Pruning roses

Rose expert Michael Marriott dispels the mysteries about pruning roses.

pruning roses
Pruning roses. Image: David Austin Roses
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All that advice you read about cutting to an outward pointing bud, pruning at an angle and just above the bud you can very safely ignore. It all harks back to when roses were much less tough and the main aim was to grow the perfect flower for the show bench. Today we all just want a lovely show of roses in the garden and modern varieties are much tougher and more reliable than those of 50 or more years ago.

Cutting back

rose pruning
For most shrub and bush roses simply cutting down the stems to about half way will give very good results. Image: David Austin Roses

For nearly all shrub and bush roses simply cutting down the stems to about half way and cutting one or two of the oldest stems right out will give you very good results. Roses are amazingly flexible and amenable so don’t be scared of cutting into them or making mistakes they will very soon bounce back and often be all the better for it.

You can in fact be quite flexible about how much to reduce the height by. When in front of your rose ask yourself “How tall do I want this rose to grow in that position”. By reducing the height down to say a third you can help to keep it shorter but if to two thirds you will be encouraging a taller plant.

Remove older stems

Once the rose is a few years old, do be sure to cut out some of the older stems to encourage new young growth from the base. It really is the secret to keeping the rose flowering freely with good quality blooms and keeping it healthy. Don’t be scared to do this, roses have an amazing ability to shoot from very old woody stems.  Any stems that are diseased in any way or rubbing together should also be cut out. 

The books often talk about a prune in the autumn which again you should ignore unless there are some very long whippy shoots that are looking out of place and liable to be broken in the wind. Reduce their height to the same as the other stems. Don’t prune the other stems though, with our warmer autumns and winters we can still get beautiful blooms in October, November and even December.

How to prune climbing roses

pruning roses
Roses are amazingly flexible and amenable so don’t be scared of cutting into them or making mistakes. Image: David Austin Roses

Pruning climbing roses is also very easy. These flower on side shoots that come from the big, long main shoots, cut these back to about 2-4in/5-10cm. This will encourage more side shoots which will flower during the summer. This can be repeated several times over the years until the main shoot runs out of steam when they should be cut out to encourage more strong basal shoots. If room, fan the main shoots out as much as possible to encourage more side shoots and so more flowers.

When to prune roses

When should you do it? I always think over Christmas is a good time, a good excuse to get a bit of exercise and some fresh air and there is little else to do in the garden. But anyway it should be done by the end of February as, by then, many varieties already have long buds and you are more likely to break them.

Once you have finished pruning remove any leaves that are still attached and any that are on the ground as they will be a primary source of infection in the coming year.

When spring comes, evenly apply the correct dose of fertiliser and spread a 2in/5cm layer of mulch.   

You are now all set for a wonderful show of roses. Enjoy.

Michael Marriott

About Michael Marriott

Michael Marriott has gardening in his blood. He grew up surrounded by gardens and studied Agricultural Botany at University. Today he is technical manager and rosarian at David Austin Roses and the main source of knowledge on all matters relating to roses, having worked with them for over 30 years.
@DAustinRoses
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