Rose Pruning – the shrubby ones

Well it’s that time of year again. I’ve sharpened the tools and donned the gloves that are never quite thick enough. I’m going to share a quick how-to on here as rose-pruning seems to be something people are a little scared of sometimes. I’ll follow up with a post on climbing roses in a week or two.

You need sharp and clean secateurs, loppers and a saw. Oh and gloves unless you enjoy laceration. I keep a bucket of made up Jeyes fluid in the shed and between areas of roses and at the end of the day I give the tools a swish and a clean to avoid spreading diseases about the place.

Rose before pruning

First things first – a healthy, happy rose is about the toughest thing in the garden. Even if you cut it off to an inch above ground level it will probably be fine, so don’t stress. Having said that … the idea of doing this with a hedgtrimmer… erm. Yes. Well, if you want your roses to look like a tangled mess, prone to disease and reduced flowering, go ahead. They’ll survive. Probably.

Any cuts you make should be as small as possible and angled so that water doesn’t sit on top of the cut. You’ll sometimes see ‘at 45 degrees to the stem’ as the required cut angle but frankly as long as water won’t sit you’re fine.

Rose stem showing pruning cut

First have a stand back and look at your rose. Is it wonky? Are there dead bits? Learn from my mistakes – really look at the branch you’re about to snip, follow it right to the end. How many times have I made a cut and groaned as the wrong bit of plant has fallen to the ground? Ho hum.

So now to the cutting! Remove any dead or diseased branches right to the base and then anything rubbing on other branches. I also remove anything crossing the centre of the bush as I want to keep the middle clear to create a nice open shape with plenty of airflow. You might also want to remove one or two of the older, gnarlier looking branches if it’s looking a bit crowded.

Then cut all the remaining branches back to a bud which faces away from the centre of the bush (or otherwise in the direction you want the rose to grow, like away from a path or wall) to about 1/3 of its original height. Note – I’m a little vicious and err on the side of a somewhat brutal interpretation of ‘1/3’. Seems to work fine…

Stand back and admire your work (and try not to swear about that bit that broke when you cut it and you had to cut back further than intended).

Rose after pruning

I am nowhere near this brutal with old english roses or miniature ones although the same general principles apply. For species roses and others which tend to spring in an arching fashion from the base I remove a few of the oldest stems but otherwise leave them to their own devices.

I’m sure most of my readers have no need of this post but thought it might help the occasional passer-by. Good luck with your rose surgery!

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14 responses to “Rose Pruning – the shrubby ones

  1. Great advice all the way around. I have done a better job looking at the rose and deciding what to prune, but I really like the way you clean the tools to not spread disease…

  2. I never read enough about rose pruning, this thing terrorizes me! I mostly have old roses and I’m planting this year for the first time a few Austin roses. The pruning issue isn’t really a problem with old roses, even though I can’t just ignore the whole pruning thing. I should start cleaning my tolls as well! I searched on the web for jeyes fluid BTW and I found some loo refresher… I hope it’s not what you use!!!

    • Yeah don’t be quite as vicious with those lovely old roses as I am with mine. You’ll be fine!

      Jeyes fluid is thick brown stuff that smells gross – definitely not for freshening the loo! And serious disinfectant should do the trick.

  3. Thank you, thank you! I appreciate this post. This will be my first year pruning roses, and I’m a little bit wary..

  4. Ha ha! I pruned one rose bush with a hedge trimmer last year. It has teeny tiny thorns all the way up the canes and I waited too long to prune so I whacked it off. I probably won’t do it again, but two bloggers have mentioned that it’s an approved method by the RHS.

    Thanks for your tips! I’ve never really gotten the hang of pruning, but your explanation was very clear!

    • I think they came to the conclusion it’s ok for a year or two and won’t kill your plants but wasn’t as good as doing it ‘properly’ in the long term. I wish I could remember my source…

      I’m glad I could help! 🙂

  5. I do know the theory, Libby. But i just need someone like you standing behind me directing operations and giving me encouragement. Looking forward to the climbing rose info. Our Iceberg climber is a bit spindly…

    • If it’s spindly is it getting plenty of nutrients? I can get away with not getting round to giving ours muck every year because clay soil really holds onto nutrients but if you’re on lighter soil a good mulch of muck this spring might help. A friend particularly swears by pelletised chicken manure and I’ve used it where underplanting makes big piles of horse muck impractical. The climbing roses posts will probably be in a couple of weeks – I have lots of boring hedging to get in next week. Good luck!

  6. I have 60 roses to prune in a few weeks. In the past I have always been cautious about how far back I prune them and later in the season I regret not having been more brutal. This year I am really cutting them back. They double their height in one growing season easily!

  7. This was an entertaining post and very good advice! I look forward to exploring your blog further!

  8. This is always a bit hard for me, but I do it. The result is worth it. They are sturdier and healthier…

  9. Pingback: Hibernating | The Sproutling Writes

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