When to cut back roses – best time to trim climbers and shrubs

Monty Don shares tips for pruning roses

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Roses are naturally vigorous growers and can quickly appear leggy or overgrown without seasonal pruning. Cutting back the woody stems of this classic bloom is one of the key tasks to keep roses healthy – but when should you be doing it? Whether you’re growing climbers or shrubs, Express.co.uk has the perfect guide to cutting back your garden roses.

When should roses be cut back?

The sprawling woody stems of the classic rose bush should be cut back just before the flowers begin to bloom again.

With most varieties reaching their peak in the summer, roses tend to start growing in early spring as the new season sets in.

To get the most out of your garden roses, you should try to finish cutting back old growth by the end of February while the plant is still in its dormant state.

For eager gardeners, roses can be cut back as early as January, though sometimes it is best to wait until the very end of winter if you want to remove the leggy stems in one go.

While winter is the ideal season to cut back garden roses, leading British rose breeders David Austin Roses claim later is better than never if you haven’t yet done it.

The rose retailer says: “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 March, it is still better to do so.”

Once the plant has started to grow in the favourable spring weather, keep an eye out for any struggling growth to prune away for healthier roses.

How to cut back climbing and rambling roses

Cutting back your rose plant should be done differently according to the type of roses you are growing.

For long or tall arching stems, cutting back should be done to support the structure ahead of the warmer months.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, climbers and ramblers should be cut back to:

  • Between a third and half of the length if there is one thick, old stem going to ground level
  • As near the base as possible for multi-stemmed roses

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If you are unsure which type of rose you are growing, look for strong but non-flowering shoots in the summer. This means it is probably a rambler.

Climbers will usually respond with less vigorous flowering growth after being cut back.

When cutting back your roses, you should remember that:

  • It is important to cut thicker single stems sparingly to secure regrowth
  • If the stem is cut back too hard, it might not regenerate, meaning you will lose out on precious blooms

When cutting back multi-stemmed roses, the RHS recommends taking out one or two of the oldest stems and leaving newer ones as they are.

Look for grey, flaky bark as a sign of an older stem.

How to cut back rose shrubs and bushes

Shrubs and bushes are the most commonly grown rose plants in the UK, boasting voluminous blooms and rich foliage.

Keeping your rose plant healthy should be done with a moderate trim during the winter.

To cut back your rose shrubs and bushes, start by taking out one or two stems as close to the ground or lowest side stem as possible.

Shorten remaining stems by anywhere between a third and a half of the existing length.

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