Pruning Roses and Climbers

In the same way that human life needs water, food and a short back and sides, plants too need food and water, and some need regular pruning, especially roses and lavender. Pruning increases a plant’s strength, growth, form and beauty. Although a proportion of low-maintenance plants will never need to be pruned, those plants that do need annual attention, such as roses, buddleias and lavender, will not grow so well unless they are pruned.

Personally I enjoy pruning. In the country I seldom go into the garden without a pair of secateurs in my hand. There is invariably the odd dead stem, spindly growth or diseased shoot to be removed, not to mention the joy of cutting the odd bloom to take inside, and once a year clipping the yew and beech hedge.

There are many types of pruning, such as heading back of fruit trees, which means cutting back to just above a well-developed dormant bud, two thirds of the way down last year’s shoots; thinning out, cutting off alternate branches to make a tree or shrub less dense; top cutting, cutting the top of any stem or branch; tip cutting, cutting the uppermost growth of a non-flowering plant shoot so that it will bush out, and so on.

But don’t let all the different names for the types of pruning put you off. Basically, it is all just cutting back. The most an average low-maintenance gardener will be required to do, if the planning is right, is light pruning. But it is worth doing correctly and at the right time of the year, so it’s best to start with the right tools.

Pruning Tools

Anvil secateurs and parrot bill secateurs are a must for roses, twiggy shrubs and evergreen hedges. Long handled secateurs are ideal for high level thick twigs and small branches, and shears are needed for hedge cutting. (N.B. Keep these tools cleaned and oiled and out of the reach of children.) But in a small garden you probably won’t need more than anvil secateurs or kitchen scissors.

Pruning Roses

If you are planting roses in the autumn, you should prune them hard back when planting them or, as most people prefer, the following March/April. But ramblers, climbers and shrub roses should be pruned less hard. Cut only one third to a half of the shoot. To establish a good framework while the roses root system is still ‘vulnerable’ and not yet established, cut back any shoot that has flowered the previous year and cut back from the tip to the hard wood of the main growth.


pruning roses

A young standard needs to be cut back to help it strengthen but an established standard needs to be cut less. The weeping standard should be pruned according to the type of climber budded on to the standard. Basic pruning for the weeping standard is to cut off any dead tips or shoots and remove old flowers. Do not cut hard back, but leave the weeping branches still flowing down so the fall increases each year. Take out whole shoots when they have stopped flowering well.

Climbers are more complicated, mainly because you need a ladder and it takes longer! But climbers should be pruned in spring, cutting back all last year’s strong shoots as necessary and cutting very old wood to the ground. Short lateral shoots which will bear the current year’s flowers must also be cut back in spring, just leaving two or three buds.

pruning hydrangeas

Most ramblers are later flowering and less fussy than many roses. Rubrifolia, for example, needs almost no pruning. But for the average rambler, cut off flowered shoots as soon as they finish flowering, providing there is enough new growth. Cut out old shoots to the ground when they don’t flower well any longer.


Climbers such as spring-flowering clematis, wisteria, jasmine and passion flowers need little or no pruning and can survive quite happily if they are neglected for a year or two without any cutting back.

Cutting out the dead wood, thinning of overcrowded shoots or trimming when the climber becomes too heavy for its support are the main reasons for pruning. But these plants do not have to be cut back in order to produce a healthy growth.

The Clematis montana flowers on last year’s growth so, after flowering this year, old flower heads should be removed.

Clematis x jackmanii flowers on the current year’s growth. Cut it hard back.

Passiflora (passion flower): thin out in February/ March and take out any frost damaged shoots. Cut overgrown shoots back to main stem.

Jasminum officinale, which is hardy, will only need thinning out, but do not shorten shoots.

Jasminum nudiflorum should be cut hard back when winter flowering has finished in April. Cut all dead wood and for good new growth clip back the shoots to within 2—3 in (5-7.5 cm) of main stem. Only a little pruning is needed when}, nudiflorum grows as a shrub.

The sort of evergreen shrub required in a low-maintenance garden will need very little pruning, if any, and rhododendrons and camellias need no pruning at all. Only deciduous shrubs (which lose their leaves each winter) will need regular pruning. There are two types of deciduous shrubs, those that flower on last year’s wood, like forsythia, and those that flower on new wood which has grown this season, such as buddleia. It is important to establish in which category the plants fall before pruning. Forsythia will need pruning in spring, as will buddleia which flowers in summer. If you are not sure when to prune, it is best to leave it until either spring or autumn!


It would be impossible to list here when to prune each and every plant. But be comforted with the thought that with sensible low-maintenance planting not too much pruning will be needed.

Lavender, for example, should have the dead flowers removed in late summer plus a light trim. To encourage bushy growth, cut off all straggly growth and cut the plant back to the base of last year’s shoots between March and April. Do not cut old wood.

Hydrangeas: the dead heads from the previous year’s growth should be removed in March. Also remove 10in (25 cm) of dead or weak shoots. The heads can be cut back after they have flowered but if you leave the flowers their ‘cobwebby’ beauty will enhance the garden in winter. Never trim hydrangeas all over or they will not flower. Cut back shoots that are too long right to the ground.

Rosemary should have its dead growth removed in March as well as the unsightly and straying shoots trimmed after flowering to retain its compact shape, but rosemary may go several years without needing any ‘trim’ at all. It can grow quite tall, 5-6ft (1.5-2 m) if left unpruned.

Rhododendrons: remove seed pods as soon as possible after flowering by nipping with finger and thumb just beneath the cluster, without removing any of the new young shoots just below. If you do not do this you will not have flowers the following year.

Tall herbaceous plants: the low-maintenance gardener has a special trick to keep these bushy and to avoid staking. Cut the whole clump back to 6 in (15cm) when about 1ft (30cm) high. This will only delay flowering for a week or so and the dense clump will keep the weeds down better and will not need staking. (Don’t do this to peonies).

19. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Climbing Plants, Garden Management, Plants, Pruning, Roses | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Pruning Roses and Climbers


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