Pruning Old Garden Roses and Shrub Roses

For Southern California's Mild Coastal Zones


Basic pruning techniques for the Old Garden Roses (OGRs) are not all that different than those for modern roses. Gallica, Damask, Alba, Centifolia, and Moss roses are OGRs that only bloom in spring. Prune these right after they finish blooming; this is usually sometime in early summer. The Damask roses in particular resent hard pruning, so it is best to only remove dead wood and lightly prune flowering shoots back a few inches.

Repeat-blooming OGRs like: Portland, Bourbon, Hybrid Perpetual, Perpetual Damask, and Perpetual Moss roses are pruned at the same time as modern roses (January to February). Treat these roses as you would Hybrid Teas. Strong growing Hybrid Perpetual, roses require hard pruning to promote flowering, so plan to remove at least one half of last year's growth to produce better flowers.

Tea and China roses produce flowers on small twiggy growth and should only be lightly pruned. It is not necessary to open up the bushes as recommended for Hybrid Teas because these roses need the internal support of the branched, twiggy growth to hold up their flowers. Remove dead and damaged growth, then lightly tip back flowering shoots to strong, outside-facing leaf buds.  Often gardeners prune these roses at the same time as they would their Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses, however in this garden we have found they respond badly to a winter pruning.  We have found that pruning Tea and China roses in the hot part of summer produces quick regrowth and they don't sit around moping for years as they tend to do if you prune them in the cold part of the year.

A common complaint directed at the once-flowering Gallica roses is that they often produce very few flowers in our mild coastal regions. Gallica roses in particular require winter chilling to flower; often our mild winters are just not cold enough to produce flowers. Select sites for these OGRs that take advantage of microclimates which might be colder or more protected from our hot dry winter sun and wind.

Many OGRs become large, arching shrubs, so plan for sufficient space for these large roses. Pegging or self-pegging are efficient methods for controlling vigorous OGRs. When pegging, don't prune back the long canes, but spread them out over the ground and attach them with pegs made of wire or wood. This system requires a lot of space, and may not work in smaller gardens. Self-pegging is much the same as normal pegging but instead, you arch the long canes over and tie them back onto themselves with green garden tape. Shorten some of the canes and select the best, long, supple canes for tying back.

Some OGRs can be trained onto tripods. Construct tripods from three metal garden stakes spaced around the plant. Pull the stakes together with wire or green garden tape and then begin winding the long canes around the tripod, attaching them to the structure with tape. As in self-pegging, this system will produce more blooms along the canes, just as arching over climbing roses produces flowers all along the cane.

Species and Shrub roses are pruned in January and, for the most part, all that is really needed is pruning out any dead or damaged growth and shortening back flowering shoots a few inches. Again, many of these roses can become quite large, arching plants, so plan to allow them sufficient room to grow in your landscape.

English Roses are mostly repeat-blooming and are pruned like Hybrid Teas. The larger-growing English Roses can be self-pegged to control their size and spread. This is an effective way to grow the big English Roses! Remove any dead or damaged growth and shorten back flowering shoots from one-third to one-half of last year's growth.

Many OGRs are sold as own root plants and will not produce suckers. Any shoots coming out of the grounds should be retained.


Gallica, Damask, Alba, Centifolia, and Moss Roses

Prune in early summer after they finish flowering.


Bourbon, Hybrid Perpetual, Perpetual Damask, Repeat-blooming Moss, Species and English Roses


Prune January 1 to February 15.

  Tea, China, and Noisettes

Prune July to August


To promote a symmetrical shape,

To promote a dormant rest period, and

To renew the bush


Prune out all dead and damaged growth.

Prune out any suckers .


Prune between one-third and one-half of the previous year's growth.

Make clean cuts immediately above a leaf bud.

Prune to outside-facing buds.

Leave all productive canes possible.

For each new cane produced, one old cane can be removed.


Rake up and remove all debris from beds.

Seal all cuts larger than a pencil with white glue; do not use

petroleum-based products.

Train large growers by self-pegging or onto tripods .



Clair Martin