Most roses have thorns, and thorns make it difficult to prune roses without incident. Having the right tools for the task of pruning roses makes the job more comfortable for you and easier on your prize roses.

The Five Must-Have Tools for Pruning Roses

Late fall and early winter is a great time to shop for rose-pruning tools. Many garden centers offer discounts or coupons for the holidays, and you can pick up some great values at that time.
There are five "must-have" tools for pruning roses. Four can be purchased at your local garden center or big box store; the fifth can be purchased at any supermarket, grocery store or pharmacy.

  1. Bypass pruners: Bypass pruners have a curved lower blade that is slightly longer than the upper blade. Bypass pruners can be used on rose canes no thicker than 3/4" of an inch thick. Always use bypass pruners with the curved blade on the underside of the cane. To make it easier to prune the cane, push the cane down gently on the bottom curved blade as you close the handle. Invest in the best pruners you can afford and keep them sharp. Some pruners have ergonomic handles. Others have replaceable blades so that if the blades eventually break, they can be replaced. A colorful red or orange handle makes them easier to find among your plants if you should accidently drop them.
  2. Loppers: Loppers are long-handled, long-blade cutting tools used on thick canes or branches. They come in many sizes, and no one size is right for all rose gardens. For mature roses or climbing roses with thick, heavy canes, select larger loppers. Keep loppers sharpened and free of rust.
  3. Pruning saw: Pruning saws offer a smooth, clean cut for heavy branches or canes. Most come with replaceable blades that swap out of the handle quickly should you accidently break the blade. They can also be used on ornamental shrubs, fruit trees and small trees.
  4. Gloves: Although you probably have several pairs of gardening gloves in your potting shed or garage, choose a pair of special rose gloves for pruning, planting or caring for roses. Rose gloves are made of leather or heavy canvas; a gauntlet style that covers the wrist and forearm with a thick, wide band of heavy material prevents accidental scratches. While canvas protects the hands, leather offers the best protection. Leather gloves should be kept dry and cleaned gently with a soft, dry cloth after use.
  5. Rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is a gardener's best friend. It's inexpensive and kills most fungi and microbes that attack roses, ornamental trees and fruit trees. Get into the habit of pouring some rubbing alcohol into an empty, clean coffee can and keeping the can with you while you prune. Dip your pruners into the alcohol between cuts to prevent accidently transferring diseases from one cane or bush to another. You can also pour some alcohol onto a clean, dry rag and wipe down your tools between cuts.


For additional protection while pruning roses, wear long sleeves and heavy jeans or pants that protect your legs. Since most areas of the country are chilly in January and February, you'll probably be wearing heavier clothing anyway, but consider wearing especially heavy-duty pants and shirts that keep thorns from piercing clothing and scratching your skin.

Rose Pruning Tips

When you're pruning roses, it's important to prune correctly. Prune canes above the bud eye, making a clean cut. A 45-degree angle is best. Shape your rose and prune out any dead canes. Do not compost them, but place in the trash for pickup. Composting can accidently spread disease via the compost pile to other garden plants.

Winter Rose Care

After you've finished pruning your roses, consider spraying with dormant oil spray. Dormant oils prevent insects wintering over among the plants from hatching; the oils smother them. The best time to use dormant oils on roses, according to the Oregon State Cooperative Extension office, is while the roses remain dormant and well before they begin to leaf out in the spring. Read and follow the package directions when using dormant oil. Although they aren't harmful to the environment, there are still some precautions you should take for using the oils and disposing of the containers.

Pruning roses seems challenging, but with the right tools, you can accomplish the task in an afternoon. Assemble and store your tools now so you'll have them on hand for the first nice day in winter when the rose garden beckons.