Roses are one of the most popular garden plants in Britain, so it is surprising that many gardeners are still unsure of how to prune them. But it isn’t difficult.
First things first – prune with a pair of sharp secateurs to make a clean cut and avoid damaging the plant.
Technique is important too. Many people ask me where they should make the cut. As a general guide, if you want to completely remove a stem, cut through its base where it joins another stem or the main branch.
If you are cutting back a stem without removing it, cut just above an outward facing bud. This ensures that new growth starts from the end of the old stem.
Check the back of the label when you buy a rose, which will contain specific pruning information. If you have established roses and don’t know the variety, read on to see which description it best matches, and follow that pruning advice.
Each group of roses needs a different type of pruning – here’s my guide.
Modern compact roses
These may be climbers, ramblers or shrub roses. These varieties are bred to be compact and immune to diseases, as well as repeat flowering. They are also designed to need little pruning and maintenance, so they make a good choice for novice gardeners.
Consistent deadheading over the summer should be enough to keep them flourishing. However, you can tidy up the shape once flowering is finished. Simply prune out stems that are growing in the wrong direction or that make the shape uneven.
If some stems appear overcrowded, remove the older ones, leaving space for the newer growth to come back more vigorously next year.
Hybrid teas and floribundas
Hybrid tea roses are the most popular variety. They produce a single bloom at the end of each stem. Floribunda, like the name suggests, is famous for producing multiple blooms on each stem. Repeat flowering varieties should be deadheaded throughout the summer.
Both roses are vigorous growers and respond well to hard pruning. This should be done when the weather starts to warm up in February or March.
Cut hybrid tea roses back to around 30cm above ground level, cutting just above an outward-facing bud. Remove any dead or diseased stems completely, so you are left with a ‘cup’ shape.
Prune floribunda roses in the same way, but only back to 45cm above ground level.
These are smaller roses that thrive in containers – perfect for patios. They need pruning as for hybrid tea varieties, cutting them back to about 15cm from the soil. Make sure to remove any dead or weak stems.
Ground cover roses
Ground cover roses are known for their spreading habit, as the shrub expands sideways rather than upwards. They need deadheading all summer and a light trim in March, but you don’t have to prune them at all.
These have a ‘lollipop’ shape, with the stems branching out from the top of a long woody trunk. The effect is achieved by grafting a rose on top of a trunk.
Take care when pruning these roses, as you must not cut off the bushy top entirely. Follow pruning instructions for the variety of rose that has been grafted on – hybrid tea, floribunda or ground cover.
If it is a hybrid tea or floribunda, prune all the stems back in late winter to 15cm from the main trunk, aiming to leave a symmetrical globe shape. If it is a ground cover rose, a light tidy up will suffice.
Traditional climbers and ramblers
These are often old, established plants and should be treated carefully. Aim to leave a strong framework of thick older stems firmly tied to supports. For the best shape, try and keep this symmetrical.
When the plant has finished flowering, tie in some of the long shoots to be part of the framework. You can also train newer stems in the place of older, less productive ones, which can eventually be removed.
Then prune back this year’s sideshoots to around 15cm, cutting above a bud.
Species and shrub roses
Species roses are famous for their rosehips, and should only be pruned in spring, once the display is over. Prune lightly to tidy up the shape. You may also have to remove an old branch that has stopped flowering.
Shrub roses differ from hybrid teas and floribundas because they flower on old woody growth, and should not be pruned hard. Aim for a balance of old and new growth.
Remove any dead or diseased growth, or any branches that are crossed over. Repeat flowering varieties should have their new growth pruned back by about a third, shortening sideshoots to two or three buds.
If some stems have stopped flowering, or the plant has become leggy and bare at the base, take one or two older branches back to near ground level in late winter.