Remove side branches back to main stem

How to prune climbing roses in 11 steps

Climbing roses provide large, long-lasting blooms throughout the season and are used to decorate walls, arches, trellises, pergolas and even gazebos. Their variety of use is extremely wide, and roses can enhance a traditional, informal, cottage, Mediterranean and contemporary gardens. Although their cultivation began 5000 years ago in China, roses are still gaining their popularity today anywhere across the globe. 


Climbing roses are not a true climber but instead, think of them as wall shrubs. This means that they don’t self-attach, therefore the first element to consider when purchasing the climbing rose is a support. When grown on garden structures, the branches can be tied up using tree ties, cable ties, clips or garden wire. If you prefer to grow them to cover the walls, consider creating the wire frame first. The frame will also determine the direction of the new growth. 


To encourage your climbing roses to reach their full potential, regular maintenance is a must. That includes deadheading, spraying, feeding and pruning the roses.  


One important thing to remember when we prune climbing roses is that we want to achieve a nice spread, rather than density as our goal is to allow sunlight into the plant. You can bear this in mind when you are attaching the wire frame.

Nice spread of climbing rose
Nice spread of climbing rose

Before you begin pruning your roses, ensure your secateurs are clean and sharp. Now, we can get started.


By pruning the roses, you will:

  • Redirect plant energy into new growth followed by flower production
  • Prevent the top-heavy structure from collapsing
  • Thin out the dense appearance
  • Promote healthy growth
  • Eliminate spread of disease


When to prune climbing roses?

This can be done in the winter after they have shed their leaves. You will be able to better visualise all the branches.



Steps to successful pruning of climbing roses

  • Removal of dead wood
  • Removal of dying wood
  • Removal of damaged wood
  • Removal of diseased wood
  • Removal of outwards facing branches
  • Removal of weak branches
  • Removal of crossing branches
  • Removal or reduction of side branches
  • Removal of old woody branches
  • Removal of remaining diseased leaves
  • Tying up the rose framework to a support


Removal of dead wood

Dieback on roses can sometimes be an inevitable part of the growing process, especially when dealing with older specimens. While there can be several reasons for dieback, the removal of dead branches or the dieback at the end of branches is a necessity to prevent further spread. Although the plant cells in these branches have died, the plant continues to work to provide them with water and nutrients. By removing the dead parts, the energy can be diverted into a new healthy growth. Make sure to remove any dieback back to the green part of the stem

Removal of dieback on the rose
Removal of dieback on the rose

Removal of dying wood 

Most novice gardeners are reluctant to remove dying wood, hoping it might come back to life. Despite many thinking this, you shouldn’t do that. While the plant is working hard to restore the dying plant cells, removal is a better option. Again, the extra energy can be used for a new growth. Cut back the dying wood to the nearest healthy part of the stem. 



Removal of damaged wood 

Damaged wood can be snapped or otherwise injured branches. If you look closely at the snapped branch you will notice a change in bark texture. It is a sure-fire sign of the stem dying. To redirect the energy currently aiming to stem repair, remove the injured part of the stem below the injury point. Alternatively, you can remove it all the way back to the main stem (framework). 



Removal of diseased wood 

To prevent any further spread of any disease (if applicable), all infected parts of the plant must be removed. Cut out any diseased branches. Make the cut at a point where the branch or a stem appears healthy. Once again, you will also redirect the extra energy into a healthy growth.

Cutting out diseased wood
Cutting out diseased wood

Removal of outwards facing branches 

Any branches pointing outwards can become awkward, preventing a wanderer from walking past freely at times. Furthermore, they just don’t belong to an attracting shape of your climber. Remove any outwards facing branches, big or small, back to the main stem. You will also allow more sunlight, contributing to flower production into the centre of the rose. 



Removal of weak branches 

The thin, weak branches are not beneficial to any plant. They rarely produce bloom and if the buds appear, often it doesn’t open. The truth is they consume too much of a good plant energy. Remove all the weak branches back to the main stem. As a rule, weak branches are any branches thinner than a pen or pencil.

Thin branch removal
Thin branch removal

Removal of crossing branches 

Any branches that are crossing are creating the density in climbing roses, which is the opposite of what we recommend. Usually, you can find them growing towards the centre of the plant. Removal of the crossing branches will allow extra sunlight to the centre of the plant where it is needed. Remove all the way back to the main stem, unless the branch is fresh strong shoot that you would want to include in the rose framework. 



Removal or reduction of side branches 

Side branches are branches growing out of the main framework. When I prune the climbing roses, I always remove all the side branches back to the main stem as plenty of new growth will emerge in the growing season. Sometimes, you will come across a strong new shoot worth keeping. Include it in the main framework of the rose.  But if you have any doubts, here is what you can do; completely remove every second or third branch and reduce the one you have decided to keep. Cut back to the first or second side-facing bud (never outwards facing).

Remove side branches back to main stem
Remove side branches back to main stem

Removal of old woody branches 

Do you remember what your climbing rose looked like when you purchased it? The chances are, there were only three, four or even five main stems and that is the way it should be kept. If you can see more than five (or six maximum) stems growing from ground level, remove the oldest and woodiest ones to keep your rose looking fresh.

Newly purchased rose
Newly purchased rose

Removal of remaining diseased leaves 

Yellow leaves with blackspot appearing on roses are unusual as roses are prone to many diseases. Remove all the yellowed leaves as you prune your rose. In fact, for best results keep removing them as you deadhead the roses before they drop onto the ground. Diseases such as blackspot can spread in the ground. 



Tie up the rose framework to a support 

By now you might have ended up with new selected stems replacing the old ones. Tie them up to a support using tree ties, cable ties or a garden wire. Ensure not to tie it too tight to prevent the wood damage. Wire can grow into the wood in years to come causing unnecessary damage. 


Climbing roses are a beautiful addition to gardens to decorate walls and pathways. They can also create an exceptional background and hide the troubled places. Whilst they can be maintenance demanding, the correct pruning can be the difference between thriving and surviving your climbing garden additions.

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