For many gardens around the country, both professional and domestic, February is a time for pruning rose bushes, and Chartwell is no different. We’ve been busy with our secateures, loppers and pruning saws in both Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden and the Golden Rose Avenue recently and we have the scratched hands and ripped jumpers to prove it! Pruning of roses is done to improve the flowering and also to control the size and shape of the plant and to reduce the chance of diseases taking hold. It is important to remember that the strong, newer shoots on a rose that will provide the most and best blooms.
Roses are best pruned when they are dormant or semi-dormant and when there are no leaves to hinder the work. Now is the time when buds are beginning to break but if done when fully in active growth the pruning can severely check the growth and flowering. Some people are a bit scared of pruning roses but once you know the basic principles there is really very little to it.
One of the first tasks is often to remove any dead or diseased shoots. These can be cut to the base. Any weedy, thin stems can also be removed or cut back as they will do little to improve the flowering of your bush rose. Any crossing stems can also be dealt with at this stage because when two shoots rub against each each other it can cause wounds and the chance for infections to occur. The other preliminary type of cuts to make are within the centre of the bush. Much like when pruning apple trees, an open centre can help to improve light penetration and air circulation which in turn helps to reduce the instance of diseases.
Now you can get stuck in to the proper pruning. The pruning of Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses (the two main types of modern bush roses) is essentially very similar but perhaps Floribunda roses should be pruned a little less enthusuastically in order not to reduce the number of flowers produced later in the year. Cuts should be made above a healthy bud. The bud in question should also be facing the way you want the resulting shoot to grow. This is usually away from the centre of the bush but might also be away from another stem or in order to fill an empty gap. The cut should be sloping so that any rain water doesn’t collect on the cut surface and cause rotting. The pictures below show the rights and wrongs of pruning cuts in slightly more detail:
The amount of material to remove is not an exact science. Cutting a stem back to three buds is often cited as the standard. Here at Chartwell we sometimes go a little harder than this in order to keep our bushes under control and keep the resulting blooms at eye and nostril height. The RHS books will tell you to cut stems to about 20cm for a Hybrid Tea rose bush and 30cm for a Floribunda type. In actuality the length of the remaining shoot will depend on the individual bush, the stem in question, the number and quality of available buds, the climate of the garden and the preference of the gardener doing the pruning. Newer shoots can be cut back harder as they will have a greater propensity to put on plenty of strong, new growth once more.
It is interesting to note that the English Royal National Rose Society have apparently carried out pruning trials that disprove much of what I have said here. They claim that it is not necessary to cut stems above a bud for instance and that a rough trim with hedge trimmers will produce a better result than traditional pruning. I think we’ll stick to what we know best at Chartwell for now but it might be interesting to carry out both methods on a selection of our roses some time in order to test the various theories.
If you want to know more about how we look after our roses here in Churchill’s gardens and what the importance of the rose is to Chartwell you are welcome to come along and attend a talk I will be giving on March 6th at 2pm. Maybe I’ll see you there…