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How to Prune Roses

Discover when to do it, how to cut, and – as each needs a different approach – how to identify the type of rose you have

Houzz UK contributor and award-winning landscape and garden designer. Claudia de… More

Who doesn’t love a rose? There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from and many are thornless as well as disease-resistant. Many people are afraid when it comes to pruning Britain’s best-loved plant, but don’t be nervous, as roses are extremely resilient and great survivors. Get those secateurs out!

More in this series: How to Prune and Look After Wisteria; How to Prune and Look After Buddleja

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Why you should prune
Pruning roses shouldn’t be too complicated. The main purpose is to create a good shape – an attractive-looking plant with good structure – and to encourage healthy new growth.

Most roses need an annual prune and the aim is to cut away any misplaced wood on the plant, such as trailing stems, as well as stems that tend to rub against each other and plants that seem overcrowded or diseased.

When you cut into the branch of a rose, you release the growth hormone auxin. The hormone, which is present in most plants, will encourage the pruned stem to produce new shoots.

If you’re pruning dead or diseased stems, you’ll know when you’ve reached healthy wood, as you’ll see a whitish pith colour.

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When to start
Generally, roses should be pruned after the final frosts in spring (February to April) and before the plant breaks dormancy, but check individual rose profiles for specific timings.

New roses:
With most newly planted roses (apart from climbing and shrub, more of which below), it’s best to prune them straight away quite hard to encourage vigorous new shoots.

Established roses: For old established roses, the aim is to cut out any poorly flowering wood and dead or diseased stems. Use a pair of good loppers for this and, with a sharp saw, cut away any stubs that haven’t produced new shoots. Thin any crowded stems at the base of the plant and shorten trailing stems. Aim to have well-spaced stems, which will allow a good free airflow.

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How to identify your rose
We often have plants in our garden that we inherit and are not sure what they are. With roses, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which group they belong to. In just the shrub type alone, for example, there’s a vast and diverse number, with some being repeat flowering and others flowering just the once.

If you’re not sure what type of rose you have, observe the growth over time to see the flowering habits of the plant. For example, if the rose flowers on older wood, as is the case with most shrub roses (unlike modern bush roses), you’ll need to leave enough older wood for the flowers to develop this coming year. Make cuts to the base of the plant where possible, too, as this will preserve the arching habit of the plant.

If your rose has an upright habit, bears large flowers that grow on a long stem and flowers throughout the season, in contrast, it’s a hybrid tea rose, which is normally budded onto a vigorous rootstock.

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How much to prune
As already mentioned, pruning differs depending on type and species. As a rough guide…

Shrub and bush roses: Prune to about half or two-thirds.

Climbing roses: Remove the previous year’s flowering stems and tie in any new ones for support.

Rambling roses: Little or no pruning is required for the rambling variety, except to remove any dead or diseased wood. When a rambler does need a heavy prune because it’s got out of hand, you’ll lose the flower for the ensuing season, but it will soon come back again.

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How to cut
In terms of general pruning tips, make a cut above an existing bud. Ensure you have clean, sharp secateurs and that the cut is sloping away at an angle for water run off to prevent any disease. Make the cut no more than around a quarter of an inch (5mm) above an existing bud.

If you want an open centre to your plant, cut to outward-facing buds. If you have roses that have a spreading habit and you want to encourage upright growth, then prune stems to inward-facing buds.

With all roses that produce suckers at the base right back to the root, make sure you pull or cut these away. Suckers are the long shoots that have grown up from the rootstock of the plant, either from a grafted rose shrub or they may have been caused by the plant being damaged in some way. If left to grow, suckers will drain the nutrients from the main plant, leading to die-back further up the stems.

Roses need feeding, so after pruning, give them a good proprietary rose feed and mulch around the base.

A good natural tip for preventing ants and aphids on your roses is to spray with peppermint oil.

Tell us…
If you have roses, what tips can you share for keeping them happy? Add them to the Comments section.
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