How to get yourself those perfect roses

A woman pruning roses. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
A woman pruning roses. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Roses are the quintessential English plant, with unrivalled fragrance, beauty and variety of colours, shapes and sizes, writes Hannah Stephenson.

Little wonder, then, that many gardeners are baffled as to when to actually prune their roses to ensure a flurry of gorgeous flowers in the summer and beyond.

The best time to prune autumn and winter-planted roses and established bushes is early spring, when growth is just beginning and the uppermost buds are swelling but no leaves have appeared.

The traditional method involves cutting out all dead wood and diseased or damaged stems, removing branches which are rubbing against each other and aiming for an open-centred bush.

Then cut out all unripe stems - if the thorns bend or tear rather than snapping off cleanly, the wood is unripe.

You should be left with about six key stems that define the shape of your rose bush. For hybrid teas, otherwise known as modern bush roses, cut back each of these stems by at least half. For other shrub roses, prune lightly so they don’t become top heavy.

Also watch for suckers, vigorous growths which emerge from a point low down on the plant, close to the root system. Suckers are easy to identify because they have different leaves and growth habit. Just pull them off, as cutting encourages them, as does hoeing around the base.

If it’s really cold, you can leave pruning as late as early April, which means that your plants will flower slightly later than usual, but at least the soft new growth won’t have been damaged by frost.

Rose pruning isn’t rocket science, as many gardeners have learned over the years.

Rose connoisseur Edward Enfield, father of comedian Harry Enfield and former member of the Royal National Rose Society, once told me of an experiment in which one group of rose bushes was pruned lightly, another group heavily and a third hacked with a hedge cutter - and those hacked off with the hedge cutter did the best.

He himself prunes twice - once in autumn, cutting out the deadwood and spindly growths and shortening the main stems to stop windrock, then again in March, cutting to an outward eye where a group of leaves join the stem.

If you don’t have time to prune, but love roses, consider investing in some ground cover or patio roses which will just need a tidy-up in spring.