Knowing when to prune roses has to be one of the most common gardening quandaries of all time. To some less experienced gardeners it might seem unimportant when and where you decide to make that cut. 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?
Let’s start with why we need to prune roses at all. You might think they can fend for themselves without much human intervention, and this is true on the whole, but pruning and doing other small maintenance tasks for your plants can help them grow to their optimum and probably help them last longer than they would if just left to their own devices.
By pruning your roses you are removing dead, diseased and dying stems and this will help improve plant hygiene, health and appearance. You can shape your plant to make it more fitting for its environment, avoid crowding and you can train/improve its growth habit. By removing dead or dying material you will help the plant put its energy into its healthy growth.
When to prune roses
The majority of roses in the UK are pruned in late winter during February and early March when leaf buds are starting to swell, but this normally depends on your climate and where you are.
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.
Ground cover, shrub, patio, miniature, floribunda and hybrid tea roses can all be pruned during the late winter months. Dead heading roses is recommended after flowering to help preserve the plants energies and promote growth, unless you want the hips left for decoration.
Climbing and rambling roses are different
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. Pruning when there are no leaves on the plant makes it easier to see what you are working with when shaping and supporting.
How to prune roses
It is important to use clean tools for this task as roses are susceptible to disease through open wounds. Make your cuts up to 5mm above an existing bud with clean, sharp gardening secateurs. Any closer than this and your plant might find it difficult to produce new growth from this stem. It is good to angle your cut away from the plant as this prevents rain water from dripping towards it and collecting to cause disease.
Start by pruning out dead, diseased or dying stems and clear out any unnecessary or unshapely stems. 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.