Top tips for pruning roses
February or early March is the season for giving roses their major annual prune, but many gardeners find the idea of cutting back their prized plants scary and think of pruning as a secret art shrouded in mystery.
We have been growing scented roses here at The Real Flower Company since the company began and by now have some 30,000 plants thriving outdoors on our eco farm on the South Downs. So who better than our founder Rosebie Morton and our farm manager Rob Marsden to talk you through the dos and don’ts of pruning? Read on for the top tips from our experts…
1. Choose your tools
It is really important to use sharp secateurs to prune your roses. Blunt blades can crush or damage the stems, allowing infection to get in. For older, thicker or tougher branches, use a pruning saw or loppers so you still get a clean cut. These Tough Touch gloves and award-winning Japanese secateurs are the perfect pairing for the job.
2. Getting started
First, remove any branches that are diseased or damaged in any way, chopping them as near to the base of the plant as you can. You should also cut off any branches that are touching others and any that are thin or spindly. You should be left with four or five good strong branches that you can prune to around the same height so no single branch is dominant and they all start shooting from approximately the same place.
At The Real Flower Company, we prune quite hard (to about 30 centimetres above ground level) because we are growing our roses to use as cut flowers and we want long stems. If you cut higher up (at about 50 centimetres) you will get roses with shorter stems but more flowers. And if you are basically happy with the shape of a shrub, you may wish to take off only about a third of its height.
3. Shaping your rose bush
The ideal shape for a rose bush is probably akin to an open wine glass – a central void, with the branches curving up around it. To achieve this, you should prune your branches just above an outward-facing bud – a bud on the side of the branch facing away from the centre – so the new growth will spurt outwards rather than inwards towards the middle of the plant. Avoid being left with fussy groups of short stems at the top of branches but instead make your cut lower down.
Make sure your cut is not too close to the bud – a few millimetres above is fine – as sometimes there is a bit of dieback. The buds do not need to be sprouting – dormant buds, which look like a little eye, will develop given time. Angle the cut so the water won’t sit on the stem but will run off it, away from the bud.
4. How often to prune
At The Real Flower Company we prune twice a year – a hard prune at the end of winter and a lighter prune after the rose has finished its first flush of flowers, cutting back tall stems rather than just deadheading to encourage the plant to grow up from a lower point. If your plant has put on a lot of growth then you could also chop off about a third of its height in October or November to stop it from rocking around in the winter winds, which will upset its roots.
You can buy three of our favourite roses – grown and nurtured on our Hampshire farm – delivered to you in pots. Margaret Merril, with its wonderful aroma and creamy petals, inspired Rosebie to set up The Real Flower Company. Chandos Beauty, with peachy petals and a beautiful scent, is Rob’s all-time favourite. And both of them love A Whiter Shade of Pale with by its delicate pink petals and sweet fragrance.
To find out more about The Real Flower Company’s rose plants, you can browse our collection here.