Should you cut back roses in autumn?

Photo courtesy Bonnie Vitale

After reading a previous article about roses, a reader asked a follow-up question:

“Hello! I was always told to cut back rose bushes in the fall. That’s wrong?”

Here is the response from Bonnie Vitale, president of the Western New York Rose Society:

Save the hard pruning for spring.

In the fall, cut off any broken stems.

Some gardeners like to cut their rose bushes down to a height of 18-24 inches in the fall to prevent wind and snow damage. They also remove the leaves because the weight of snow on the leaves can cause the stems to break.

If you want to do any cutting of your roses in autumn, wait until after the first hard frost (temperature below 25 degrees Fahrenheit overnight). If you cut back before the first hard frost, it may send a signal to the roses to grow when they should be going dormant.

After the first hard frost, mound six to eight inches of mulch around the base of each rose plant. The mulch protects the stems from the wind and snow. It’s okay for the mulch to touch the stem. 

In the spring we do a hard pruning. Prune each plant down to green stem, leaving only 3-5 stems about the width of a pencil or larger. Sometimes you will need to cut down pretty far.

Spread about two inches of mulch around your roses, leaving about two inches of space around the base of the plant. 

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11 Comments on “Should you cut back roses in autumn?

  1. I understand about mulch around roses for the winter but there are some mice? moles? voles? that love to winter there and they ate the roots of several gorgeous roses. Any suggestions? Thank you!

  2. If you wait until after the ground freezes to mulch the critters will already have found their homes for the winter. This goes for all fall/winter mulching of plants, not just roses.

  3. Yes, after the ground freezes. This is also better for the soil because if you mulch too soon it lengthens the time it takes the soil to freeze.

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