How and when to prune climbing roses 【Pruning diagram】


The climbing rose is a shrub with long and flexible stems that can be guided by different decorative elements. This characteristic allows it to be widely used to cover fences and pergolas, to provide color and shade during spring and summer. One of the key points to be able to use this peculiar type of rose bushes in this way is knowing how to prune correctly. If you want to learn how to do it, stay in this post, here we will see all the secrets about pruning climbing roses, why, how and when to do it.


Some people may feel uncomfortable pruning climbing roses, as it seems counterintuitive to remove those beautiful branches the plant already has. But with pruning, you actually get a more vigorous plant. You will see that pruning is very beneficial in these plants, and without proper pruning it would be impossible to take 100% advantage of the qualities of these beautiful rose bushes.

How and when to prune climbing roses

1. Tools needed for pruning


The tools that you may need to prune this type of rose bush will vary, above all, depending on the size of the plant. It will also be key to take into account the structure on which it is guided, it will not be the same if it is in an arch and if it is formed in a bushy way.

In any case, this list of tools cannot be missing when starting the task:

  • Pruning shears: Pruning shears are tools used to cut the branches of the rose bush. Pruning shears have a sharp blade and an opposing blade. Pruning shears are used to cut small and medium branches.
  • Pruning Saws: Pruning saws are tools used to cut larger branches. Pruning saws have a serrated blade and an ergonomic handle for a comfortable grip. Pruning saws are used to cut larger branches larger than 2.5 cm in diameter.
  • Hand Shears: Hand shears are tools used to cut small shoots and smaller branches. Hand shears have sharp blades and are used to cut shoots up to 1.3 cm in diameter.
  • Gardening Gloves: Gardening gloves are necessary to protect the gardener’s hands. More than key point when pruning plants with thorns as in the case of rose bushes.
  • Safety glasses: Safety glasses are necessary to protect the gardener’s eyes from chips, dust, and twigs.
  • Ladder: Depending on the way in which the rose bush is guided, you may or may not need a ladder. If it is in an arc and forming a fence it is very likely that you need one.

Keep in mind that you should disinfect all cutting tools before starting pruning. This will reduce the risk of spreading diseases between plants in your garden. Next we will see some methods to do it quickly and easily.

1.1 How to disinfect pruning tools

You already know which are the most common tools, let’s now see some methods by which you can carry out the disinfection of these tools. More than recommended practice, since it reduces the chances of contagion of a disease or plague from one plant to another.

You will see that it is not a complex task at all, and it will not take you long. So you have no reason not to always carry it out before you start pruning.

One of the methods by which you can disinfect the cutting blades of your tools is with alcohol (ethanol). Soak a cloth in the alcohol, then gently rub the cutting blades. Then let it rest for a few minutes for more effective disinfection and then start pruning your bay tree.

A second method is using bleach. Start by making a 1/9 mixture of chlorine and water, pour it into a container and let your tools rest in it for approximately 30 minutes. After that period of time you can use the tools without problems.

As a third method, although it is one that I personally never use, is to perform disinfection using fire. The process is super easy, it consists of exposing the cutting blades of your tools to a flame of fire. After a few seconds of exposure, they will be disinfected.

Well, you know which are the appropriate tools and you also have three ways to disinfect them. It is time to start talking about the main topic of the post, how and when to prune a climbing roses.

2. Do you prune climbing roses? Why you should?


In general, when we plant a climbing rose, what we are looking for in it is to have a leafy plant capable of covering large areas and also producing good flowering. These aspects are basically what you will improve with a well-done pruning.

Some of the benefits of pruning climbing roses include:

  • Stimulates growth: If done at the right time, pruning will help stimulate the growth of new branches. Allowing a more vigorous and healthy development.
  • Promotes flowering: although some types of pruning (such as hard rejuvenation pruning) can reduce flowering, generally by pruning by removing old and diseased branches we improve flower production. This is because the plant’s energy is redirected towards flower production.
  • Improves Appearance and Form: Pruning climbing roses can improve the overall appearance of the plant, helping to keep it in an attractive, well-balanced shape. Also with pruning we will guide the plant in the structure that we want to cover.
  • Control the size: Regular pruning is essential to control its size and prevent it from spreading too far and getting dirty.
  • The improvement is the state of health: cleaning pruning is essential to eliminate any branch with signs of disease or pest attack. With this you will avoid a further spread of the problem both in that plant and in neighboring plants.

Those are the first five reasons that come to mind when I think about why a climbing rose should be pruned, although I’m sure I forget some point.

3. How to prune climbing rose?


To better understand how a climbing rose should be pruned, it is essential to start by knowing what its growth and flowering habit is like. To do this, you must know how to differentiate which are the types of stems:

  • Primary stems: they are in charge of giving structure to the plant, they sprout from the ground and are long and strong branches. During the first year you will see that they grow in length, barely forming lateral branches, so they do not usually flower abundantly. Although they may generate a few blooms on their end, they will only be a few isolated blooms.
  • Secondary stems: sprout from a main stem and are usually shorter and more flexible. Flowering will be generated from these stems. For further development of secondary branches, the main branches should be placed in a horizontal position. That is why it is convenient to take each of the main stems and bend them until they are as horizontal as possible.

Knowing this, let’s see how these rose bushes should be pruned from their youth to maturity.

3.1 Pruning young climbing roses

In young climbing roses, what we need is for them to start developing their main stems. As we already mentioned, these will be in charge of giving structure and support to all the secondary stems. For this reason, it is essential not to prune climbing roses in the first seasons, the main branches must be allowed to grow to the desired height.

As you can imagine during those first seasons you will not have a great flowering, but the main thing is to give it the right structure, with three or five main branches. Even seven if you want to cover a very large wall.

Remember that although we call them “climbing”, these rose bushes do not adhere to any structure (they are not vines). You will need to tie the main stems to the structure where you want to guide it. And that is what you should be doing during these first seasons, giving shape to the rose bush.

The taut cables are a very good support system, remember to provide a position as horizontal as possible. In this way, a greater development of the secondary branches will be favored, which will not give many and better flowers.

It will be from the second year, that if you have given the rose bush a good shape, it will begin to have a good flowering. From that moment on, the secondary branches can be pruned, shortening their length, leaving two or three buds. From these buds the following season other branches will be generated, this will make the foliage thicker and bring more flowers.

3.2 Pruning old climbing roses

Once the stage of its youth is over, where we define the structure and ensure a good generation of secondary branches, we must carry out routine pruning. Routine pruning should be done every year, removing dead or diseased branches, trimming secondary branches and removing some of them in case of excess foliage. In addition, these prunings are a good time to take advantage of and tie the new shoots to the supports to continue covering the structure.

For old or abandoned climbing roses, which have not been pruned for several seasons, a renewal pruning is necessary. In these renovation pruning you must:

  • Carry out a cleaning pruning, eliminating all diseased, dead and weak stems.
  • Identify and cut those main branches that have become woody and too old. Cut close to the ground and make sure you have new stems growing from the ground to supplant these woody branches.
  • Trim side branches to a third of the length to encourage better growth.
  • Be sure to cut off all dead stem stumps at the base. Otherwise, this is a good point for water pooling and possible rot generation.

After this type of strong pruning, it will be advisable to fertilize the rose bush to give it a boost. If you don’t want to spend on commercial fertilizers, compost is one of the best options for these cases.

3.3 Pruning climbing roses diagram

To help you understand a little better what I have seen so far, I leave you these two diagrams on pruning climbing roses.

Image source:
Image source:

4. When to prune climbing roses?


Defining an ideal time to prune climbing roses depends on several factors such as the type of pruning, the climate, the general state of the plant, etc. In any case, in general, we can adopt the last days of winter as the best time to prune.

Will you wonder why we define that moment as the best? Basically because the frosts have passed. For this reason, rather than defining it as the last days of winter, we can say that the best time to prune climbing roses is when the frost has passed. Knowing the climate where you live, you will know better than me when that time is. Where I live, it is not uncommon for it to freeze during the spring. So the last days of winter would not be the best time.

In any case, don’t be afraid if your rose bush receives some frost after being pruned. It will not die, however some buds may freeze and lose some flowers. Especially the first and earliest flowering.

5. Prune according to season of the year


Although we have already defined an ideal time for pruning, the truth is that certain pruning tasks can be carried out throughout the year. Let’s see what kind of tasks we can do at each time of the year.

5.1 Pruning climbing roses in fall

Autumn is not the most intense time to prune these plants, however there are some tasks that you can do:

  • Flowering has already finished so you can cut the branches that no longer have flowers.
  • In case you live in areas with abundant snowfall, autumn is a good time to cut the longest branches that stand out from the rest. This will prevent them from breaking under the weight of snow or ice in winter.
  • As at any time of the year, cleaning pruning can be done where diseased or dead branches are cut.

5.2 How to prune climbing roses for winter

Of the four times of the year, winter is when less pruning can be done. But there are other tasks that it is good that you do, especially if the winters where you live are strong:

  • You can protect the roots of the rose bush with a layer of mulch or straw.
  • Use a blanket to cover the rose bush and protect it from frost.

Of course, if you live in areas with very mild winters, without frost, you could do pruning at this time.

5.3 Pruning climbing roses in spring

The heaviest pruning tasks are generally carried out in the first days of spring. You can perform these tasks:

  • Training pruning in young specimens.
  • Renewal pruning in old climbing roses.
  • Cleaning pruning eliminating all kinds of diseased or dead branches.
  • Cut the branches that cross or rub against each other to avoid stealing nutrients and light.
  • Eliminate weak shoots to encourage the growth of stronger ones.

5.4 Pruning climbing roses in summer

Although summer is not a time when very intensive pruning tasks are recommended, you can do the following:

  • Continue removing diseased or dead branches that may appear.
  • If the rose bush has produced a large number of buds, half of the weakest buds can be cut back to improve flowering.

Since you are interested in knowing how to prune a laurel, I have no doubt that it will be useful to know about the pruning of any of these shrubs:

6. Special cases


Before finishing this post, and as is customary in this blog, we have selected two highly consulted special cases. It’s about how to prune climbing roses in an arch, and also how Monty Don advises you to prune this rose bush.

6.1 Pruning climbing roses over arch

There are not too many secrets when it comes to pruning arched climbing roses. Basically you must perform the tasks that we have seen so far in the post. In any case, I leave you this video from the Darren Harwood channel where you can see some extra details about this case.

6.2 Pruning climbing roses Monty Don

Monty Don, the renowned British horticulturist, has his own approach to pruning climbing roses. Below I will briefly explain how he recommends doing it:

  • Winter pruning: During the winter, the lateral branches of the climbing rose should be pruned, cutting to a length of around 3-5 growing buds. The main branches that extend from the base of the rose bush should also be pruned, leaving them at a length of around 1-1.5 metres.
  • Summer pruning: After the first flowering, the lateral stems of climbing roses should be trimmed, cutting them back to a length of 3-5 growing buds. This will help stimulate a second bloom in the summer or fall.
  • Renewal pruning: If your climbing rose has grown too large or has old, woody stems, Monty Don recommends renewal pruning. To do this, select a few main branches and cut them back to the ground in winter, this will encourage the growth of new branches from the base of the rose bush.

He remembers that each climbing rose is different, and may require slightly different pruning depending on its variety and specific growing conditions. Therefore, it is always advisable to do your research on the particular species you have at home and follow the specific recommendations for that type of rose bush.

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