Ian Pruning with shears

Whether you are completely new to roses or have been growing them for years, pruning them can seem like a bit of a daunting task, but it needn’t be.

The first thing I would really like to stress is that no matter how bad a job you make of pruning your roses, you are not going to kill them!

As the old gardener’s saying ‘Get your worst enemy to prune your roses’ suggests, roses are tough and can take a lot more abuse than people give them credit for. Just think about how badly butchered hedgerows look along the roadside after the farmer has hacked them back. It’s easy to look at them, resembling nothing more than bare broken and splintered sticks and wonder how these poor roses and hawthorns will ever survive, but they do.

Ian pruning with sheers

A trial was conducted several years ago at the Gardens of the Rose, St Albans, where some of their roses were rough pruned using hedge trimmers, whilst others were pruned in the traditional way using secateurs. The results showed that actually roses rough pruned in this way can still produce an abundance of blooms and grow just as well as roses pruned carefully with a pair of secateurs.

Now, whilst this may be a tremendous time saver for large parks and gardens, this doesn’t mean that I would necessarily recommend you pruning your roses in this way. It should though hopefully help to alleviate some of the fears you may have when it comes to pruning.

You may be wondering though, why prune roses at all? Pruning encourages the plant to put on vigorous new growth as well as many more flowers than they otherwise would have produced. Roses can also have a tendency to become a bit tall and leggy if not looked after and pruning will therefore help you create a healthier, bushier plant rewarding you with masses of flowers.

When thinking about pruning your roses, it is however important to know that there are a few different types of roses that need to be approached in slightly different ways. To help you get the most out of your roses, here are a few simple tips for tackling theses main types of roses. The best time to prune your roses is during February and March. But some roses may require a light prune in the autumn, such as tall Hybrid Teas that may need a slight trim to protect them from being damaged by heavy winds during the winter months. It is not recommended to hard prune them during the autumn though as the tips can then become damaged by frost.

Shrub roses and Moderns

Once flowering shrub roses

Once flowering shrub varieties, like ‘Rosa Mundi’‘Fantin-Latour’ and ‘Tuscany Superb’, generally send 10 to 20 stems up from the base of the rose. To prune this group of roses I would pick out roughly 4 to 5 old stems and cut these back to about 10cm (4 inches) from the base. Take out any dead or diseased wood and then simply take about a third off of the rest of the plant and that’s it. That’s all you have to do to ensure that your roses will give you great results in the summer.

Modern shrub roses

Modern shrub roses like ‘Felicia’‘Comte de Chambord’ and ‘Rose de Rescht’, usually repeat or continually flower throughout the summer. With these simply take off roughly 50% of the plant, to an outward facing bud where possible. This helps to encourage new growth to grow out away from the centre of the plant, helping the plant to stay healthy. If the centre of a rose becomes too dense, it can encourage disease to form as not enough air can circulate around it. Again don’t forget to take out any dead or diseased wood, as well as clearing away any old fallen diseased leaves that may still be lying around from last year. Again this will help to keep your roses in great condition for the year ahead. When discarding any diseased rose leaves, always ensure that you throw them straight into your rubbish bin though and not into your compost bin! This will help to make sure that you don’t contaminate your roses again in the future. It is also a good idea to clean your secateurs and anything else that may have come into contact with black spot.

During the summer modern shrub roses require dead heading after they have flowered to help new growth develop to produce another flush later on. Again this is done by cutting around 50% off of the stem to an outward facing bud.

Modern hybrid teas and floribundas

To prune modern hybrid teas and floribundas, like ‘Royal William’‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Peace’, take 2 thirds off of the plant, pruning to an outward facing bud, ensuring to take out any dead or diseased wood as well. Modern roses also require deadheading once they have finished flowering and this can be done by cutting off the stem which has finished flowering to an outwards facing bud.

Whilst pruning back to an outwards facing bud is preferable, it is by no means essential, so don’t worry if this is something that you struggle with.

Climbing and Rambling roses

Climbing and rambling roses tend to be a little more complicated, purely because there is normally an element of training involved also and sometimes a little bit of imagination is needed as well to picture ahead how you want your roses  to look come the summer.

If your roses are growing against a wall or fence then the ideal is to have them growing as close to the wall or fence as possible. The other point to really consider is that the more your stems are laid horizontally, the more flowers they will produce.

Train or cut off any unwanted growth that is growing away from the wall or fence and trim any stems that flowered the previous year back to about 2-3cm from the main stem. This method is called ‘stumping’ and this will encourage new growth, which will produce many more flowers in the summer.

If your climber or rambler is very old and has only a few stems, which are say 4-5 metres in length, with all the flowers blooming right at the top and not much else in the way of growth, then this is when it is probably best to prune very hard and start again.

In February cut these stems down to about 15cm from the base. Feed with a slow release fertiliser and mulch with 6cm of well-rotted horse manure and this should breathe new life into your old rose. Hopefully in the spring it should start to shoot prolifically again. If however the new growth is very weak then I’m afraid it may be time to dig it out, change the soil and start again with a new rose. Personally I would never dig out a rose without first giving it a chance to grow back to its full glory though.

With practice you will develop the skills needed to assess and adjust to every situation and prune accordingly to achieve the best results. A lot of pruning and in fact gardening, in general, is down to trial and error, but don’t be afraid of it and if possible try to enjoy it and unless you get it terribly terribly wrong, your roses will reward you for it.