks nicer.
Good luck with your beautiful roses!

Jess  – (March 26, 2011 at 9:37 PM)  

Without living with the exact Rose, I can't be 100% but here's my advice. To prune to make a shrub bush shorter you can just sheer from 1/3rd to 1/2 of the bush. I have some that will tolerate 2/3rds. Others are right that you should have pruned before now, but ASAP is how I'd go.

As far as pruning back canes, anything dead or diseased should go, and if you start having fungal disease issues you can prune out selected canes to make the airflow better.

One extra bit... I have some that get very large by about August no matter what I do, and I do some light summer pruning to keep them from becoming Octopi! I try to do so directly after a flush so I don't miss too much. This is a trial and error method...some bushes are fine with this, some not so fine. All will recover though, no matter what you do really.

GrowingHabit –   – (March 26, 2011 at 11:30 PM)  

The magic formula for ultra blooming roses (and eggplant, tomato, and similar) is equal parts alfalfa meal/epsom salt. About a cup, right 'round the base of each rose. Ideally about 6 weeks ago, but as you're trimming now, now is good too!

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