Pruning and Dead-Heading Roses

Pruning your Roses

Pruning worries many gardeners but if you keep the rules simple it is quite a logical procedure.

In all pruning, dead and diseased wood should always be removed. If taking away an entire branch, try to leave as little of it behind as possible to avoid dead stumpy areas on the plant. All other cuts should be made above an outward-facing bud and on an angle away from it, thus preventing rain-water from sitting there. Remove wood, which has rubbed against other branches, and become damaged. Try to keep the centre of the plant open. Always use good quality, sharp secateurs to ensure that cuts are clean. Both the Expert Bypass Pruner and the Professional Pruner by Darlac are highly recommended, as they offer excellent quality at an affordable price.

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Pruning newly planted bare root roses

To encourage new growth and a good shape we recommend that all bare root roses are hard pruned. Before they are planted in the hole is the easiest time to do this. Even the most rampant of rambling roses benefit from this treatment and we would recommend that climbers, ramblers and shrub roses are pruned down to around 6 inches and bush roses to around 4 inches.


Pruning Modern Hybrid Tea and Floribunda Roses

These should have an annual haircut, and quite a heavy one at that. Begin by removing those branches that show disease, are dead or are damaged. Concentrate on removing also any thin spindly areas, these are unlikely to produce many flowers. Keep the bush open by thinning the centre and then reduce the size of the remaining branches. Obviously the amount you do this is relative to the plant and it's purpose, for example you would probably not wish to cut a Floribunda hedge down to six inches, nor would you be likely to want a pot grown specimen to become leggy. Bedding roses are probably best lowered to around six inches or less from where they will grow at the same rate, producing a sea of flowers in the summer.

We prefer to carry out this operation around February / March time, thus avoiding die-back from wounds that have become frost bitten but it can be done in the autumn or earlier in the winter.


Pruning Repeat Flowering Shrub Roses

It is sensible to keep repeat flowering shrub roses pruned to prevent them from becoming leggy and bare at the bottom and to promote young growth. Old wood never produces as many flowers. As with the other groups, remove unwanted growth especially those areas of disease die back or damage. Cut away twiggy weak branches and reduce the length of the branches that are left by as much as half or even a third. I believe that the best time for pruning these roses is late winter, when the worst of the frosts have passed. Rugosa roses are best if only lightly trimmed. The Chinas and older Hybrid Teas should be treated in the same way as pruning the Modern bush roses, this is discussed below in the Modern Hybrid Tea and Floribunda Roses.

 Pruning roses


Pruning Once Flowering Shrub Roses

In many cases it is not necessary to prune summer-flowering shrub roses and they will make attractive plants without much attention. The only requirements may be to remove any dead, diseased or chaffed branches.

Groups such as the Albas, Gallicas, Centifolias and Damasks flower on the growth they made in the previous year. Therefore, if required they are best pruned after they have flowered to encourage further growth in the same year and, in turn, further flowers the following summer. There is no great reason to worry if a year is missed for in the scheme of things these roses are pruned to prevent them from becoming leggy and top-heavy, sometimes a heavy dead-heading will suffice. An explanation of dead-heading follows in this chapter.

I would not advocate pruning Species roses, the Pimpinellifolias or Sweetbriars. There are two reasons for this. Firstly they nearly all set hips. Secondly, they have a habit of growth that requires little attention, the Pimpinellifolias remain neat whilst the others are elegant and graceful. Having said this, should they become out of hand, they can be shaped, remembering that a spring haircut will result in the loss of many of the summer’s flowers and a prune after flowering will substantially decrease the volume of hips.


Pruning Once Flowering Ramblers

If you study these ramblers you will note that at, and after, flowering time they will be sending out long fishing rod-like lengths of growth from ground level. These long, flexible branches are NOT SUCKERS but the flower bearing stems for the following season and should be left untouched. As long as you recognise these, pruning can be done at any time after flowering, with any necessary removal of old wood that has flowered and leave as many of the young shoots as possible. Remember though that many of these roses will set hips and if this is the case pruning should be saved for spring.

Simply dispense with any of the old wood, or cut it back and tie in the new rods. If the plant is trailing over a fence for example, train the rods out like a fan as horizontally as possible but without snapping them. This will promote more flowers. Some Ramblers require only occasional pruning and are often better left to their own devices. Ramblers going into trees etc may be difficult to get to, in which case why worry?


Pruning Climbing Roses

Groups such as the Noisettes, climbing Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, climbing Teas and climbing Hybrid Perpetuals produce flowers on growth that is made in the same season, therefore a spring tidy up suits them just fine.

With these roses pruning goes hand in hand with training. Stems should be tied out in different directions to encourage new flowering growth. A lateral stem will produce more flowering shoots along its length if it is trained as near to horizontal as possible. As the plant becomes older a pattern of pruning can be developed. By leaving some stems long and reducing others by about a third. The aim is to keep the plant as full of younger wood as possible. 

To begin with remove the unwanted wood, which is growing in a cumbersome manner, is dead or diseased or damaged. Once you have done this I would suggest you step back and see what you have left. The two main objectives now are shape and the promotion of flower and low growth.

To encourage low growth it is best to adopt a rotational system. This will encourage flowers to be produced from low down right up to the top of the plant. To achieve this simply stagger your pruning by taking approximately 30 percent of the branches down to around two-thirds of the plant’s height, then prune a further 30 percent of the branches down to around a third of the plants height and finally just tidy up what remains.

Once this is done, train out as many of the branches as possible horizontally thus promoting more flowers. 


Pruning Procumbent Roses

Probably most of the pruning will be confined to removing tangled growth and tidying. Different cultivars have different growth habits, but if the plant produces long arching branches, they can be pegged down if necessary.

Generally, procumbents are not the easiest to prune because of their very dense growth habit, with masses of twiggy branches, it is difficult to see where to start. Some careful attention may be needed in certain areas especially if there is much die-back but after that I would be inclined to use a pair of shears or a hedge trimmer. The disadvantage of using such devices is that there may be some breakage to the twigs that will inevitably cause some die back. However, these roses are usually vigorous enough that they will quickly cover this with fresh growth from below. Very often these roses require little pruning at all unless of course they have strayed too far into areas they should not be inhabiting.


Pruning Standard (Tree) Roses

Standard roses are simply cultivars that have been budded to a stem. Therefore you will need to know what group that cultivar falls into. Weeping standards are generally ramblers or procumbent roses, in which case pruning is applied to old wood shortly after flowering. Those standards that are more formal are usually Modern Roses in which case a hard prune in spring is recommended. Shrub standards, such as ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Bonica’ are best if given a tidy up in spring.



Unless a rose produces hips it will require dead-heading for a couple of reasons. Firstly a dead flower head is unsightly but, more importantly, the removal of the spent flowers on a repeat flowering plant will speed up the formation of the next flowers. You will notice that the stem supporting the flower will always die back when it’s task is accomplished, by removing it the process is simply speeded up. A spent flower that was a solitary bloom should be cut away just above the next or lower leaf joint, from which point the next bloom will grow. The same applies to clusters of flowers. Although removing the flower individually is fine whilst waiting for others to finish but the whole cluster should be removed down to the next or lower leaf joint. Of course this is not such an easy task on a large climber, where one or two spent flowers may have to remain. They will fall eventually.

Dead-heading roses

Feeding Roses

Roses are very thirsty plants and require regular watering, especially if growing in pots. They are also very hungry plants and to promote good health and the maximum production of flowers we would recommend feeding your roses after pruning with something like fish, blood and bone, or Vitax Q4. They will also benefit hugely from a high Potash feed applied fortnightly throughout the flowering season. Either ‘Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic’ or ‘Tomorite’ work very well.

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Removing Suckers

Most modern roses are propagated by budding, a form of grafting whereby material from the cultivar is placed under the bark of a root stock where the two eventually fuse and the cultivar begins to grow. Once this happens all evident parts of the root-stock, i.e.the branches, are cut away leaving the cultivar able to take over the roots of the host plant. Sometimes, especially if the roots are damaged, a shoot of the host plant will begin to grow. As soon as this is noticed it should be removed, as cleanly as possible from the plant. The host variety used is often stronger in growth than the budded cultivar and if allowed to grow will often take over thus sapping the strength of the cultivar causing it to become weak and eventually die. The sucker should be traced to its place of origin and, by applying pressure with the thumb, should be pushed downwards until it comes away from the root. This is more difficult if the sucker has reached a stage of being mature when it may have to be removed by cutting. If the cut is not very precise and any of it is left, it will actually promote further branches of the sucker to grow. Hence it is important to catch them whilst still small. Most standard roses are propagated in the same way but instead, both the stem and the roots are the hosts and suckers can emerge from both. For this reason any shoots seen growing from the stem of the standard should also be removed, in the same manner by applying pressure with the thumb.

Rose with suckers

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