Carol’s secret to glorious summer roses
Treat your roses to the right pruning now, says Carol Klein, and they will reward you with a fabulous show next year
Who doesn’t like roses? Now and then a person wi l l declare that they don’t – their dislike is almost always couched in terms such as, ‘ they’re so disease-prone,’ or ‘they’re difficult to prune’. But the great majority of us recognise not only their value as one of the best and easiest flowering shrubs, but also their utter beauty, their scent and their diversity. They’re versatile too, some climb up arches or frame a doorway or, in the case of ramblers, climb into trees. Some are ideal for containers while others are integral to our mixed beds and borders. You can even make hedges of roses, or train some of them into intricate shapes smothered in flowers for months on end. They need to live well if they’re to perform well – plenty of organic matter initially, a good mulch, and a liquid feed from time to time – but they also need a firm hand when it comes to pruning. Roses can be anarchic. If left to their own devices they may end up as a tangle of branches with very few flowers. Regular pruning will help your roses live longer, remain healthy, grow stronger and produce more flowers. Roses are tough and it’s unlikely you’ll kill one by pruning it badly or even by not pruning it at all, but roses will always respond to good pruning and the reward is happier, healthier plants.
Plan your prunings
With any gardening job, and particularly pruning, it’s a good idea to think about what you’re aiming for, and from there work out what steps you need to take to achieve that aim. In the case of shrub roses, you’re after a rounded open bush with strong growth and
lots of flowers for as long as possible. With a hybrid tea the aim is usually to encourage a strong, stocky plant with perfect flowers on long strong stems. If you’re growing a climbing rose you want it to cover a wall with an even shape so that all of the flowers are visible or, if your rose is growing up a support, obelisk, arch or pergola, you want it to flower from the ground up to the top, and for its flowers to be easily seen and smelled. You need to understand your rose and what it is capable of, so that your pruning regime encourages it to be true to character. The difference between climbers and ramblers, for instance, is that climbers tend to flower longer (especially true of David Austen’s English Roses), they usually repeat flower and their flowers are bigger and often held singly. Whereas ramblers are more vigorous plants. Often producing strong new shoots from the base, they tend to have masses of smaller, often single, flowers, and most have just one glorious show of blooms per year. Ramblers should have dead flowers removed immediately after f lowering. Climbing roses tend to need training, tying in to the structure supporting them. In the first year after planting, roses concentrate on making roots, so soil preparation is all important to ensure the formation of a strong root system and of lots of fine fibrous feeding roots. Formative pruning in the first and second years will establish the shape of your rose, hybrid teas need to be cut back hard so that they will make a simple shrub with a few strong shoots. Shrub roses need a lighter hand, though you are still trying to establish and maintain a good shape.
Getting rid of the ‘3 D’s
Pruning is not a mystery – the same common-sense rules apply as they would when pruning any woody shrub. With old roses, some people advocate a ‘ little or nothing’ approach when it comes to pruning, but I find that old roses can dwindle when left to their own devices so most of ours get pruned regularly. Removing the ‘3 D’s – dead, diseased and damaged wood – is imperative, after which the objective is to encourage the rose to make an open shape so branches don’t get crossed and air circulates easily. The aim is always to encourage the formation of wood that will produce flowers, – after all that’s why we grow them. Although pruning can start now, you can do it any time until the end of February in the south of the country, and the end of March in the north. This should be just as they’re about to start into new growth in preparation for their summer show.
You need to understand your rose and what it is capable of
gardenersworld.com Shrub roses often flower on older stems, so when pruning, keep a mix of old and new wood