Knowing when to prune roses is has to be one of the most common gardening quandaries of all time. To some less experienced gardeners it might seem unimportant when you decide to make that cut, and indeed, where. However, the moment you choose to prune your roses can be the difference between a healthy long lasting plant that produces multiple buds and flowers, and one that might not last the winter.
This bite-sized guide will hopefully go some way to explaining the importance of rose pruning, dispelling some myths and help you to better take care of your rose plants.
Why do you need to prune roses?
Before we go into when to prune roses and how to prune roses, we should first explain the reasons why it is important to prune roses at all. You might think roses and many plants in general can fend for themselves without much human intervention, and this is true on the whole. However, pruning and other small maintenance tasks can help plants to grow to their optimum and possibly last longer than they would if just left to their own devices.
The act of cutting a rose branch helps the plant to produce a hormone called ‘auxin’. This growth hormone is present in the main stem of most plants and pruning sends it to the freshly cut stem and encourages it to produce new shoots.
Pruning roses also helps to control the size and shape of your rose plant while ensuring it’s health and flowering capabilities.
When to prune roses
The majority of roses are pruned between late winter, during February and early March, but this normally depends on your climate and where you are in the UK.
In the south you are safest to prune roses in late February just as the new growth begins on rose plants. If you live in the north and other colder areas of the UK we would recommend waiting until March after last frosts before pruning roses.
If you are deciding when to prune a ground cover rose for example, it is always prudent to wait until after it has finished flowering. Miniature roses or shrubs can be pruned during the summer months.
Climbing and rambling roses are different
You can’t tar all rose varieties with the same brush though. Different types of rose will need to be pruned at different times of the year and in slightly different ways.
Climbers are happy with a late autumn and/or early winter pruning to keep them neat and tidy and flowering well. Whereas ramblers prefer pruning in late summer after their flowers have died out.
During autumn and winter there are less leaves on your climbing and rambling rose plants, making it easier to prune more accurately.
How to prune roses
Make a cut up to 5mm above an existing bud with a clean pair of sharp gardening shears, any more than this and your plant might find it difficult to produce new growth from this stem. It is very important to angle your cut away from the plant as this prevents rain water from collecting and dripping towards it causing disease.
If you are looking for an open shape then concentrate your pruning on the outward facing rose buds. If you would prefer an upright growth shape then prune above the inward facing buds.
On an older, well established rose you can afford to use a bit of tough love. Cut out the woody stems that do not produce flowers. You can use a small saw for this if the stems are very thick.
What if I don’t know what type of rose I have?
If you are unable to identify the type of rose plant you are about to prune there are a few ways around your dilemma. Climbing or rambling roses tend to have long stems and you should aim to cut the older woody stems low down at the base of the rose plant.
The smaller rose bushes and shrubs have much more delicate stems and pruning should again be as low to ground level as possible. You can prune newer or greener stems and these bark covered shoots should be cut at the sides.
Either way, if you are in any doubt about when to prune roses, stick to February to March, the most common pruning time for roses.