Pruning Roses

Why Prune Roses?

All plants grow, getting bigger year-on-year, if they are not growing there is only one reason, they have died! Pruning has several functions:

  • It lets us control the size of the plant
  • It removes damaged or weak stems
  • It enables us to control where the plant grows

Roses fall into two different groups: repeat flowering and non-repeat flowering, the latter are sometimes listed in catalogues and websites as "summer flowering" which is true but a bit misleading (so keep an eye open for that when choosing a plant). Pruning the two types is different.

Pruning Non-Repeat Flowering Roses

These behave differently from repeat flowering varieties in that they flower from buds that grew on stems (wood) in the previous year or years.

They are mostly old varieties, but include many famous names such as Paul's Himalayan Musk, Rambling Rector and Rosa Filipes Kiftsgate.

There are several methods of pruning these roses, perhaps the easiest is to prune immediately after flowering (in mid-summer), which allows enough time for the plant to produce new shoots that will mature and produce flower the following year.

Pruning Repeat Flowering Roses

These roses flower on stems that grow in the same season, so if we prune in late winter / early spring (December to February) one or two buds will start to grow from below the cut, terminating in a flower. The length of these stems varies with type of rose (climbing roses will make longer stems than floribunda roses before making flowers at the tip of the stem).

Roses are not like fruit trees, which have two different kinds of bud, those that produce flowers and fruit and others that produce shoots. With roses, any bud has the potential to produce flowering stems no matter where that bud is on the plant.

There is no hard and fast rule regarding where to prune, it depends on how well the rose is growing and what size of plant is wanted; if you want the plant to get bigger, don't prune as far down the stem.

Prune the stem back above a bud, on bush roses it's a good idea to choose an outward-facing bud as this creates an open centre to the plant which lets in more light and air, encouraging better air movement and less disease pressure.

All the main types of roses can be pruned in the same way whether they are climbing or minatures.

Summer Pruning Repeat Flowering Roses

As the flowers finish and start to die most people will remove them for a couple of reasons:

  • They look unsightly
  • It encourages the plant to go on and produce more flowers (if the old flowers are left on the plant they will probably produce rose hips, this requires a lot of energy from the plant which would otherwise be used to produce new shoots and more flowers)

Rather than just dead head, we think that after first flowering has finished it gives an opportunity to do some light pruning. You can cut the stem above any leaf (as everywhere a leaf joins the stem there is a bud, even if it's hard to see) perhaps three or four leaves below the old flower cluster (it doesn't matter too much), this will encourage the plant to produce more shoots which will produce more flowers. Pruning "in season" lets us control the size of the plant and keep it to a nice symmetrical shape rather than relying on winter pruning alone.