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How To Prune Drift Roses – 10 Steps To Stunning Rose Bushes

Are you wondering how to prune drift roses? Roses can be tricky to prune, but it’s important to understand the best techniques for the types of roses you have. Drift roses, sometimes called shrub roses, are beautiful rose bushes that are surprisingly easier to take care of than regular rose bushes. Drift roses were created to grow to a manageable size and come in a beautiful array of colors. This being said, they still require regular pruning and maintenance.

Peached colored drift roses.

There are many benefits to pruning your drift roses, including protecting them against disease and encouraging new growth.

Pruning also improves the shape of your plants and makes them healthier. Drift roses that aren’t pruned produce rose hips, which are little seeds that take lots of energy from your drift roses and prevent them from producing more rose buds.

So how do you prune drift roses? In general, it’s an easy task to tend to these plants with colorful flowers. Let’s take a look. 

Love roses in your garden? Here’s how to create a spectacular rose flower garden.

Types of Drift Roses

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Drift roses are easy-to-care-for groundcover roses that come in a variety of colors to make your garden pop, making them great landscape roses. Here are some popular drift series to consider: 

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Sometimes people confuse drift roses with “knockout roses“. It’s important to know that these are not the same. They are fairly disease resistant and will provide bushy new growth regularly when cared for properly. In general, they are very low maintenance plants, but it does help to learn how to prune them. 

How To Prune Drift Roses

You will need just a few basic tools in order to have a good time pruning your roses. A good set of garden gloves and some sharp garden clippers will do the trick. 

Woman pruning a drift rose bush.

1. Determine if it’s the right time to prune drift roses

Drift roses are pruned once a year and are generally pruned to 6-8 inches high. To determine if your drift roses are ready to be pruned, you can check them after winter and the first two weeks of spring. When you see new shoots forming on your rose bush, it’s a great indication that it’s the right time to start pruning your drift roses.

This pruning promotes air circulation, preventing fungus and other diseases from growing on your drift roses. After the first flush of rose blooms in the spring, you can prune your drift roses by removing the old flower heads and stems by a third of their length.

2. Gather your pruning tools for pruning your drift roses

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Drift roses are easy to trim due to their narrow stems. Typically clippers are used to prune drift roses, but you can also use secateurs. If you don’t have enough time to trim drift roses, you can use hedge trimmers to prune the dead bits off your drift rose bush.

These plants are resilient and will still flourish even if over-pruned. However, clippers should be disinfected between seasonal cutting to avoid mold and fungus growth.

3. Decide where you want to prune your rose bushes

Drift roses grow pretty quickly, especially if they are healthy. Therefore, when inspecting your rose bush, look for areas with dry or dead stems, decaying leaves, and any leaves or stems with spots or other diseases. Once you have identified all the places you want to trim back your drift roses, you can start trimming. Make sure you make clean cuts, with a sharp pair of clippers.

4. Put on gloves before getting started

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Before trimming your drift roses, wear gloves.

Drift roses are one of the most thorny rose bushes, and there’s nothing worse than getting pricked by a few thorns while trimming your rose bush. A good pair of gardening gloves can help protect your hands from thorns while pruning.

Make sure you get a longer pair of gloves that protects your forearm. When pruning hard-to-reach places in your rose bush, the longer gloves will protect you from getting scratched or poked by the thorns.

5. Trim dead branches

Using clippers trim dead branches off your drift roses. You can also cut dead leaves. Trim as much as you’d like, since your drift rose bush will likely double or triple in size before the next season.

Removing half to one-third of the rose bush is recommended. This can be more depending on how much you want to trim. Most people prune their rose bushes down to 6 inches off the ground.

6. Trim cross branches

After trimming dead branches, look for crossed branches and cut them too. You may only find a few of these branches in your drift rose bush. Still, it’s important to clip them so your roses aren’t prone to disease and the stems don’t rub together and damage one another.

7. Trim damaged or diseased branches

Damaged and diseased branches and leaves should always be trimmed to keep your rose bush healthy. Pruning also encourages your roses to grow faster and to have more blooms. You should always trim at a 45-degree angle. Choose an eye on the outside of the cane and cut downwards on the opposite side.

Always trim from the base of your rose plant upwards.

8. Discard old stems

Once you’re trimmed your entire rose shrub, you can discard the stems. However, be cautious of trimmed stems; they may have some thorns that can poke you. Generally, they can go to your compost patch or be placed in heavy-duty refuse bags. The thorny stems are then unable to damage anything or hurt anyone.

9. Fertilize and water your rose bush

After pruning your drift roses, you can fertilize and water them. A balanced fertilizer or a fertilizer that is specially formulated for roses is best.

The soil should be moist before fertilizing to avoid burning the roots of your rose plant. Avoid fertilizing just before winter, as most roses go dormant and are unlikely to grow much during winter. Instead, plan to fertilize in early spring when most blooms start appearing.

10. Prune drift roses seasonally

With rose bushes, there are typically 3 types of pruning. These include spring pruning, deadheading, and summer pruning. Depending on your rose bush, it may be a good idea to incorporate all 3 types of pruning:

  1. Spring Pruning – Spring pruning is done in the springtime to cut back dead leaves, stems, and frost-damaged parts of your drift roses.
  2. Dead Heading – Deadheading removes rose buds that have already bloomed and are starting to wilt. These rose buds should be removed to make room for new growth.
  3. Summer Pruning – Summer pruning involves cutting your drift roses lower than the first leaflet. This should only be done if your roses grow too quickly and you want to trim them down a bit.

Things to Look For

A bunch of Japanese beetles on a pink rose.

It’s important to know how to look for potential problems in your drift roses. They are low-maintenance roses and easy to care for, making them an ideal choice for busy gardeners. However, drift roses are not without their own set of problems. Here are some of the most common issues to look out for:

  • Pest infestations: Drift roses are particularly susceptible to aphids and Japanese beetles. These pests can quickly decimate a drift rose bush if not controlled.
  • Fungal diseases: Black spot and powdery mildew are two common fungal diseases that drift roses are prone to. Both of these diseases can cause the leaves of the plant to turn yellow or brown and eventually drop off.
  • Poor drainage: Because drift roses prefer moist conditions, they can suffer if the soil drainage is poor. This can lead to root rot, which can kill the plant. Good drainage is a must. 

Despite these problems, drift roses are still a popular choice for many gardeners. With proper care and attention, these plants can provide years of beautiful blooms. In general, they have excellent disease resistance but any plant can experience the problems above so keeping an eye out for these issues is important. 

How to Prune Drift Roses FAQ

Here are some questions people often have about how to prune drift roses. 

Do I need to deadhead drift roses? 

Drift roses are miniature roses that are often used as a ground cover or border plant. Unlike full-sized roses, drift roses do not require deadheading or the removal of spent blooms. But if you want to encourage faster blooming, deadhead after the first flash of blooming in the spring.

When should you cut back drift roses?

Generally speaking, drift roses should be cut back in early spring, before new growth begins. This will help encourage the plant to produce fuller, bushier growth. However, if you live in an area with mild winters, you may need to prune your drift roses more frequently in order to prevent them from becoming overgrown.

What do you do with drift roses in the winter?

Drift roses are a type of groundcover rose that is known for its low-maintenance care requirements. Although drift roses are hardy plants that can withstand harsh conditions, they may not flower as heavily in the winter months. For this reason, many gardeners choose to prune their drift roses in the fall or winter.
Pruning helps to encourage new growth and ensures that the plant will produce an abundance of flowers come springtime. And although drift roses are relatively low-maintenance, they still need to be protected from extreme cold weather. Gardeners in colder climates may need to cover their drift roses with a layer of mulch or burlap to prevent the roots from freezing. With a little care, these rose shrubs can thrive in any garden

Do you need to cover drift roses in the winter? 

Yes, as explained above, it can be helpful to cover your drift roses in winter. While drift roses are hardy plants that can tolerate cold weather, you may want to take some steps to protect them during the winter months. One option is to cover them with a layer of mulch, which will help to insulate the roots and prevent them from freezing. You can also wrap the canes in burlap or fabric, which will provide additional protection from the elements. If you live in an area that experiences severe winters, you may want to consider bringing your drift roses indoors. However, as long as you take some precautions, drift roses should be able to withstand even the coldest weather.

Do drift roses come back every year? 

Drift roses are a type of groundcover rose that is known for its compact size and low-maintenance requirements. However, one of the most common questions about drift roses is whether or not they will come back each year. The answer to this question depends on the climate where they are planted.
In general, roses are winter hardy and will come back each spring in most regions of the country. However, in areas with very cold winters, the plants may die back to the ground and need to be replanted each spring. For gardeners in regions with extreme weather conditions, it is best to consult a local nursery or gardening center for advice on which types of drift roses are best suited for their climate.

Final Thoughts

Red and pink bicolor drift roses.

Pruning drift roses should be done in the first 2 weeks of spring but can also be done in the summertime. When pruning drift roses, you cut back all the dead canes, leaves, and rose buds to encourage growth, more rose blooms, and healthier drift roses. As you can see, there is a process for how to do it that makes it easier and also improves the health of the plants. 

Drift roses are beautiful, carefree plants that can add a pop of color to any garden. By following these simple steps for how to prune drift roses, you’ll be able to keep them looking their best all season long.

What tips do you have for keeping your drift roses healthy and blooming? Share them in the comments below!

How to prune drift roses.
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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

How to Grow Lavender for Fun and Profit: Lessons Learned from Planting Three Hundred Lavender Plants

How to Raise Chickens for Eggs: A Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens for Nutritious, Organic Eggs at Home

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