There’s no doubt about it: when the roses are in bloom, their hibernation is over – and that of all gardeners, too. That’s a good thing, because it’s time to prune the roses in the bed early in the year to ensure healthy shrubs that are willing to bloom. You should pay attention to which group of varieties you have in front of you. For example, roses that flower more often should be pruned differently from roses that flower once – and special rules also apply to climbing roses.
Pruning roses: The preparations
Before pruning your roses, first remove the winter protection – conifer brushwood or similar overlays on climbing and shrub roses can now finally go. For trunk roses, it is advisable to keep the protective covers or fleeces with which the crowns were wrapped handy. If frost dips below about -5 °C occur, it is advisable to protect the grafting point in particular from late freezing.
Heaping and fertilising
The soil that was heaped on in autumn to protect bedding roses and sweet roses from severe frosts should now be removed. It is best to work it into the soil around the plants. You can also fertilise at the same time, for example with a commercially available rose fertiliser or mature compost to which a little horn meal has been added.
When should you prune roses?
In early spring, the shrubs show exactly how they are structured and where you should apply the shears. They also sprout soon. By pruning in time, you prepare the way for the young, flower-bearing shoots.
It is best to orientate yourself on the so-called phenological seasons. They are classified according to the state of nature, and they are easy to identify if you just look around at what is already in bloom in gardens and parks.
Rose care starts in the so-called first spring, and this is heralded by the conspicuous full bloom of the forsythia, but also by the unfolding of leaves of gooseberries and currants. Depending on the weather and the region, first spring falls in March or April and is followed by “full spring” with lilac and apple blossom.
When pruning roses, it does no harm if the eyes have already sprouted to a greater or lesser extent. Roses initially feed on their reserves and do not lose too much of their energy through the loss of shoots until about the middle/end of April. Even a relatively late pruning – done professionally and not too squeamishly – is much better than simply letting the shrubs grow! Only prune on mild, dry days as a matter of principle.
Did everything go well in winter?
If the buds (“eyes”) swell and begin to stretch, you can assume that they have not been damaged by frost. If there is still no movement, there is no reason to worry: some varieties sprout late. If you want to be sure, cut off a piece of the shoot. If the pith at the cut is fresh and shows a green ring towards the bark, all is well.
Dry, grey-brown wood, on the other hand, is dead. In this case, cut back more and do not give up on your rose immediately. Sometimes the eyes, which are protected deep in the soil, still sprout in May. Only when nothing happens at the beginning of June is the plant lost.
Rules of thumb for pruning
Remove shoots that are thinner than a pencil completely (exception: varieties that are naturally very fine shoots such as ground cover roses or the historic fragrant rose 'Rose de Resht'). If two shoots cross or are close to each other, completely remove the older or thinner of the two. Always cut at a slight angle above a sprouting eye so that rainwater can drain off well and deadwood is avoided. Never cut too high above the eye! Any remaining shoots without buds will die. Use the thickness of the shoot as a guide: the correct cutting position is at a height that is slightly less than the diameter of the stem. Dead shoot ends are removed by cutting down to the green wood. Basically cut to an eye that points out from the plant (for ground cover roses and bedding roses this is not absolutely necessary). Always use sharp rose shears to get a clean cut that does not crush the cells!
Thinning out or pruning back?
There are two pruning groups for roses: Whether severe pruning is recommended or merely thinning out depends on whether the shrub produces flowers several times a year or is single-flowering. Single-flowering roses produce their flowers mainly on the older wood, while repeat-flowering roses produce their flowers on this year’s wood.
Pruning repeat-flowering bedding roses, sweet roses and dwarf roses
Frequent-flowering roses, to which almost all modern varieties belong, absolutely need vigorous pruning to keep flowering. The shrubbery is cut back so far that strong, well-nourished shoots can develop from the lower regions.
Bedding, noble and ground cover roses (dwarf roses) can be cut back quite deeply. However, at least one fifth of the shoot length should remain.
A compactly growing bedding rose should have many flower shoots. If it becomes too long, the bushy growth will be lost. Prune its shoots so that three to five previous year's shoots with three eyes each remain. Noble roses grow stiffly upright and have long flower stems. Cut back the strong shoots to five eyes and the weaker shoots to three eyes. Three to four strong main shoots are ideal. To ensure that the easy-care ground cover roses grow densely, shorten all shoots by a third (or cut back to ten to twenty centimetres).
Check the shoots
When pruning roses in spring, look for reddish-brown to purple spots on the shoots. Later they turn light to grey-brown. This is damage caused by bark spot disease. This spreads towards the base during the summer and can eventually kill the shoots. Roses are susceptible to the fungal disease if their wood was not able to mature in autumn or their shoots were damaged by insects or frost. Cut back the shoots to 20 centimetres below the infested area.
Pruning repeat-flowering shrub roses and English roses
Frequent-flowering shrub roses are bushy phenomena that form their flowers on the side shoots of the previous year’s shoots. Depending on the variety, they grow 120 to 300 centimetres high. With regular spring pruning, the roses will also flower on the shorter lateral shoots and will also not easily wither from below. This also preserves the decorative, dome-like shape. As a rule, shrub roses are not pruned quite as vigorously as bedding roses – very heavy pruning promotes length growth, but at the same time leads to sparse flowering.
Cut back the entire shrub by about a third. Shorten the side shoots to five eyes. Cut the main shoots directly above strong side shoots. Reduce branch forks with many shoots to two shoots. About every five years remove over-aged shoots (not all at once) close to the ground.
Thinning out single-flowering roses
Historic roses (such as Gallica, Alba, Damascene or Moss roses and centifolias) and wild roses flower on the perennial branches. Therefore, you should refrain from heavy spring pruning and merely thin out older plants. Remove all dead or diseased shoots at the nearest branching point. Branches that grow crosswise should also be removed. In this way the shrubs remain airy and vital.
Cut out senescent branches that are too finely branched to produce strong new flowering shoots directly at the base of the plant. This applies to all shoots that are more than four or five years old. This makes room for new, unbranched ground shoots. These will not flower until the second year, but the plant will be sufficiently rejuvenated.
Pruning climbing roses
Climbing roses paint wildly romantic garden pictures with their garlands of flowers that lavishly cover pavilions, walls, fences and archways. Wildness is in the blood of the lively climmers. You can control the romantic abundance of blossoms – by pruning and tying them up correctly.
Climbing roses are divided into two groups:
1st cone pruning The one-year-old side shoots formed in the previous year have flowered abundantly on the horizontally tied main shoots. Now shorten them to cones with about three eyes – for another lush flowering.
2 Rejuvenate To keep the rose vital and to ensure that new long shoots continue to grow from the base of the bush, cut back one or two of the oldest scaffold branches completely to the base every year.
If no young shoots have been growing out of the ground for a long time, a rejuvenation cut will help. To do this, radically prune back to a few eyes above the base; in this way you can force a new growth on a senescent shrub. Use a strong pruning shear for this.
Prune single-flowering climbers
As these mainly flower on the previous year’s shoots, it is advisable to prune them only after they have flowered. In summer, shorten the side branches by about half.
Tie up climbing roses after pruning
Climbing roses tend to grow strongly upwards. They form long shoots that, depending on the variety, reach up almost vertically for several metres. If you let them do this, they will only branch out at the tips and only produce flowers there. The whole splendour then takes place far above our eyes and noses, and below it remains colourless and bare. Too bad!
If, on the other hand, the long shoots are attached to a trellis in the shape of a fan or even pulled horizontally, this slows down their zeal for growth. Instead, eyes sprout along the entire length, from which short side shoots develop, each of which ends in flowers. The result: Roses galore at sniffing height!
Pruning rambler roses
The exuberant flowering of the mostly single-blooming rambler roses takes place at a lofty height. With their long shoots, some varieties can easily reach ten metres. Annual spring pruning is not compulsory – only what is considered to be a nuisance is removed from the third year of growth. It is possible to shorten strong-growing ramblers every year if necessary or to cut them back to half a metre every five to ten years. For rejuvenation or thinning, you can safely remove some shoots close to the ground after a few years.
Frequent-flowering ramblers do not usually grow as much as single-flowering varieties. Prune only in the branches. Radical pruning should be avoided, otherwise the flowers will not bloom.