How and when to prune roses – with a tip to protect them against windrock

Pruning your roses twice – once in autumn and again in winter – will encourage them to thrive.

I always thought that roses should be pruned once a year in late winter, but it turns out they can benefit from a second pruning. We sought out the expertise of Natasha Johnson, head gardener at the National Trust’s Gunby Hall and Gardens, to discover how and when to prune roses, and why giving them a second prune helps to protect them from the elements. 

As with any plant, tidying up your roses will help ensure they grow and flower well each year – and who doesn’t want an abundant array of beautiful rose blossoms to admire? However, apart from encouraging good growth, pruning also helps to protect the plant’s roots from becoming damaged during heavy winds, and means your roses will thank you for some extra attention before the gales hit. 

Blooms of Pink English Tea RoseCredit: Shutterstock/Ann in the uk
Your roses will benefit from a prune before the autumn winds hit

When to prune your roses to prepare them for winter

Prune your roses in the autumn

October is the perfect time to protect your roses from windrock, before the autumn winds start to gust through your garden. Shrub and bush roses can face a battering during the high winds that literally rock your plants. So, although they should receive their main prune at the end of winter (see below), they can benefit from an early prune in October. 

Why does pruning at this time help? Reducing the size of the plant before the winds strike helps to stabilise the roots in the soil, leading to happy and healthier plants. 


When should roses receive their main prune?

February is the best time to give your roses their winter prune

For most of us with moderate gardens, the best time to give roses their main prune is during late winter to early spring, around the time that new growth starts. However, with an abundance of roses at Gunby Hall, Johnson starts her winter pruning in January, after the Christmas break, which she completes by March. Thankfully, it won’t take me three months to prune my two rose bushes. 

The timing also depends on where you live in the country, because weather conditions make a difference, as it’s best to wait until the last hard frost. Johnson says: “The general rule is, the further north you live, you would prune your roses slightly later than those who live further south in the country.” 

However, if you have rambling roses, they are the exception, and can be pruned once they’ve finished flowering in the summer. 

Pruning too early does mean that late frosts can damage the new growth, so be aware of the weather conditions where you live.   

How to prune roses in the autumn

Cut back the new growth by one-third

“To protect your rose plant from windrock, especially if it is growing in an exposed site and is vulnerable to wind, the rose will benefit from its height being reduced by one third,” advises Johnson.  

But before grabbing your secateurs, ensure they are clean and sharp. If they aren’t, you could risk damaging the plant during the pruning process. “Jagged edges and tears from blunt tools cause trauma to the plant, as microscopic lesions allow water, pests/diseases to penetrate, reducing the plant’s health,” says Johnson.  

Person wearing gardening gloves pruning a shrub roseCredit: Shutterstock/gorillaimages
Always ensure your secateurs are clean to avoid spreading disease

She also recommends pruning to an outward-facing bud (pointing away from the centre of the plant) to achieve the best growth: “The rose will grow in its correct shape and form, and it will prevent inward- growing shoots, which produce congested growth in the centre, and in turn reduce airflow and create damp conditions.” This can also result in a rose that is more vulnerable to conditions such as blackspot. 

While pruning your roses, it’s also a good time to check them over. “Examine your roses to see if any dead or diseased material can be removed,” says Johnson. 

Finally, make sure to clear up any leaves and branches that remain underneath the roses, as this will remove any potential threat from diseases or pests. Then, sterilise your secateurs or pruning tool – I wipe mine over with surgical spirit.  

Prune roses to protect against windrock

An autumn prune can help protect roses from wind damage

Certain plants in the garden are more susceptible to windrock, and roses are one of them. Pruning roses back in October will help stabilise them in windy weather. Johnson explains: “The plant is rocked [by the wind] to such a degree that it becomes unstable in the ground.” 

This action can then damage the plant. “If there is too much turbulence, the rose would become loose in the soil, which can break fine root hairs, denying the plant vital nutrients and water.” 

Windrock can also be a particular problem for roses that are grafted. “Intense winds may also cause the rose scion (the part of the plant grafted to the root) to be torn away from the graft, especially if it is a weak union and the rose is growing in an exposed situation,” she adds.  

Pruning roses before the winter helps to protect them from damaging winds, as the plant is reduced in size and there is less likelihood of the roots shifting as the plant is rocked by the gales. 


What is a grafted rose?

A grafted rose bush is made from two plants that are spliced together and there will be a knot-like structure where they are fused. The root section will be a hardy variety, while the top section is more likely to be less vigorous and will be the plant that is marketed to you. Grafted roses are more economical to produce than those grown on their own roots as they grow much faster.

“Windrock is especially common in the autumn and winter months when the weather becomes inclement and gale-force winds are often experienced,” says Johnson. “Rain at this time of the year also causes the ground conditions to become soft and unstable, hence when the conditions are windy and the plant is already loose in the ground, the plant becomes vulnerable. 

“This is when the fragile plant material may be broken, which can either reduce the plant’s health or, in a worst-case scenario, end the plant’s life.”  

Man tying rambling rose against a metal stakeCredit: Shutterstock/rigsbyphoto
Rambling and climbing roses can be secured to supports with ties to prevent them being blown about in the winds

Does windrock affect ramblers and climbers?

While bush and shrub roses are likely to be affected by windrock, and will need pruning to give them more stability, does this also apply to rambling and climbing roses? Johnson shares her insight: “If the rambling or climbing roses are not growing in a sheltered position such as a walled garden, then yes, they can be vulnerable to windrock if they are in a more exposed area.” 

In this case, Johnson advises it’s important to secure the roses to some form of support to protect them against the winds. “By tying the rose branches down in a horizontal position, it breaks the apical dominance (where a main shoot dominates and inhibits other growth) of the rose and encourages prolific flowering,” she says. 


To avoid the issue of windrock, Johnson suggests: “Plant roses in more sheltered conditions such as a walled garden or against a windbreak, such as a lovely evergreen yew hedge. 

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


Camilla Sharman has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. 

It was when she started her family that her freelance career evolved. Having moved into a period house two days before her first son was born, she had the perfect opportunity to combine working from home with writing about her own house renovation projects. Apart from appearing on the cover of Your Home magazine, Camilla’s written for Ideal Homes, Real Homes, House Beautiful, and kitchen and bathroom business magazines.  

It was inevitable that her interest in all things homes would lead her to writing home interest features. As a young girl she had the earliest version of Pinterest – a scrap book full of home inspiration images cut from magazines.  

In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.