Rose pruning

by Adam Pasco

It's rose pruning time again. I could debate the merits of autumn pruning over spring, but I've always believed spring really is the best time to tackle pruning.

Pruning a rose stem with secateursIt's rose pruning time again. I could debate the merits of autumn pruning over spring, but I've always believed spring really is the best time to tackle pruning.

Rose pruning isn't a job to hurry. You need time to ponder, step back and deliberate, rather than rushing in with secateurs snipping everywhere. Every cut serves a purpose, so consider carefully. Pruning provides an opportunity to maintain the health, vigour and flowering performance of our roses.

Any old stems showing signs of dieback can be pruned away, and badly positioned and congested shoots can be cut out to shape the bush. Last year's stems need shortening to prevent new growth developing higher and higher up the bush, carrying flowers on increasingly leggy stems.

And then there's the actual position of the pruning cut. Of course you should prune just above a bud, but remember that the developing shoot will grow out in the direction that bud points. In most cases you want this to be outwards, keeping the centre of the bush light and open. Prune to an inward pointing bud and the shoot will grow inwards, crossing other stems to create a congested bush.

I remember, about 15 years ago, the Royal National Rose Society in St Albans conducted a trial comparing roses pruned conventionally with secateurs with those pruned with a hedgecutter. Their findings over the subsequent few years confounded the experts. Those roses pruned with a hedgecutter actually flowered better than those carefully pruned by hand!

How could this be? The thinking was that hand pruning removed many small, weak shoots — shoots which wouldn't have been pruned away by the hedgecutter. Left in place, these small sheets each produce a few leaves. These leaves produce more food — through the process of photosynthesis — for the bush. And the more food available to the bush, the better its flowering performance.

As far as I recall, in the short term the hedgecutter-pruned roses certainly gave a better display of flower, but with every passing year the bushes themselves became more and more congested. To many observers the bushes simply didn't look as attractive.

So while pruning allows us to 'tidy up' rose bushes, it's important not to get carried away. Dead shoots: bad. Crossing and rubbing stems: bad. Small shoots may not carry blooms, but their leaves contribute vauable food that enhances the flowering performance of the rest of the bush, so leave well alone!

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Rose pruning
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 23/02/2009 at 16:42

This is to do with roses - can anyone who is reading this please help. I saw on 31st January gardening section of the Daily Telegraph about a rose that has quite thick red stems and is rather architectural - apparently looks lovely when the sun is shining through it. There was a special offer which I was going to apply for, but to my horror, the section seems to have found it's way onto the fire!!!! Please does anyone know the name of this rose, or do you still have a copy of the 31st Gardening Section of the DT to tell me the phone number and promotion number so I can get one. I am trying all avenues!!!!! Thank you Christine

Gardeners' World Web User 24/02/2009 at 07:29

this rose was Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha, sometimes known as Rosa pteracantha (winged thorn rose) 1rose - 14.95 or 2 for24.90 call 0870 950 5926 quote ref. TL634 or Make cheque payable to Telegraph Garden and send to Telegraph Rose Offer, Rookery Farm Joys Bank Holbech St Johns Spalding PE12 8SG

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 21:35

Hi, I'm a bit new to this - we moved into our first house in 2005 and it was a building site outside. So, we start from scratch and we're fairly clueless!! Anyway, please could someone advise how you effectively prune a climbing rose. I don't know whether to cut it back hard or just trim the tops, do I have to worry about the bud direction....... I'm confused! Any help greatly appreciated Thanks Jo

Gardeners' World Web User 26/02/2009 at 18:28

Please could someone help me, again its aboout roses. Have some hybrid-t roses, they are 13 years old, they are not looking very healthy,even though i have pruned all dead wood away. Am i too late to prune all down to about a few feet from the ground? If so would they flower this year. Or should i dig them up and plant new ones. How long can roses last ? Thanks a million to anyone who can help.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/02/2009 at 20:28

I have a free standing rose/ hip over 6 foot and begining to arch on its own do I prune it back to ground level

See more comments...