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Pruning an English shrub rose

The instructions in this article cover the pruning of English Shrub Roses, as well as other repeat flowering shrub roses.

WHY SHOULD I PRUNE?

English Roses are naturally vigorous and if left without pruning may become large and leggy shrubs. The main purpose of pruning is to create a shapely, attractive shrub, with good structure. This process also encourages fresh new growth.

WHEN SHOULD I PRUNE?

We recommend pruning in late winter/early spring, when the first growth is beginning.

It is ok to prune earlier, but it can be more difficult to identify the less healthy stems that you will want to prune out.

If you still haven’t pruned by April it is still better to do so.

HOW DO I PRUNE?

The process varies depending on the age of your plant.

Year One

We define Year One as any rose that has completed its first season of flowering.

At this stage your rose will still be establishing its roots to support growth in the future, thus only very light pruning is required.

Step 1 – cut back the flowering shoots by 3-5 inches and any very strong shoots that are disproportionate to the rest of the plant.

Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.

Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains. This is where disease spores can lay dormant ready to challenge your plant next year.

Year Two

Your plant will still be developing its root system and will not be at its mature size or shape.

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems by one third. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Three

By the third year your rose will be a fully formed plant. Your choice of how much you cut back is a little more flexible. You now have the opportunity to influence the size and shape of your shrub.

Before pruning, choose from one of the following:

  1. For a taller shrub – cut back by less than one third.
  2. To maintain its current size – cut your rose back by one third.
  3. To reduce its size – cut back by a half or even more. This will reduce the size of the shrub without impacting the amount of flowering.

Then follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems depending on your choice from above. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Four and Beyond

To ensure your rose performs to its optimum, we recommend following the steps in Year Three every year.

Key Points

Remember these key points to ensure effective pruning:

Shaping is essential. Try to create a rounded shrub.

Don’t worry about where you cut a stem. Accepted wisdom suggests cutting just above a leaf joint with a sloping cut away from the bud. However, there is no evidence to prove this is necessary.

Don’t worry about cutting back too much. Roses are extremely strong and will grow back even if you cut all of the stems right back to the base.

Carefully dispose of foliage. Foliage should never be composted and should be removed from your garden. This ensures spores that can initiate disease are removed from your garden.

Look out for loose roses. Look out for any roses that are loose in the ground due to the wind rocking them to the point where they are no longer standing upright. Firm around the base of each loose rose and cut them back a little more to reduce wind resistance.