Pruning roses: The thorny truth

Got roses? Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for a renewal pruning.

With Valentine’s Day fresh in mind, many people start thinking about cutting roses — not just florists, but anyone with modern roses in the garden.

If you’re growing old-fashioned garden or antique roses and climbing roses, you have a little more flexibility. Many old-fashioned roses and climbers bloom only once a year, flowering on last year’s wood. If this sounds like your rose, it can be pruned later in the year after flowering.

But for modern, ever-blooming roses like hybrid teas (including Knockouts and Belinda’s Dream), February is the time for renewal pruning. Since these cultivars bloom on new — not old — wood, last year’s growth needs to be removed to provide a fresh canvas.

  • You’ll need sharp, curved-edge pruning shears; loppers; and gloves.
  • It’s a good idea to perform the major pruning just as the spring buds begin to swell (typically mid-February).
  • Start pruning away all dead, unproductive and crisscrossing canes and selectively cut the rest back to strong bases.
  • Visualize reducing the entire bush to four-to-eight bare canes about 18-24 inches tall. The result: a strong base for this year’s new stems and flowers.

Rosarians always recommend cutting stems to an outward-facing dormant bud. This directs new growth outward, improving air circulation inside the bush to discourage fungal disease.

Picture of Brad Wier
Brad Wier
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation planner. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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