When it comes to roses, the gardener’s phrase “Prune in June” is generally a good guide. However, note that if you live in cooler climates, it is best to wait until August so the frosts don’t affect your new shoots.
Wait until a sunny day with no wind if you can, and go for it.
Roses flower on new wood, so the aim is to remove the old canes to encourage healthy new growth and fresh flush of flowers. This also improves airflow, reducing disease and letting more light in. It’s basically their annual haircut.
Essential items are a pair of gloves, some sharp secateurs, a bin, a bag for any diseased wood/leaves and a handsaw. The tools need to be super clean too – as it lessens the chance of any disease being spread when you cut into the roses stems.
First trick is to stand back and spend a few good minutes just observing the structure of the bush. Standard roses i.e., the ones standing up in a wine-glass type shape (not climbing roses which are obvious – they are the ones which climb on walls, trellis etc), can be cut by a good 2/3 of their current Winter’s shape (even more if you think they really need it).
The second and pretty much the most important step is to not panic or feel overwhelmed. I remember my first few attempts of rose pruning really got me bent out of shape thinking I was not going to do it correctly. The thing with rose pruning is that it is rare that you will kill off a rose via pruning. So relax. Breathe. And just go slowly and patiently, whittling away and stepping back every time you make a cut ensuring it’s all going as planned.
Identify the dead wood first. Cut that out from the branch it protrudes from. In the case of it growing from the ground, cut it right down to the soil level as it will be dead the entire way down You’ll often need a sharp, trusty hand saw for that job if it is a thick branch. Secateurs just won’t cut it (pun intended). Dead wood is any of the wood that is not green. It’s the black, grey, rust-coloured and brown material that looks dead – it’s easy to spot as there won’t be any leaves growing from it.
Next, focus on any stems that are criss-crossing each other and therefore rubbing up against each other. Rose stems doing this only cause the plant harm. If you look closely those rose stems touching each other have been brushing up against each other especially in the wind, causing rubbing and bruising on the stems. When that happens it exposes the plant to disease. You’ll notice there is always speckled black spots and open ‘wounds’ where this happens. Take the rose stem back to where they are out of harms way of each other OR take one out altogether if needed to stop the criss-cross action. Choose the healthiest and preferably the one that is growing in the best outward direction to be the one to stay. There should not be any stems touching each other at all with your rose bush.
Cutting a rose stem is really easy. All you need to do is follow the stem from the tip down until you identify the best and healthiest outward facing bud as far down the stem as you think it should go. An outward facing bud is where there is new growth coming out of the stem. It usually appears where there is a faint black line around the rose stem. If there’s not actual visible bud growth on the rose stems you might see a tiny bump instead. That is a bud about to form and that’s what you are looking for.
Cut the rose stem about 1 centimeter above the bud on a 45-degree angle. Cut with conviction without dragging the blade down the stem. It needs to be a clean cut. One good sharp movement will do it.
The reason you cut where the bud is pointing out (ie away from the centre) is because this means the rose will grow outwards, not inwards. Allowing the rose to grow inwards means a crowded and bushy centre, and therefore not enough air circulates around the bush causing disease. Flowers won’t grow as well in the dark, so think of your bush as a wine glass structure and open up all the middle bit to allow good airflow.
Always cut back to healthy, green on outside/white on the inside wood. Anything brown on the inside is dead, so go further down the stem if that’s what you see when you cut.
Make sure you place all the cuttings in a bin, especially the ones that are diseased (preferably tied up in a bag for anything with rot/disease/mildew/blackspot etc). Being wood, putting it in your compost won’t break down easily and any disease will spread – bin it instead (not in the green waste bin as that will spread, pop in your general garbage bin) for the Council to collect next rubbish day.
Next step is to cut out any suckers rising from the rose base. You’ll notice they are very very green but very spindly and not really doing much but growing erratically. They won’t be any good for flowers as they will continue to grow too thinly and take the energy from the main plant, which is where it needs it more. Cut them out down to the base. Some people have a rule of cutting back anything smaller than a pencil in thickness – but only do that if you have a good strong rose full of much much much thicker stems than that, or your whole bush will be cut back. It is a good rule of thumb though.
And there, you have it. Rose pruning made easy (I hope). Follow it up with a really good soak, some Munash Organics Renew (our special blend of liquid mineral fertiliser) plus a generous sprinkle of Munash Organics Rockdust on the soil, plus add mulch and you will be enjoying beautiful roses right around Melbourne Cup Day in November when most of the roses begin to appear right through the summer months and into Autumn.
Some good companion plants for roses are onion, garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, chives, marigold, parsley, mint, tansy and tomato.
Roses do give a lot of pleasure and given a little dose of TLC via a Winter pruning, you’ll be admiring them for almost eight months of the year.