gardener holding bare root asparagus crown

How to Deadhead Roses After Blooming

by | Jun 18, 2023

Despite a gloomier than usual Spring, the roses bloomed in a magnificent display of color this year. While I consider roses to be fairly low maintenance, there are some things that just need to be done if you’re looking forward to another flush of blooms—one of those tasks is deadheading.

While I’m going to share some particulars for how to deadhead and feed roses today, I just want to be upfront and say that deviating from this process or not following it precisely doesn’t mean your roses will die or you’ll “mess them up.” Truly, roses are so much more resilient than we can imagine.

This year my oldest rose—the Lady of Shalott—bloomed more magnificently than ever before. Neighbors and passerby would stop and comment, and it brought me such joy to talk about caring for it and sharing in its splendor. There is an art to cultivating roses….like bonsai or espalier.

a selection of sherbet colored garden roses   in vases

I might have a slight rose obsession. This is not even all the roses that are growing in my Southern California garden, but it’s a pretty good sample. Pictured are David Austin roses: darcey bussell, benjamin britten, golden celebration, desdemona, the lady gardener, princess Alexandra of Kent, Carding Mill and Boscobel.

First Comes the Spring Flush

As many of you might have seen in my Spring 2023 Rose Garden Tour, my roses put off their first flush of roses! Here in Southern California this first bloom can occur anywhere from April-May/June. Before this first flush occurs, a lot has already happened “behind the scenes.” I had pruned my roses—typically in January/February—and given them a first feeding of Rose Tone when their leaves start to push out. Personally, I don’t fertilize my roses as much as the instructions on the food say. After the initial feeding, I simply wait until my roses bloom. Read on for how to deadhead roses after blooming.

What is Deadheading?

Simply put, deadheading is the process of removing flowers that have finished blooming and are starting to fade. By deadheading a flower, you are stopping the plant from diverting energy to form seed heads so it can instead divert energy into more growth. Additionally, deadheading is an opportunity to shape the plant and make it look more aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I tend to deadhead and “prune/shape” my roses all at once after blooming—so that is the process I’ll be sharing with you today. You can even watch my video tutorial!

Before learning how to deadhead roses, you do want to consider the type of rose you are growing. Most roses available today are repeat bloomers—this makes sense since a lot of gardeners want lots of flowers all season long—so you want to deadhead repeat blooming shrub roses. But I do have a once-blooming rose in my garden that I would not deadhead because I want it to form hips and go to seed. Furthermore, I stop deadheading all my roses around Thanksgiving so that they can go to seed and enter dormancy for Winter. As for climbing roses, I also deadhead and shape mine after their first flush, but it is slightly different for climbing roses because I never touch the main canes.

Tools for deadheading roses:

Sharp and clean garden pruners/secateurs

Rose gloves (I don’t have these and often regret it, so it’s smart to have them)

roses start to brown and shrivel after blooming and need to be deadheaded

You can start deadheading roses as they brown and shrivel (like shown). For example, you can wait until all blooms die back or you can deadhead single blooms to keep the garden looking more clean. Oftentimes I’m too busy to deadhead often, so I end up waiting until most of the blooms are dead.

How to Deadhead Roses After Blooming

First, if one singular rose flower has bloomed but there are still more buds on that stem, you can simply cut the expired flower off where it’s smaller stem joins the main cluster (leaving the rest of the buds to bloom).

Second, if an entire cluster of roses has bloomed it’s time to fully deadhead the cluster— while also providing some shape to the rose bush and encourage new growth. In order to properly deadhead the rose bush at this point, there are some terms that are helpful to know:

The five-leaflet rulet: If you look at the leaves surrounding the rose flowers, you’ll notice that some have three leaves per leaflet while others have five leaves per leaflet. It is generally believed that cutting above a five-leaflet is best because that is an area where the stem is strong and thick enough to support the new growth and future blooms. Honestly, this isn’t written in stone, but I like to use this as guidance.

Outward facing buds: At the base of most leaflets you’ll see a tiny node where it looks like growth might push out (definitely watch my video if you need to see what this looks like). Some rose growers believe that if you cut above a node that faces outward on the bush, that will encourage a better shape to the plant. Remember, rose bushes tend to have better airflow and be healthier when their shape is almost like a vase and no branches are rubbing or crossing. So, cutting right above an outward facing node can allow you to train and foresee where the growth is going to go…..again, not a hard and fast rule, but can be helpful.

diagram of a five-leaflet and an outward facing bud

Here’s a little example of a five-leaflet and an outward facing bud. Both of these features are things to look for when deadheading roses.

More notes on deadheading roses…

Now you can proceed with deadheading your roses! Simply start by removing the expired rose heads while following the five-leaflet rule and the outward facing bud rule. Make an angled cut above a leaf/bud node using your clean pruners.

Finally, after considering the five-leaflet rule and outward bud “rules,” you can also look at the overall shape of the plant. If one branch is sticking out weird or looks disproportionately taller than others, you can simply cut it down to the correct height (and look for another five-leaflet and outward bud).

After deadheading, I also look for diseased leaves. Especially right now after our wet winter, there’s a lot of rust and blackspot happening. Personally, I’ve never had a case that required any panic or treatment, but I do remove those infected leaves and trash them as I’m deadheading my roses after blooming.

Feeding roses after blooming

I don’t know about you, but I like to do this all as one process. Over the years, it has just become second nature to me….deadhead, shape/prune, feed again. Remember how I said that I feed my roses in the early Spring as the plants are starting to push leaves? Well, after the first flush of roses is done, I like to feed again with Rose Tone. Essentially, I’d repeat this process of deadheading over and over until it hits about Thanksgiving and it’s finally time to put our roses to bed and prepare them for Winter dormancy.

Et Voila! That’s my basic process for deadheading roses after blooming. There are truly so many passionate rosarians out there and a myriad of ways to love and care for your roses, but this is what has worked for me. Not sure I’d call myself a rosarian, but it has been such a soothing process for me to cultivate roses. Don’t forget that there’s an intro to our David Austin Rose Garden on the blog, a Spring 2023 Rose Garden Tour, and a great article for beginners called Getting Started Growing Roses. Thanks for reading my friends!

Plant a California native shade garden


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

For Growers & Gardeners from High Mowing Organic Seeds