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Pruning and Dead Heading Roses

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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 sitting there.

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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.

Again we prefer to carry out this operation in spring, 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

Groups such as the Albas, Gallicas, Centifolias and Damasks also flower on the growth they made in the previous year. Therefore 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. These are 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 from the old wood that has flowered. 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. 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. To begin with remove the unwanted wood, that 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. Take about a third of the branches to around a third of the plant’s height, a further third to two thirds then tidy up what remains. In theory these three areas will grow at a similar rate so that the following year the tall branches can be reduced to a third and the others will have grown to the two third mark and full size.

Once this is done, train out as many of the branches as possible horizontally thus promoting more flower. This climbing rose has been well pruned but could do with a larger trellis to allow the laterals to be trained horizontally.


Pruning Procumbent Roses

These are not easy 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.


Pruning newly planted bare root roses

These should always be hard pruned at the time of planting, before they are placed in the hole is the logical time. Even the most rampant of ramblers will benefit from this treatment as it encourages basal growth, from which the plant will make its shape. Climbers, ramblers and shrub roses should be reduced to about six inches, bush roses to about four inches.

Dead heading

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.

 Deadheading roses


Feeding Roses

All roses need feeding at least twice a year throughout their lives to ensure maximum blooms and growth, from first year plants through to 50 year old ramblers.

We recommend a good feed of a nitrogen high feed like “Top Rose” after the late-winter prune in Februrary then feeding every two weeks throughout the flowering period with a high potash feed like “Tomorite” tomato feed.


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 cultiver 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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