Roses are one of the UK’s favourite flowers. They can find a place in almost any garden. Yet if not cared for properly, roses can pose a range of problems. One of the areas regarding roses where many gardeners fall short is when it comes to pruning roses. In this article, we will take a look at this (sometimes thorny) issue and tell you everything you need to know about pruning roses. Read on to make sure you keep your roses happy and healthy, and do not fall prey to any of the most common issues or mistakes.
General Tips for Pruning Roses
Pruning roses is generally a relatively straightforward and not particularly time consuming job. However, it is important to make sure that you are following tips that are suited to the type of rose you are growing.
Identifying Rose Types
There are a huge array of different types of rose growing in UK gardens. Each of the different types will be tackled somewhat differently when it comes to pruning. The first stage, therefore, when tackling pruning roses, should be identifying the type of your roses. In your garden, you may find:
- Shrub roses
- Hybrid Tea Roses & Floribunda
- Climbing Roses
- Rambling Roses
- Patio & Miniature Roses
- Ground Cover Roses.
Shrub or Bush Type?
If your rose bush is very small, this makes it easy to identify, and you should follow the pruning directions for patio and miniature roses given below. To distinguish between shrub roses and floribunda or hybrid tea roses, take one or two of the stems off as close to ground level as possible (in February or March). Shorten the remaining stems up 1/3 to ½/. If, next season, it responds by sending up lots of vigorous growth that flowers well, it is likely to be a hybrid tea rose or floribunda. If it does not it is more likely to be a type of shrub rose.
Climber or Rambler?
If a rose has long, arching stems, is tall and/or needs some kind of support to hold it up then it is most likely to be a climber or rambler. Be careful if there is only one thick,old stem going down to ground level, as it may not regenerate if cut back hard. Shorten by 1/3 or so. For multi-stemmed roses, take out two or three older stems at ground level. If, next season, the rose sends out lots of strong new shoots (but these do not flower) then it is likely to be a rambler. Roses that send out less vigorous but flowering growth are more likely to be climbers.
The easiest way to quickly distinguish between climbing and rambling roses is that climbing roses will repeat flower almost all summer and into autumn, while rambling roses will usually only flower once, in around June.
Rules & Practices for Pruning Roses
Whatever type of rose you have in your garden, however, there will be certain rules and practices that will be followed regardless of which variety you are growing. Here are some of the general rose pruning tips that you should bear in mind:
- Generally, it is best to prune roses in February or March. (Though see below for details specific to different rose types.)
- Protect yourself with long sleeves and gloves to prevent scratches from the thorns.
- Use sharp, well maintained cutting implements. It is best to choose bypass shears/ secateurs rather than anvil blades that will crush rather than cleanly cutting the stems and branches.
- Generally, make cuts no more than 5mm above a bud.
- Angle the cut away from the bud so that water does not collect on it.
- If pruning to remove dead/ damaged material, prune back to white, healthy pith.
- Feed all pruned roses by mulching well in the spring.
Pruning Shrub Roses
Shrub roses come in a diverse range of varieties. They are usually larger than modern bush roses and have thorny stems. Often, their flowers are beautifully scented. They may repeat flower, or flower only once each summer. They can be used for hedging or as individual specimen plants.
Shrub roses should be pruned in February in southern areas, though it is best to wait until March if you live in more northern, chillier parts of the UK. In addition to carrying out this main pruning, you should also deadhead these roses in summer after they have flowered.
One key thing to remember with old-fashioned shrub roses is that they usually flower on older wood. It is best to prune lightly, to allow long arching stems to form and the shrubs to establish a natural shape.
Shrub roses that flower only once in summer should be pruned in February or March only if they become leggy and bare at ground level. Where this is the case, you should remove two or three stems close to ground level. This should encourage new growth to develop close to the base of the plant. You may also wish to prune such roses in late summer, once flowering is over and done. This summer pruning will largely be to reduce overcrowded stems, and to remove any dead or damaged areas.
Repeat flowering shrub roses should be pruned to reduce strong new growth by up to one third in the late winter or early spring. ‘English’ rose types should usually be pruned to reduce the previous season’s growth by around 30-50%. Strong side shoots should usually be reduced to 2-3 buds. Mature shrubs should be given a renewal pruning each February/March. Cut back some of the older stems to ground level to encourage vigorous new growth from the base.
Pruning Hybrid Tea Roses & Floribundas
If they are left unpruned, modern bush roses such as hybrid tea roses (which have large flowers) and floribundas (which have clusters of smaller blooms) can easily become tangled messes with few blooms.
The pruning techniques for both of these types of bush roses are generally similar, but floribunda stems are generally left longer with more buds on them, while hybrid tea roses are pruned more drastically to promote vigorous new growth.
For hybrid tea roses, first prune to remove any dead, damaged or diseased branches, and do any thinning that is required to create a good, open habit. Then you should prune the strongest shoots down to around 25-30cm above the soil level. Some older stems may even be pruned back even lower to the ground to encourage stronger growth from the base.
For floribunda, once you have pruned out dead, damaged or diseased material, cut back the strongest shoots to 4-6 buds from the base, to the point where last year’s growth started, and less vigorous shoots to 2-4 buds from the base.
Pruning Climbing Roses
Climbing roses should usually be pruned before the end of the winter. It is easier to see what you are doing when the plants are not in leaf, and the plant should respond with a show of vigorous growth the following spring.
If you are training roses on pillars, arches or pergolas, keep the stems as horizontal as possible to encourage flowering shoots to form low down. Remove any weak or spindly growth as well as any dead, damaged or diseased sections. Routinely prune any flowering side shoots back by around 2/3 of their length each year. If the plant is congested, you can also cut out old stems at the base to promote new growth.
Pruning Rambling Roses
Rambling roses should generally be pruned routinely in late summer, after their show of flowers and hips, and in the winter for renovation.
When planting new rambling roses, prune back stems to 40cm or so above ground level. One rambling roses have covered their supports, thin and shorter excessive growth by cutting off one in three of the oldest stems altogether. If space is restricted, you may wish to prune out all stems that have flowered and tie in new nones to take their places. It is also a good idea to shorten side shoots by around 2/3.
With mature rambling roses, it is a good idea to entirely remove old woody branches, retaining a maximum of six young, vigorous, supported stems. Shorten the side branches that remain by around 1/3 to ½ to encourage side branches.
Pruning Patio & Miniature Roses
Light pruning for shape, and to remove any dead,damaged or diseased branches in winter, and dead heading in late summer is usually all that is required for smaller patio and miniature roses. You may occasionally wish to cut back older growth to ground level to encourage vigour from the base.
Pruning Ground Cover Roses
Small, shrub type ground cover roses will generally, as the above, require little to no pruning. But they can be pruned for shape and size in by reducing the strongest shoots by around 1/3, and shortening side shoots to 2-3 buds. Overgrown examples can also be renovated by cutting them to around 10cm above ground level in the late winter.
Spreading ramblers can be pruned by shortening side shoots that have become too long in summer after flowering, and, if they become too large, can also be renovated as for the shrub ground cover roses.
Understanding how to prune different roses can help you keep them looking good and performing well year after year. Share your tips for pruning roses in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.