Modern Ways of Pruning Roses

In recent years there have been conflicts of opinion on various aspects of pruning. There is little need, however, for worry if it is borne in mind that roses are flowering shrubs. As far as pruning is concerned these are classified as either plants that bloom on the new wood produced during the current season or they flower on last year’s shoots. The first types are pruned in late winter or early spring and the second as soon after flowering as possible. All types of roses except true ramblers fall into the first class, while the ramblers bloom on. The previous season’s wood and must, therefore, be pruned immediately after flowering. True ramblers are not so numerous in gardens as they once were.

Pruning Roses

Most shrubs go on growing until they are mature, but roses grow shoots, which, when they get to a certain size, wane and ultimately die and are replaced by new ones. This is a form of natural pruning, but as these dying shoots sap nutriment from the younger vigorous ones and are also potential centres for diseases it is the practice to encourage the growth of new shoots by cutting back the old, spent and diseased wood annually.

There are additional reasons for pruning. Among these are (a) to shape and restrict the shape of the plants to fit in the space allotted to them (b) to control the habit (c) to maintain youthfulness by encouraging the growth of new shoots from the base and (d) to restrict the number of flower shoots, when large exhibition blooms are required.

The Technique of Pruning

The most common pruning tool is a pair of secateurs. It is essential that they are always kept very sharp; blunt secateurs may crush the stem, giving an opening for diseases to attack. The better tool is a pruning knife, which should be kept sharp by continuous whetting. It is not difficult to use and it is worthwhile learning how to do so.

Long-handled pruners are heavy-duty cutters, used for removing tough and old wood. Pruning saws are of value for cutting out stout stems; a pad (keyhole) saw is a useful pruning instrument because of its great flexibility.

Because of the risk of spreading diseases when pruning dip tools in an antiseptic solution when a badly affected tree is pruned. One recommended is a to% solution of tri-sodium orthophosphate, which can be bought at a chemist’s.

When to Prune

With the exception of true ramblers, roses are pruned during the winter or early spring. Exactly when depends upon the location and degree of exposure of the garden. The proper time to prune such roses is when the sap is just beginning to rise. In the south and milder places this is usually February, while in northern and exposed gardens it can be up to six weeks later. At this time, the cut will heal quickly, but in late spring or early autumn, the shoot will bleed and, if a frost comes, damage is likely to be caused.

Ramblers are pruned in the late summer, soon after their flowers fade. So that they do not become unruly, the new shoots that remain should be tied in at the same time. How ti Prune If a rose of any sort is examined, it will be found that each of its shoots has buds, which alternately point in opposite directions, i.e., in a bush rose they are outwards and inwards towards its centre. In pruning a bush rose, the cut is made just above an outward-pointing bud, as it is desirable to keep the centre open with no inward-growing shoots crossing it, or where a horizontally-trained shoot of a climber is being pruned, it would be an upward pointing bud, because it is in this direction that growth is required.

The proper way to prune is to make a sloping cut, which begins level with the base of the bud on the side opposite to it and ends at a point on the same side as the bud, which is at a distance of f in, from the base of the eye.

Unfortunately cutting is not always done properly and the following faults occur:

(1) The shoot is cut too far away from the bud. It then dies back and becomes exposed to fungus infection.

(2) The shoot is cut too close to the bud with consequential damage to the bud and malformation of the new shoot.

(3) The cut is too long, resulting in an excessive amount of pith being exposed, which prolongs the time of healing of the wound.

Bear. In mind that if the cut is jagged the tissues will be damaged and may become a possible seat of infection.

Whenever a rose is pruned, always:

(1) Cut out all dead and diseased wood.

(2) Cut out all weak shoots, because while they remain they are using nourishment, that is required by the more robust ones.

(3) Remove all growth that is growing in the wrong direction.

Types of Pruning Three different types of pruning are practised by rosarians : HARD PRUNING This consists in cutting a shoot back to three or four buds from its base; e.g. in a bush rose to an outward growing bud and at a point which is usually 5 -6 in. from the ground.


In this form of pruning, a shoot is cut back by about half its previous year’s growth.


Here there is very little cutting away; usually the dead flowers or hips are removed by cutting at the first or second eye below the flower-bearing stalk.

Pruning Hybrid Tea and Floribunda Roses in the First Year

These should be hard pruned in the first spring after they have been planted, i.e. cut back to the third or fourth outward-growing bud from their base, to ensure that as many new shoots as possible spring from low down on the bush and that it grows into a well-balanced, compact shape.

If this is not done, the bush soon becomes leggy and unsightly.


The present-day roses, which are very vigorous, a quality that many have inherited from ‘Peace’, do not take kindly to hard pruning. In the main, they should be moderately pruned, otherwise they do not bloom so plentifully in the summer.

It is the modern practice to prune hybrid tea roces moderately, i.e. to cut their shoots back by half their previous year’s growth. However, because of their great vigour, many soon become very tall and rather unwieldy for present-day small gardens. There are two ways in which this can be largely overcome (1) Moderate prune all shoots except two. These are hard pruned, i.e. cut back to two or three buds from the base of the bush. This procedure can be repeated in successive years, selecting each time a different pair of shoots. (2) Hard prune the bush every three years. This method seems to keep its size under control without any serious lowering of its flowering-power.

The second method is the better.

Pruning Floribunda Roses

Because the original floribundas stemmed from polyanthapompom roses, they were first lightly pruned, i.e. only the clusters of dead flowers were removed. Because of their great vigour, this resulted in unwieldy bushes. When they were moderately pruned like modem hybrid teas, they lost their repeat-flowering, whereas with hard pruning they failed to grow and tended to die. The modern technique, aimed at keeping them in flower over a long period, is a combination of light pruning to produce early flowers and moderated pruning, which gives flowering shoots that produce colour later in the season. During the first year they are hard pruned, but, the procedure in the second year is slightly different from that of the third, which remains uniform for the rest of their lives. This modem technique is given below :

Pruning Floribunda Roses in their Second Year

(1) All the main shoots, which are the previous year’s growth, and grown from the base of the tree, are lightly pruned by cutting out the clusters of dead blooms at the first and second eye, whichever is growing outwards, below their base.

(2) Secondary shoots which have developed below the clusters should be cut back to three or four eyes from the main stem.

(3) All other shoots, which are emerging from the shoots that were hard pruned in their first year, should be cut back to half their length Pruning Floribunda Roses in their Third and Subsequent Years

(1) All one-year-old wood, that emanates low down on the bush, should be lightly pruned by cutting out the dead flower heads.

(2) All the remaining shoots are moderately pruned, i.e. they are cut back to about half their. Ength.

Pruning Standard Roses Standard hybrid tea and floribunda roses are pruned in the same way as their dwarf counterparts. The object should be to preserve always an open centre to the head. With hybrid tea standards, moderate pruning is usually the best.

Pruning Weeping Standards

The most effective of these are Group I Ramblers (set. Under ‘Pruning Ramblers and Climbing Roses’), that have been budded at the top of tall stems of briar or rugosa. All the old wood, that has flowered is cut out near to their base as soon as the blooms are spent in the summer. The current year’s growth is allowed to remain and flower the following season.

Pruning Polyantha-Pompom Roses

After all dead, diseased, weak or inward-growing shoots have been removed, cut away clusters of dead flowers in late winter or early spring.

Pruning Shrub and Species Roses

Apart from removing the dead blooms regularly, which enhances their power to repeat-flower, all that shrub and species roses require is to have cut away surplus growth to keep them in shape and their size under control. After some years, however, they tend to become bare at the base. This can be remedied by cutting one or two of the older shoots back to an outward-growing bud about 9 in. from the base. If this is done annually for two or three years, the roses will be completely rejuvenated.

Pruning Miniature Roses

These roses, in the main, need to have diseased or dead wood and spent blooms only cut away, apart from any necessary thinning out and trimming to shape and size. Pruning is best done with a pair of nail scissors.

Pruning Ramblers and Climbing Roses

There are four groups:


These climbing roses produce nearly all their new shoots from the base. The group includes ‘Dorothy Perkins’, `Excelsa’, ‘Francois Juranville’ and ‘Sander’s White Rambler’. All ramblers flower on the previous season’s growth and it is necessary to prune them soon after they finish flowering in the summer. Pruning is done by cutting out all the old shoots at the base. At the same time it is equally as important to tie in all the new shoots, which will bloom in the following summer.


These mainly produce their new shoots at points on the old wood higher up the tree. Examples are the old ramblers `Alberic Barbier’, `Albertine’, ‘American Pillar’, ‘Chaplin’s Pink Climber’, `Easlea’s Golden Rambler’, `Emily Gray’ and ‘New Dawn’.

The old wood is cut back to a point where a robust, young, green shoot emanates. This leading shoot is left and tied in ready for next year’s flowering. All the shorter laterals are pruned back to a bud, 2 or 3 in. from where they originate. Old wood that has no new leading shoot should be removed to prevent overcrowding. This type of rambler tends to become bare at the base. This can be remedied by cutting one or two stems down to a bud 1 ft. from the ground.


This group contains the more vigorous climbing sports of the hybrid teas and floribundas, the stronger-growing large-flowering climbers, such as ‘Casino’ and ‘Coral Dawn’, and the climber ‘Mermaid’.

The time to prune these is either late autumn or winter, and not in spring after the new growth has appeared. None of last year’s new shoots should be pruned unless they are damaged or are occupying too great a space. All exhausted wood should be cut away and the laterals that flowered last year reduced to the third eye from their points of origin.

Most of these roses, especially the climbing sports should not be pruned in their first year, because the latter are liable to revert to their dwarf stature.


Included in this category are the climbing sports of Iceberg’, ‘Korona’ and `President Herbert Hoover’, the large flowering climbers, which are typified by ‘Elegance’, ‘Golden Showers’, ‘Handel’, ‘Rosy Mantle’, ‘Schoolgirl’ and ‘White Cockade’, the Kordessi climbers or pillar roses, ‘Ritter von Barmstede’ and ‘Dortmund’ and the Bourbon climber `Zephirine Drouhin’.

This group needs little attention other than a general clearing out of unwanted growth and pruning to control shape and size. During their first year remove only any dried out ends of stems, together with any dead wood and very twiggy shoots.

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