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Expert Guide to Pruning Roses in Australia

Pruning roses isn’t difficult, but it can be intimidating to those who have never done it before.

I’ve had a love affair with growing roses for most of my life. Their gorgeous blooms are a delight during spring, summer, and autumn and they make ideal cut flowers.

Roses are also quite easy to care for but they do need regular pruning and deadheading to ensure that you can enjoy plenty of glorious blooms.

Why is it important to prune roses?

Roses Pruning 25 | Plant care

Proper pruning helps to reduce disease and creates additional airflow in and around the bush. 

Heavy winter pruning also ensures that your roses will put on plenty of new growth and this ensures lots of lovely flowers.

It’s also important to deadhead your roses regularly once the flowers are spent in order to encourage the bush to produce many more blooms.

How to prune roses (step-by-step)

Pruning roses isn’t as difficult as you might think. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it will be a breeze. 

Gather your tools

  • Heavy-duty gardening gloves to protect your fingers from those nasty thorns
  • A good pair of clean and sharp secateurs
  • A pair of long-handled loppers for the thicker branches

Step 1: Remove any dead wood

The first thing that you want to do is remove any dead branches. You can cut these right down to the ground or to the point where the branch meets a healthy green one.

Roses Pruning 22 | Plant care

If only part of a stem is dead, cut this back to a bud.

Step 2: Take out any suckers

Any tall stems that are growing from the base of the rose bush below the woody stem are referred to as suckers.

These should be removed as they take away energy from the main bush.

It’s important to note that you can remove suckers at any time of the year and you should definitely do so every time you spot them.

Step 3: Cut back the main stems

Now it’s time to prune the main stems of your rose bush.

Take a step back and count the number of main hardwood stems that are at the base of the plant. You want to reduce the growth on each of these stems by about a third.

Roses Pruning | Plant care

Follow each main stem up from the base to the first branching point.

For each branch that grows from the main stem, follow along the branch until you come to the third emerging bud. Cut the remaining top section of the branch at around 5mm above this bud.

Continue doing the same with all the remaining stems and branches.

Once you’ve done this, you should end up with a much more compact rose bush that still has a number of strong growth points from which the new growth will emerge.

Step 4: Remove all dead leaves and foliage 

It’s important that you remove any dead leaves and foliage that are lying around the base of the plant. Throw these in the bin.

This removes any possibility of diseases hiding in this foliage and then infecting the new growth.

Deadheading your roses at other times of the year

Deadheading your roses is fairly simple and should be done as soon as the flowers have finished and their petals are falling to the ground. There is a good reason for doing this.

rose deadheading 2 | Plant care

If you leave the dead flowers on the plant, your rose bush will develop seed pods commonly known as rosehips. This takes up the energy that the bush may otherwise use to grow more blooms.

To deadhead your roses, just follow the rose stem with the spent flower on it down to an emerging, outwardly growing bud and cut around 5 mm above this bud.

rose deadheading | Plant care

If the stem is very tall, you can even cut it down further as long as you always cut just above an emerging bud.

Why it’s important to cut just above a new bud

Rose stems grow from emerging buds that are normally along the stems and quite often in the axis of where a leaf meets the stem.

If you cut a stem back where there is no bud immediately below the cut, the stem will just die back to the nearest bud.

This results in a lot of unsightly dead branches that do nothing for your rose bush.

When to prune roses in Australia

Major rose pruning should be carried out in winter in all states of Australia. The ideal time to prune roses in Perth, Sydney, and Brisbane is in June or July.

However, in colder areas that receive frosts such as Melbourne, Canberra, and Tasmania, you may want to consider pruning your roses either in late July or early August.

Roses Pruning 20 | Plant care

Then, during their blooming time, from spring through to autumn, it’s important to remove any spent flowers by cutting each stem down to a new emerging bud.

This will encourage the rose bush to grow another flowering stem in place of the one you’ve cut off.

What happens if you prune roses too early?

In most areas of Australia, pruning roses too early in winter is not a problem because the plants will be dormant.

However, in colder regions down south, if you prune too early in winter and you get a day or two of warmer weather, the new growth may be damaged by frost.

But, even if this happens, as long as there are still some buds on the plant, you can cut off the damaged growth and your rose bush will be fine.

Like all different groups of plants, there are exceptions.

Some varieties of roses will bloom in late winter and early spring. These include banksia roses, some climbing and rambling roses, and many old-fashioned roses.

For these, you want to hold off pruning until flowering has finished.

When is it too late to prune roses?

Let’s dispel a common myth, here. It’s never too late to prune roses.

From all my years of growing roses in different states of Australia, one thing that I’ve learnt is these plants are extremely hardy and will respond magnificently to pruning with a gorgeous flush of new growth.

Roses 2 | Plant care

For example, if you’ve just moved into a new house and there are a couple of very neglected roses in the garden and it is summer, there’s no reason why you can’t give these bushes a good prune.

Most likely, they’re not going to be flowering profusely anyway if they’ve suffered years of neglect.

This prune will not kill your rose bushes. All that will happen is that you’ll see a magnificent flush of new growth and you might even end up with some glorious blooms in autumn.

FAQ

Can you prune roses in summer?

Rose pruning that is done in summer is commonly referred to as deadheading or removing stems with spent flowers on them. However, if your rose bush is overgrown, you can safely do some pruning in summer.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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4 thoughts on “Expert Guide to Pruning Roses in Australia”

  1. Hello I have a rose but it only has one thick stem which is empty no leaves but it is about 1.5 mtrs tall can I cut the stem at the bottom and will it grow back I can’t add a picture to show you what I mean unfortunately Thankyou for your advice

    Reply
  2. When to prune roses in different states of Australia? You’ve forgotten to mention SA – the rose capital of Australia.
    Suckers and water shoots are not the same thing at all. Suckers grow from below the bud union, whereas water shoots are vigorous new growth, never to be cut!

    Reply
    • Hi Meri

      My apology for not mentioning SA which has the perfect climate for growing magnificent roses. And, yes you are correct suckers and water shoots are not the same and I don’t know why I get them mixed up sometimes even though I’ve grown roses for more years than I care to remember. However, water shoots can get quite tall and I do like to trim them down a little if they get too tall to keep my bushes more compact.

      Reply

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