How to Prune and Deadhead Roses

An Easy Guide on How to Deadhead and Prune Roses

The different plants that grace our landscaped gardens lend to the beauty of our world just outside our back door. Many gardeners covet the beauty found in a flowering shrub we know as a rose plant. 

Roses are perhaps one of the most beautiful flowers. Words fail to capture the true essence of a rose. The creamy texture of its petals gives way to the dimensions of an aromatic bouquet of fruits, spices, moss, and teas.

When it comes to caring for your roses, deadheading and pruning are two essential things that need to be done. Not only are you trying to achieve a specific form, but you also want to enhance and protect the plant as a whole.

We will walk you through how to deadhead and prune roses. Grab your tools and let’s head over into the garden.

What is the Difference Between Deadheading and Pruning?

DeadheadingPruning
This is the removal of the flowerThis is the removal of dead, diseased and decaying wood
Prevents flower from seedingDone in Spring to Summer
Channels energy into other parts of the plantEncourages air circulation to prevent disease
Removes spent flowersEnhances overall aesthetics
Increases bloomsEncourages new growth

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Did you know the rose is 35 million years old?

A Little Background On The Rose

Taxonomy of Roses

  • Family: rosaceae
  • Genus: rosa L. (wild rose)

There are hundreds of species of roses; a “rose is not just a rose.” Many people reference these flowers as a rose because of the historical redundancy of man’s term for the plant. When you are admiring a particular rose in a flower shop or someone’s garden, you are looking at a very specific species. This species came from the rosa L., which is the wild rose.

The cultivation of roses did not begin until the eighteenth century in China. Before that, roses were used as confetti during important events in the Middle East. Perfume was produced from the oil of the rose during the Roman period.

Today, roses are enjoyed and used in many ways. But the rose is most notably popular when gifting an outward expression of love and passion towards another.

Terminology Used in Caring for Roses

Understanding the anatomy of a rose gives you a foundation to properly care for your rose plants. When it comes to deadheading and pruning, you should know what part of the rose plant, you will make your cuts.

anatomy of a rose
Leaf-set A set of five leaves.
Shoot A stem (or branching) on a rose plant.
Hip
A pod that forms at the base of where the rose flower once sat. Within this pod are seeds. Deadheading hips in the summer encourages blooms, however, leaving the hips on during the fall/winter helps that rose plant to go dormant.
Blind shoot A shoot that never produces a flower.
Bud eyeThe swelling at the base of a leaf where a new shoot will form.
Outward-facing The desirable direction that bud eyes should be facing as well as the flowers. Inward-facing shoots prevent proper air circulation, which encourages disease.
Bloom flushThe peak flowering period when flowers are at their best.
Loppers 
A long-handled tool used in pruning and deadheading in hard-to-reach areas.
Bypass shearsPruning shears used for cutting green shoots. 
Anvil shears Pruning shears used for cutting dead/brittle shoots.
Pruning saw A small hand-held saw used to remove dead shoots that are otherwise too thick for shears.

Deadheading Roses

dead heading roses

Deadheading your roses have a two-fold benefit. You remove spent flowers that look bad, and you prevent a hip developing. Removing a spent flower encourages increased blooming. Remove one dead rose and your may have four or five that pop up in its place!

Equipment You Will Need

  • Protective gloves 
  • Bypass pruning shears (blades should be sharp and clean) for cutting green shoots
  • Anvil pruning shears (blades should be sharp and clean) for cutting dead/brittle shoots
  • Loppers (blades should be sharp and clean)

When do you deadhead roses?

Knowing when to deadhead your roses is easily identified through three methods. In looking at your roses, do you see:

  1. Spent flowers
    • Wilting
    • Sagging
    • Dead looking
    • Colorless
  1. Roses that are competing against one another.
    • Entwined
    • Crossing over each other
  1. Roses growing inward
    • To prevent disease and to allow sunlight in, roses should be growing in an outward manner. 

How do you deadhead roses?

Using the traditional five-leaflet method is a tried and true way to deadhead your roses safely.

Key things to remember:

  • Cuts should be just above a leaf-set of 5 leaves or more. 
    • Cutting at a leaf-set of less than 5 leaves tends to result in blind shoots (a shoot that does not produce flowers.)
  • A leaf-set should be facing in the desired direction you want your roses to grow.
  • Leaf-sets facing the wrong direction may require a cut further down.

Steps to Deadheading Roses

  1. Locate the leaf set (5 or more leaves.)
  2. Locate the bud eye (spot just above the joint of the leaf-set and the shoot.) You will make your cut ¼” above the bud eye.
  3. Position your shears at a 45-degree angle at the cut site. Never make a straight cut. Angled cuts help direct water to run off instead of sitting on the cut site. By doing so, you prevent disease from settling in on a straight cut (disease loves moisture.)
  4. After you have made your cut, place some white glue over the cut site to seal and prevent disease from getting in.
  5. Once you are done deadheading, be sure to clean your shears before putting them away. Disease is spread from plant to plant when garden tools have not been adequately cleaned.

Pruning Roses

pruning roses

There are different classes of roses. Each has a specific pruning sequence. Before pruning, you should know what class your roses fall within. Remember, your roses will tell you when to prune them!

Equipment You Will Need

Classes of Roses and Pruning Sequence

Hybrid TeaBlooms: Spring to Fall

Height: 3-6’

Bloom Size: large/single
Long stem typically found in the floral industry

Pruning Season: all year round with main focus in summer

Pruning Sequence:

Remove all dead and decaying shoots. 

Use pruning saw to cut flush to the ground.Prune healthy shoots by staying with a safe guidelines of not cutting more than 18-24” of shoot.

Look for outward facing bud eyes.Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Thin out the center of the plant to encourage air circulation to prevent disease.

Clean Up
Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.
FloribundaBlooms: Spring to Fall

Height: 3-5’

Bloom Size: small

A prolific bloomer with an abundance of stems

Pruning Season: all year round with main focus in summer

Pruning Sequence: Remove all dead and decaying shoots. 

Use pruning saw to cut flush to the ground.Look for outward facing bud eyes.Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Thin out the center of the plant to encourage air circulation to prevent disease.

Cut twiggy/competing shoots.

Shoots that are crossing over one another

Shoots smaller than a pencil

Clean Up Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.
GrandifloraBlooms: Summer

Height: 6’

Bloom Size: large/clustered
Long stems

Pruning Season: all year round with main focus in summer

Pruning Sequence:
Remove all dead and decaying shoots. 

Use pruning saw to cut flush to the ground.Look for outward facing bud eyes.

Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Thin out the center of the plant to encourage air circulation to prevent disease.

Cut twiggy/competing shoots.

Shoots that are crossing over one another

Shoots smaller than a pencil

Clean Up
Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.
MiniatureBlooms: Spring to Summer

Height: 2’

Bloom Size: small/tiny
Container plant

Pruning Season: all year round with main focus in summer

Pruning Sequence: Remove all dead and decaying shoots.Look for outward facing bud eyes.

Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Thin out the center of the plant to encourage air circulation to prevent disease.

Clean Up

Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.
Climber
Blooms: Summer to Fall

Height: Arching up to 30’

Bloom Size: medium
Long arching canes


Pruning Sequence: Allow the plant to grow several seasons before pruning. 

(Early Summer) Ramblers onlyCut back side shoots/laterals 3-6”(Early Spring)

Climbers onlyCut back side shoots/laterals 3-6”
TreeBlooms: Summer

Height: 4-6’

Bloom Size: medium
Single specimen or container plant

Pruning Season: all year round with main focus in summer

Pruning Sequence: Prune ¾ of the growthRemove all dead and decaying shoots.

Look for outward facing bud eyes.

Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Clean Up Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.
ShrubBlooms: Spring to Fall

Height: 3-20’

Bloom Size: small/medium

Pruning Season: Year round with main focus in summer

Prune in between bloom flushes (right after roses are spent.)
 
Pruning Sequence:
Don’t prune more than ⅓ down of each shoot.

Remove all dead and decaying shoots. 

Use pruning saw to cut flush to the ground.

Look for outward facing bud eyes.Cut ¼” just above the bud eye at a 45 degree angle.

Thin out the center of the plant to encourage air circulation to prevent disease.

Cut twiggy/competing shoots.

Shoots that are crossing over one anotherShoots smaller than a pencil

Clean Up Clean all debris up from the ground and place in garbage.

Thoroughly clean garden tools with soap and water and allow to air dry.

Deadhead and Prune with Confidence!

So there you have it. Everything you need to know on how to deadhead and prune roses. You will find that in the beginning, it may be a bit tedious, but once you get going, it becomes almost like an art form. 

It’s exciting to see how your hard work pays off when your rose plants have abundant blooms pushing forward because you deadheaded and pruned it lovingly!

Happy Gardening…

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