How to Prune Roses

Comprehensive Guide to Pruning Roses 

Roses! Love them or hate them, they need pruning. How to prune roses though? When to prune roses? What about pruning shrub roses? How do you prune climbing roses? Is there anything particular to think about when coming to prune standard roses?

Roses are not just a financial investment, but an emotional one. We choose roses because of the significance of their name, to add feeling to our gardens, or simply because we like the look of a particular variety.


pruning rosesThere are volumes and volumes of books that have been written about pruning roses, but here are some top tips. One very important general rule when pruning roses is to use sharp secateurs  – using blunt tools may weaken the rose and cause disease.






We will look at:

  • How to prune shrub roses
  • How to prune climbing roses/pruning climbing roses
  • How to prune old roses
  • How to prune standard roses
  • When to prune roses
  • Rose care
  • … and take a look at the Iceberg Rose and how to prune iceberg roses


How to prune shrub roses

You will need to start thinking about pruning shrub roses when they are just beginning to put on new growth in the late winter. In the south of the UK this is probably around mid to late February, in northern cooler climates it is best left until March or early April.

Bare in mind that when you come to prune your shrub rose, they usually re-flower on the older ‘wood’ and need the time to grow naturally. Shrub roses need light maintenance to help keep the balance of old and young wood to the best levels. Don’t be tempted to cut the stems too short as it will reduce the spread of the shrub rose.

Top tips for pruning shrub roses:

  1. Prune once they have finished flowering in the late summer
  2. Prioritise: damaged, diseased, and dead stems. Branches that rub others. Weaker growth.
  3. Don’t be afraid to remove stems from the centre to reduce overcrowding.
  4. Stems that are not flowering or producing leaves should be cleared.
  5. Leggy growth should be removed to encourage new growth from ground level.

Top tips for pruning repeat flowering shrub roses:

  1. If your shrub rose has a decent amount of healthy new growth, reduce by a third in the winter.
  2. Side shoots that have been growing well can be reduced by one to three bud lengths.
  3. Mature shrub roses can put on vigorous new growth if older stems are cut to soil level in the winter.
  4. Deadheading! The more time and effort you put into deadheading repeat flowering shrub roses, the greater the change of further flower flourishes!



How to train and prune climbing roses

Climbing roses do not self-cling, they require training. You will need to provide them with support by either wiring them or by attaching their stems to trellising. Tie them in well, and your climbing rose will take on the shape you wish for. Take the time to decide how you want your climbing rose to look in 5 years; it is possible to achieve some really incredible trained displays.

Top tips for training climbing roses:

  1. Start training at around 50cm from the ground and then tie in every 20-30cm
  2. If you wish to twist the main stems, twist gently and aim to keep the stems horizontal. This encourages the plant to send out low flowering shoots.
  3. Remember that training a climbing rose is a long-term project! When main stems are not branched, prune to the next strongest bud. This will encourage the plant to develop side shoots. Alternatively, leave the plant to develop into the space by itself.
  4. Always remove: dead flowers, damaged parts, dead stems, and weaker growth.

How to prune climbing roses:

  1. Remove weaker branches and any that are damaged or dying.
  2. Tie-in new growth
  3. Stems that have finished flowering can be cut back by up to two thirds.
  4. Crowded plants can benefit from the older branches being cut back to soil level 

How to prune old roses – renovate don’t eliminate!

When left, roses can look and old and worn out, worry not! There is no need to dig out your old roses. Here are some top tips to rejuvenate and prune old roses and make them look stunning again.

  1. Cut away any week, diseased, dying, and dead parts
  2. If the old rose has been left for many years, then cut back to leave a maximum of 6 stems. The old branches can be cut right back to the base.
  3. Side shoots can be cut back by at least a third. This will encourage new shoots.
  4. When you have given an old rose a good prune, a generous feed of rose fertiliser and a decent, thick mulch will give the old rose the best change for revival.  

How to prune standard roses

Standard roses are best pruned at the end of the winter. You will see that the growth is just re-starting. As a rule of thumb, this is around the end of February in the south of the UK and in late March in more northerly areas. Make sure you deadhead once the standard rose has finished flowering.

Tips for pruning standard roses:

  1. Firstly a warning – do not cut back newly planted standard roses too severely!
  2. Prune away any weaker or twiggy growth.
  3. Cut back main stems by around a third to encourage healthy new growth. Cut to a bud.
  4. Prune away any individual shoots that spoil how you want to shape or train the bush of your standard rose.
  5. For smaller standard roses: remove dead parts, cut back woody branches to the base to encourage shooting from the base.

Rose care

There is the myth that roses are difficult to grow. As long as your soil is well-drained, roses will (should!) grow. When you are preparing an area for roses, make sure you dig in some well-rotted compost or manure. If you are using manure, then make sure you don’t plant the rose directly on top as manure can burn the roots.

Watering roses

A well-established rose will have deep roots and will happily grow with the naturally present moisture in the soil. In the initial few years after planting, however, you will need to keep on top of thorough watering. In dry weather, you will need to be making sure that the top 30cm or so the soil is being watered every week to ten days.

If you have planted your roses in containers, then they could need watering every day in the height of summer. Consider moving your potted roses into a more shaded position for the summer to help avoid the risk of them drying out.

Feeding roses

Roses are well known to respond well to a generous program of feeding. Rose fertilisers will have a feeding guide, but expect to feed a rose bed at a rate of at least 70-100g per square meter in the spring. Potted roses will require fortnightly feeds throughout the spring and summer. Use a general purpose fertiliser until the buds appear and then a high potassium fertiliser. Tomato feed is a perfect high potassium feed!

Mulching roses

If you only have a limited supply of your own homemade compost, then save them for your roses! Mix with well-rotted manure and pile quite deeply around the individual roses. Do remember that manure is likely to burn stems and roots. A good clearance is around 10-15cm between the stems and the mulch and manure.

Weeding roses

To protect your roses, it is really recommended that you weed by hand. Hoeing is to be avoided as roses have some very shallow roots that will be present near the surface. Mulching will also help to control weeds. There are weed killers available, or you could consider planting through a weed-control matting (you would need to consider how you would mulch if using weed-control matting). Another route to go down when thinking about weeds is to consider the wide variety of ground cover plants that are available. They will compete with the weeds and prevent them from growing! 

To conclude, depending on rose type, you will need to approach how to prune shrub roses, pruning climbing roses, pruning standard roses, and deciding how you are going to prune old roses in slightly different manners. If in doubt, staff in garden centres will usually be able to provide you with personalised advice.

Start thinking about pruning roses; winter is almost upon us!

 Everyone will have their favourite rose, mine is a common favourite: the Iceberg Rose.

Iceberg Rose

The Iceberg Rose is a favourite among rose growers for many reasons:

  • Deciduous or semi-evergreen
  • Shrub rose or climbing rose

This rose will fit any (well, most) situations!

The Iceberg rose as a shrub:

These have thorny stems with individual or groups of flowers with red or purple fruits.

The Iceberg rose as a climber:

This is my favourite!

Rosa ‘Iceberg Climbing’ can grow to 3m and is a vigorous grower! It stands out in the rose family as the stems are (almost) thornless! The foliage is a wonderful light green and glossy with delicately fragranced double white that are 8cm in diameter. The Rosa ‘Iceberg Climbing’ produces these stunning flowers all the way through the summer and autumn.

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