When To Prune Bushes, Climbers And Standards
Almost all roses need to be pruned in late winter/early spring, around March time depending on where you live in the UK.
This is recommended for established plants and any roses that you have planted during the previous autumn and winter. If you plan on planting a bush or standard in the spring, prune just before planting.
There is however one danger of leaving pruning until spring, and that is the possibility of wind-rock forming in the winter gales. Avoid this by cutting back long stems in the autumn, preferably in November.
When To Prune Ramblers
As I said most roses need to be pruned around March time, but the exception to this rule is a rambling rose. This need to be pruned in late summer or early autumn once flowering has finished.
Pruning A Rose Too Early
Pruning too early may result in buds breaking prematurely if we have a mild spell, and then a cold snap returns causing frost damage.
Despite this possibility, some rose experts prune regularly during positive temperatures in January or February and claim they obtain earlier flowering than with the more traditional March pruning.
Pruning A Rose Too Late
Pruning too late results in the plant being weakened. This is because the sap is flowing freely upwards once the buds are actively growing, and pruning your rose at this stage is more than likely to cause considerable loss of sap.
Why Should You Prune A Rose
Unlike a tree, roses do not produce shoots which steadily increase in size every year. A rose’s stem grows actively and bears flowers for only a few years, after which the upper portion becomes exhausted.
A new shoot then appears from a bud lower down on the stem, and the part above the new shoot dies. The result of a rose that has been left unpruned is a bush becomes a tangled mess of live and deadwood.
The main purpose of pruning every year is to get rid of old exhausted wood and to encourage the development of strong and healthy stems.
Removing dead wood will also reduce the risk of disease from pests.
Pruning a rose every year will create an attractive, shapely shrub, with good structure.
We also prune to improve air circulation around the plant too.
Tools Needed For Pruning Your Rose Bush
Probably the most popular pruners used in the garden. They make a nice clean cut, just what is needed when making a pruning cut on your rose bush.
A Pruning Saw
The tool of choice when stems are over an inch (2.5cm) in diameter have to be dealt with.
Long Handled Loppers/Pruners
Essential for tall climbing or shrub roses. Many gardeners prefer to use them to a pruning saw when tackling thick stems.
Gloves (Preferably long ones)
Gardening gloves are a necessity to help protect your hands from thorns.
A kneeling pad will allow you to get close to your rose bush when the soil is wet and cold at pruning time.
(I use mine for nearly all aspects of gardening throughout the year, I see no shame in saving your knees and I’m only in my thirties.)
How To Prune Your Roses
I found this photo while searching for images for this blog post from “The rose book, a complete guide for amateur rose growers” (1914)
Methods of Pruning Your Rose
Until the 1990s there was only one basic traditional method of pruning, and then during 90s, an easy-care technique evolved.
The new method gives results which are at least as good as the traditional way but with far less effort.
Pruning By The Traditional Method
If you have OCD like me, then your preferred method of pruning your rose will be the traditional way.
All bushes and standards should be tackled in the following way:
Completely cut out all dead wood and all parts of the stem which are obviously damaged or diseased. To test for this, the cut surface should be white, if it is brown cut back further.
Completely cut out any thin stems, and remove any branches that cross or rub against another. The aim is to produce an open-centred bush (which is good for air circulation).
Remove all suckers.
Cut out all unripe stems. To test for this, try to snap off several thorns, if they bend or tear off instead of breaking cleanly, the wood is too soft to be of any use.
Only healthy and ripe stems should now remain. Prune these to the length for the type of rose you are pruning.
Pruning A Hybrid Tea Bush
A newly planted hybrid tea requires a hard prune to build up a strong root system and to stimulate the growth of sturdy fresh shoots from close to the base of the bush.
Newly planted hybrid teas should be pruned 10-15cm (4-6 inches) from the ground.
If a newly planted hybrid tea has been put in sandy soils, moderate pruning is required at this stage and then a hard prune the following year.
An established hybrid tea (planted at last 12 months ago) requires a moderate prune is the best method for general garden display.
If you are planning on showing your blooms a hard prune is sometimes used.
In poor sites and for vigorous growing hybrid teas light pruning is recommended.
Pruning A Floribunda And Patio Rose Bush
Newly planted floribundas and patio roses require a hard prune just like a hybrid tea.
Hard pruning is required for the same reason to build up a strong root system and to stimulate the growth of sturdy fresh shoots from close to the base of the bush.
Newly planted floribundas and patio roses should be pruned to 15cm (6 inches) from the ground.
For an established plant, moderate pruning is the basis for tackling a floribunda.
As some old stems are hard pruned to a few centimetres from the ground, while new shoots which have arisen from close to the base last year require a light prune.
Pruning this way retains stems of varying lengths which ensure a long period of continuous flowering.
Pruning A Hybrid Tea And Floribunda Standard
It is recommended that you hard prune a newly standard, but it should be less drastic than the treatment given to newly planted bushes.
You should cut back the stems of a newly planted standard to about 20cm (8 inches) from the trunk.
An established standard requires a moderate prune to form a properly balanced head which will produce plenty of flowers.
You should avoid a hard prune on an established standard, or you will get over-vigorous shoot growth that will spoil your tree.
Make sure that the main branches are approximately the same in length after pruning.
Pruning A Weeping Standard
A hard prune is necessary for a newly planted weeping standard, leaving branches about 15cm (6 inches) long at the top of the trunk.
For an established tree cut out all branches that have flowered, leaving the new vigorous shoots which will flower next year.
Cut off the tips of these shoots early next spring around March time.
Pruning Ground Cover, Miniature and Shrub Roses
No pruning is required for a newly planted rose, and even for established plants, very little pruning is required.
Just remove the dead and sickly growth and trim to shape.
Remove and burn mildewed tips, use scissors rather than secateurs to trim miniatures.
Pruning Climbing Roses
You do not need to prune a newly planted climber, simply remove any dead tips which may be present.
When pruning an established climbing rose cut out dead and exhausted wood.
Remove some of the main stems to where a strong branch arises.
Shorten the side shoots you can reach by about two-thirds.
Types of Pruning
Stems are cut back to three or four buds from the base. This leaves short, sturdy stems about 12-15cm (5-6 inches) high.
Hard pruning is recommended for newly planted bush roses and it is often used for established Hybrid Tea’s that are solely grown for the production of exhibition blooms.
It is no longer a requirement to hard prune established roses grown for garden display, although it is still used for some very weak growing hybrid tea’s and for rejuvenating neglected roses.
Hard pruning should never be used for established floribundas.
Stems are cut back to about half their length. Weaker than average stems should be reduced by more than this amount.
Moderate pruning recommended for nearly all established hybrid tea’s growing in ordinary soil.
If your roses are well cared for, you can expect exhibition quality blooms as well as a fine garden display following a moderate prune.
Hard pruning is no longer considered to be essential for winning prizes.
Stems are cut back to about two-thirds of their length. This means that after removal of all unwanted wood, the remaining stems are merely tipped.
Light pruning is generally not recommended for your roses, as it produces tall spindly bushes bearing early but poor quality blooms if used year after year.
However, in special cases, light pruning is the only method to use.
Very vigorous hybrid teas should be tackled in this way, and all roses that are planted in very sandy or smoky areas should be lightly pruned.
Pruning Using The Easy-Care Method
Back in the 1990s, it came as a surprise to many rose experts that the easy-care method of pruning has proved to be so successful.
Extensive trials carried out by the Royal National Rose Society and other organisations showed that this technique is at least equal to the laborious traditional method.
The blooms are sometimes larger and more abundant, and the bushes are no less healthy than with the traditional method.
The technique couldn’t be simpler, the rose bush is chopped in half its height with secateurs or a hedge trimmer.
Leave all twiggy and weak growth, and cut out all the deadwood at the base if you wish to do so.
The time of pruning is carried out in the same period as you would when using the traditional method.
The Pruning Cut For A Rose
The correct cut is a sloping cut 1cm away from an outward dormant bud.
All pruning cuts must be clean, pare off any ragged parts.
Sharp secateurs are essential, never force them to cut through thick stems.
It is near impossible to avoid making some wrong cuts when you first start to prune roses.
As a result, snags will form above some of the new shoots which develop, simply cut these dead bits off as they appear.
Dead Heading A Rose
The regular removal of spent blooms from hybrid tea’s and floribundas is an important task.
When flowers have faded remove the whole truss, cutting the stem just above the second or third leaf down.
By doing this the plant’s energy that would have been lost in forming hips is now conserved, and a regular succession of new flowering shoots is ensured.
Dead flowers on a first-year rose should be removed with very little stem.
Disbudding A Rose
Many hybrid teas normally produce more than one flower bud at the end of each shoot. If you want large specimen blooms for an exhibition, garden display or flower arrangement, then disbudding is necessary.
This requires removing side buds by nipping out with your finger and thumb as soon as they become visible. This allows the stronger terminal bud to develop to its maximum potential.
Thinning A Rose
Following pruning, it is often found that two or more shoots have formed from a single bud. Only one of this should be retained. The weaker or inward-facing shoots should be gently removed by rubbing out with your fingers.
Pruning roses can be an intimidating task for many gardeners, and becoming an accomplished pruner takes practice.
But just keep in mind that you are doing a good deed for your plant and that it is very hard to kill a rose from bad pruning.
Most mistakes will grow out quickly and it is far better to make the effort of pruning your rose rather than letting it grow rampant and into a tangled mess.
And always remember if time is an issue you can always prune your rose using the easy-care method rather than the tedious traditional method.