December: The Best Time for Rose Pruning

Rose pruning is a measure taken to ensure that plants will have vigorous growth in the new season and so they will flower each year; it is one of the winter garden jobs that must be done.  This is the ideal time for pruning flowering roses, though pruning roses can be done at any time during the time when the plant is dormant.  Rose pruning now can even give a winter garden an architectural look as well as help to prevent long shoots from suffering wind damage.  Follow these general tips to improve the health as well as the lifespan of any rose.

General Guidelines

  • Make cuts approximately 5 millimetres or a quarter of an inch above a bud.  So water will not collect on the bud, make sure the cut slopes away from it.  Whether deadheading, removing dead wood, or just annual pruning all cuts should be as such

  • An open-centred shape can be encouraged by cutting an outward-facing bud.  On the other hand, upright growth may be encouraged for spreading roses by pruning stems to inward-facing buds

  • Make sure that the secateurs are sharp so all cuts are clean.  Use a pruning saw or loppers for larger stems the secateurs cannot cleanly cut

  • Crossing, spindly, diseased or dead stems should be cut out

  • Good air-flow to the plant is important so endeavour to create well-spaced stems that will allow the air to flow freely

  • When pruning well established roses, old stubs that have not produced new shoots should be sawed away.  Also, old wood that has flowered poorly should be cut out

  • To encourage vigorous shoots, all newly planted roses should be pruned hard.  This does not apply to climbing roses

  • Pull away suckers by tracking them back to the roots from which they grow

  • When there is no visible dormant bud cut to the appropriate height.

Though these general guidelines for rose pruning are helpful, there are some specific considerations for particular types of roses.

Climbing Roses that are overgrown

  • Remove all weak, dying, diseased, and dead shoots

  • Retain only a maximum of six young, vigorous stems by cutting some of the old woody branches right to the ground.  Secure the new stems with supports

  • Rain can collect and encourage rot at the base of the plant so dead stumps should be sawed away at the base

  • To encourage branching side shoots should be shortened on remaining branches, while tips should be pruned back by one-third to one-half

  • In the spring, plants that have been pruned should receive a spreading over the soil of granular rose fertiliser.  Then apply a five centimetre or two inch layer of well-rotted manure or compost as a sort of mulch

Pruning Hybrid Tea Roses (Large-Flowered)

  • Like with other roses, cut out crossing or rubbing, dead, or diseased stems.  Cut out enough old shoots to keep the centre open if the bush is crowded

  • The remaining shoots that are strongest should be shortened back to four to six buds. They should be ten to fifteen centimetres or four to six inches from the base. This should be done to the point where the previous year's growth began

  • Less vigorous shoots should be shortened back to two to four buds.  They should be five to 10 centimetres or four to six inches from the base

  • A good rule to follow is to cut out all three-year old wood.  Better flowers will be produced by leaving only the younger and more vigorous growths

Pruning Floribunda Roses (Cluster Flowered)

  • Like with other roses, cut out crossing or rubbing, dead, or diseased stems.  Cut out enough old shoots to keep the centre open if the bush is crowded

  • The strongest remaining shoots should be cut back down to within twenty-five to thirty centimetres or ten to twelve inches of soil level

  • Less vigorous shoots should be pruned back more severely

  • Stronger growth can be encouraged from the base by occasionally pruning back some older stems to a few inches from soil level.

Generally speaking, since the winter climate in the U.K is relatively mild, January and February is the best time to do the winter rose pruning.  However, regions that may have colder winters should delay rose pruning until the spring growth is just beginning.