A Guide to Pruning Roses

A Guide to Pruning Roses

Rose pruning can cause confusion - the pruning varies according to the time of year and the type of rose. There are some general guidelines which are quite easy to follow and will make sure your roses are in the best possible condition.

Autumn Pruning:

In late autumn, it’s a good idea to prune back or tie-in any long whippy stems on climbers, ramblers, and vigorous shrub roses. There’s no need to be too precise at this stage – you can always do a final ‘tidy-up’ before spring time, but this will help to prevent damage from ‘wind-rock’ which can kill even well-established plants. Leaving the final pruning to later on also means that if you do experience some frost damage over the worst of the winter time, then there will still be sufficient wood to prune and remove any damaged parts.

Winter Pruning:

This can be carried out at any time when the roses are dormant, although best practice is to wait until February/Early March when the worst of the winter weather is over but before the roses have come into leaf. The exact pruning regime varies slightly according to the type of rose to be pruned, but the following is general advice which applies across the board:

  • All pruning cuts should be no more than 5mm above a bud, and should slope away from it so that water doesn’t collect on the bud.
  • Prune to an outward-facing bud to encourage an open shape. However, with roses of spreading habit: you should prune some stems to inward-facing, to encourage more upright growth, and avoid a hollow crown.
  • Good hygiene will help prevent future problems, so keep your secateurs both sharp and clean, and where you are cutting larger stems – use loppers or a pruning saw. If you are pruning lots of roses – you should occasionally dip the blades in alcohol to sterilise them.
  • Clean up all fallen leaves and prunings as soon as possible and dispose of them on the bonfire (and not your compost heap, where fungal spores might re-infect your plants in years to come).
  • Cut out any diseased, spindly, or crossed over stems.

It’s a good idea to winter wash your roses after pruning with a product such as Vitax ‘Winter Wash’ which will help to remove dirt and debris where pest lay their eggs, and which can then lead to moulds forming. An all-over washing with a white vinegar solution will help to remove and control the spores that cause ‘Black Spot’. Products such as ‘Tar-oil’ and ‘Jeyes Fluid’ are no longer approved or recommended for use on plants.

Summer Pruning:

In essence, this is deadheading roses - removing spent blooms - to encourage repeat-flowering, but for most roses you should cut off a length of stem as well as the flower. Prune back to an outward facing leaf, and the next shoot will grow away from that point. The length of stem you prune off is up to you, but 8-10cm is a good general rule. If a rose bush is particularly vigorous or outgrowing its position, take more off to keep under control (and vice versa - for budded miniatures or patio rose you may only be removing 3-4cm of stem). If the rose is a variety which produces hips, such as a rugosa rose, leave the flowers untouched and rely on winter pruning.

Climbing Roses:

With established climbing roses, cut out any weak, dead or diseased branches, and prune flowered side shoots back to the established framework to encourage new flowering shoots. After three or four years, an individual stem will become less productive, so you can cut it down to a lower shoot and tie-in the replacement stem. On a mature climber, you can completely remove a stem from 20cms above the base to encourage fresh new shoots from the crown.

Shrub, Miniflora, and Hybrid Tea Roses:

On established roses, cut out poorly flowering old wood and saw away any stubs that have failed to produce new shoots. Otherwise prune back to a healthy bud – a good general rule of thumb is to reduce the size of the plant by half. Remember to thin out weak growth and prune to outward-facing buds.