There is something about pruning that really worries people and pruning roses is no exception. I have covered pruning roses before but it was with the relatively new (and well kept!) roses here so it is not so easy to apply that advice with your own roses, perhaps, if they have not been pruned well. Before I go into any detail or show the photos I just want to mention a few key points. These all apply to ‘modern’ roses and are not as applicable to species roses, old fashioned once-flowering roses or ramblers. They do apply, with some caveats, to climbing roses*.
1 You will not kill a rose by pruning it.
2 Apart from the very base, nothing on your rose bush should be more than four years old.
3 Start by removing any suckers growing from the base, maybe below soil level or, in a standard rose, on the main upright stem.
4 Cut out anything that is dead or diseased
5 Remove thin, weak stems back to one bud
6 Prune back strong stems by half or two thirds, ideally to an outward-facing bud – this is not critical but it helps make an open, balanced bush.
7 Remove one or two old stems to near the base – they will be grey in colour.
8 Prune so you make the cut just above a bud to prevent die back.
9 Step back and do a bit more pruning, if needed, to produce a balanced plant.
10 Apply a feed and a mulch.
So, back to our standard (bushy rose budded on a tall stem) rose above. There is lots of dead and diseased stems on it so they have to be tackled first. When you cut out a dead stem you will see that the wood will be brown. If possible, cut back to healthy stems where there is no brown staining of the tissue or the rot, once set in, will spread. You can cut roses back in autumn a bit if you want but now is the ideal time to prune them, getting them ready for a summer of blooms.
I have noticed, over the years, that the stem of a shrub that carries the label, often dies, and among these roses that I was pruning it was the case in more than 50% of the plants. I used to think that the rattling and revolving label may cause damage but then it occurred to me that these stems are obviously the oldest stems so maybe it is simply that – but I still think the labels do damage so I always remove them.
Here you can see very clearly why you should not just snip bits off here and there but prune back to a bud or you get this dieback. The plant will try to isolate the disease but it is not always successful and if the rose is not growing well it can spread.
So here is the rose pruned with just one more shoot to cut back. I do not always think that Hybrid Tea (large flowered) roses are very satisfactory for standard roses because of their stiffly upright habit. I prefer low and ground cover roses but, I have to say, having had to prune hundreds of these roses in the past few weeks, they are a bit easier on the back!
And moving on to a more typical Hybrid Tea rose.
There are two suckers, which can be easily identified by their lack of thorns and different colour.
And there is lots of old and dead wood.
After pruning I have removed all the old wood and dead material and opened up the plant. Leaving all the dense, twiggy, dead stuff will help rot set in and the lack of air movement in the dense centre will encourage disease. And remember that growth follows the knife and by pruning you actually encourage strong growth – which is why it is usually futile to try to keep a large shrub small by pruning it!
Look at this poor thing – random cutting back has led to lots of dead snags. That is why gardeners prune – they don’t hack, snip, chop or trim!
And another, younger stem. All that green wood above the shoot will die back – or it would have done if I had not pruned it back to just above that healthy shoot.
Roses are amazing value. I know they need a bit of care and at the moment I have the hands to prove that they can be spiteful. But they are worth the effort and I hope this has helped.
* Rambler roses that flower once, in June/July, are pruned by cutting out the flowered stems near the base and the new canes are tied in. Species roses may not need regular pruning though it is a good idea to cut out the oldest stems to keep the plant tidy and the same, roughly, applies to the old fashioned roses.