Winter Rose Care – Cut Back Tall Canes

This year, winter winds are blowing at a gale force in Alabama and the polar vortex of 2014 is taking its toll on my garden. All this cold has me thinking about winter rose care. It is important to remember to trim back your roses to about waist high to prevent winter wind damage from affecting the canes and rocking the rose back and forth, damaging the root system of the rose, which can ultimately kill the shrub. This process should not be confused with pruning which requires a much more severe cut back of the rose. This will merely prevent wind rock from occurring.

Our shrubs of Benjamin Britten, a beautiful orange red David Austin English rose grows quite tall in summer, often reaching 9ft high! This rose is very thorny, so it’s important to “suit up” with long sleeves and gauntlet gloves to complete the task of trimming them down to a good size for winter.

'Benjamin Britten' David Austin English Shrub in need of a winter trim

‘Benjamin Britten’ David Austin English Shrub in need of a winter trim

As you can see from the photo, I start on the outer edge and work my way into the center of the shrub. This cuts down on the likelihood of getting entangled in the rose… (not that this has ever happened to me. Ha! )

One of the other problems that you will see if you don’t trim your roses back, is damage to the canes caused from the wind whipping them around.

Cane damage due to tall canes whipping around in the windYou can see here the damage caused by wind to the canes is the result of being tossed back and forth. If left unattended, this open wound will likely cause the cane above the wound to die and is a harbinger for disease. I trimmed below this damaged area and we should be good to go come spring.

Trimmed shrubs safe from the affects of winter winds

Trimmed shrubs safe from the affects of winter winds

Now to apply dormant spray, and these beauties will be ready for spring!

Blooms of Benjamin Britten roses from our garden

Blooms of Benjamin Britten roses from our garden

About Chris VanCleave - America's Favorite Rose Gardener

Christopher R. VanCleave – America’s Favorite Rose Gardener Nicknamed "The Redneck Rosarian”, Chris VanCleave is passionate about gardening and growing roses. He is an active member of the Birmingham chapter of the American Rose Society, serving two terms as President. In 2007, he created the Rose Chat Podcast which has reached over a half a million listeners with news and information on growing on growing the world’s most beloved flower, the rose. He was a contributor to the 2015 Southern Living Gardening Book, has appeared on P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home television show and was featured in the June 2015 issue of Southern Living Magazine. Locally, Chris serves as Chairman of the Helena Alabama Beautification Board where he has spearheaded efforts to create a sustainable landscape in one of the top one hundred places to live in the United States. His writing is seen at and on his popular website;, where he chronicles his gardening adventures and explores an intrinsic mix of life, faith and gardening. An agent of change with over 20 years’ experience in process innovation, Mr. VanCleave is leading the charge to reinvigorate horticultural societies and helping them to reach their full potential in the social media age.
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7 Responses to Winter Rose Care – Cut Back Tall Canes

  1. Great advice and it is so nice to see Benjamin in bloom on the cold “polar vortex” kind of day! 🙂


  2. Imelda says:

    Thanks. 🙂 How I wish I have that kind of problem – roses growing profusely that they need to be cut back. Most of my plants are struggling to grow. But when they do they off (which I so hope), I will no longer be afraid to trim and prune. 🙂


  3. Informative post Chris. Brave of you to get out there in the cold. My one Sunny is a bit tall, so I shall go inspect the next day we have 40 degrees! I shall cut it to 12 inches when the Forsythia blooms. xo


  4. Great information and tips. This should give my roses a real boost this spring


  5. Lona says:

    Sorry to hear that this winter is taking a toll on your roses. I am just praying mine will survive. They had a bad summer and now this winter. We finally did get some snow cover here to protect the garden tonight on what is going to break all the records for low temps and wind chills. Thanks for the tips.


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