Pruning & cuttings

Pruning old-fashioned roses

As mentioned in our previous posts, this is how WE do it and what we have found works well. There are many ways to garden and our ways are not necessarily by the book but they have worked well for many years!

First of all, truth be told, old fashioned roses don’t actually require a lot of, if any pruning at all to be healthy and flower well. We have lots of roses who miss the annual go over with the cutters for some years and they perform just as well!

However pruning your roses does have many benefits, some extremely obvious and others perhaps not so much.

Why we prune

1) Size- Many roses have the capacity to get absolutely enormous left to their own devices, few of us have the space to allow all of our roses to grow to no end, so a good annual cut back to the desired size and shape is the obvious answer!

2) flowering- this is where the lack of necessity comes in, its commonly thought that roses need to be pruned in order to get a good flush of flower come spring/summer, this is not the case. If well sited and fed, your roses will give you an abundant flowering whether you pruned that year or not. Roses that are cut back quite hard will produce less but larger blooms that season and roses not pruned or pruned lightly will produce more flowers but a little smaller. So don’t sweat too much if you don’t get a chance to do yours some seasons!

3) health- it is true that a really tangled thicket of branches can become not only an eyesore, but a magnet for pests and disease. A more open and airy plant will help reduce the risk or fungal problems and harbouring critters, not least because a thicket is much harder to spray. A bit of light and air coming through is good for the plant.

4) renewed vigour- sometimes a straggly, tired looking rose needs a hard haircut to refresh and make some strong healthy new branches. Roses are tough plants, don’t be afraid to really take after an over grown, spindly rose. It will thank you.

How we prune

1) timing- the ideal time to prune your roses is when they are just coming up to breaking dormancy from winter and the risk of heavy frost has passed. If you live in a mild climate like us (northern Waikato) where we only have light frosts and nights as low as around 0 minimum, You can get away with pruning them any time now, mid to late winter. If you’re in a colder climate where you have heavy frost or snow particularly late in the season then wait until the last frosts have (hopefully!) passed before pruning.

2) tools- a sharp pair of secateurs are a MUST, a pair of thick gloves and long sleeved clothing (raincoats are excellent!) will save you most pricks!, A good pair of loppers are a helpful investment to reach the inner branches and cut thicker branches more easily. Simple.

3) light prune- we tend to just lightly prune most of our roses, it’s fast, easy and we have the space to allow most of our roses to be of a larger size. Start by removing any dead or sick looking branches right down at their base. Once you’ve taken them out go in and take off any healthy stems that are rubbing or crossing over others, squashing neighbouring plants or looking ungainly. Now stand back and see if any arms need shortening or tidying up and voila you’re done!

4) hard prune- If a harder prune is necessary simply go in and remove all the dead or sad branches as above then take the whole bush down to about half. They can look a bit pathetic but fear not, they will come away in spring!

5) climbers- climbing roses need tending, especially when they are young. Climbers will produce very long, usually quite thick branches that will lend themselves to being tied onto what ever frame you’re growing the rose up. Once tied in, these long branches should stay put, they will produce shorter stems all the way along that will carry your flowers. Resist the temptation to allow your climber too many arms! You don’t want great gangly tentacles flailing into your garden or path! If an arm is produced that isn’t able to be easily tied into the frame, cut it off!


Why not try to strike some cuttings with your pruned branches! Using only freshly cut, healthy material (don’t bother with anything diseased or sick) cut your branch into sections, the books say always around a pencils length and thickness which is a good guide but honestly thicker and thinner sections strike at just the same rate from our experience. Now you want a tall pot filled with either commercial cutting mix or any gritty, free draining medium such as coarse sand or fine pumice with a dash of fine potting soil. Be sure that you have all your cuttings the right way up and simply push them about two thirds of the way into your pot and keep them watered and out of intense sun, hopefully in a few months time you will see nice roots coming from the bottom of the pot! We don’t use rooting hormone, it’s possibly worth using to help your strike rate a little bit, however we’ve not seen any great difference using a hormone. Roses can be hard to strike from cuttings, don’t be disheartened if you don’t always have success as it’s just not the way it goes with rose cuttings!

Hopefully there is some interesting information here for everyone and we hope you feel inspired to get out in the garden!

The result