Gardening / Rose pruning: the new way

The thornless climbing rose “Zephirine Drouhin”… pruned with electric hedge clippers whenever it gets out of hand.

WHERE the idea that roses had to be pruned at the end of August came from I do not know.

Cedric Bryant.

There is an accepted view that by then the worst frosts are over and new shoots will be unaffected. But a few years ago we received a minus 6C on November 6!

I changed my thoughts on rose pruning after visiting the Lady Dixon International Rose Gardens in Belfast and discussing with its gardeners the method and timing of pruning.

Covering more than 200 hectares with 40,000 roses, it is one of the great attractions of the city and Rose Week in July is not to be missed.

The gardeners told me that for years they pruned the roses using the tried and true method of sharp secateurs, removing dead wood, looking for outward facing buds etcetera.

It used to take weeks to prune this number, but these days they use hedge trimmers to shape them, as one would any shrub. This means that while they don’t get perfect, prize-winning blooms, the number of blooms on each bush has increased enormously, presenting a more spectacular display.

My rethink of the timing and method of pruning roses is also inspired by Charles Quest-Ritson, who wrote the Royal Horticultural Society’s “Encyclopedia of Roses”. It would be hard to find a more knowledgeable person on roses and their care.

He says: “It does not matter when roses are pruned and even if you miss a season so what?”

And they certainly have plenty of frosts in Britain.

Following all this expert advice, I pruned my few bush roses last year in March and, with a mild autumn, the new growth started immediately. Rosa “Gertrude Jekyll” never looked so good in the spring and summer. My magnificent climbing Rosa “Zephirine Drouhin” gets pruned with electric hedge clippers whenever it gets out of hand. I can’t help showing off this rose again, but one cannot disagree with the picture above.

But if you grow roses to win prizes at our Horticultural Society shows or like pruning the age-old method then ignore this alternative advice and use the traditional method.

The society’s rose-pruning demonstrations will be held at the Trial Garden, corner of Purdie Street and Charles Weston Lane, Bruce, 1pm-3pm, on Saturday, July 15, and at 1 Spence Place, Hughes, 1pm to 3pm, on Sunday, July 16.

Brighten the winter garden with Helleborus “Anna’s Red”.

AS we look forward to the mass of spring blossom trees, let’s enjoy the many winter-flowering, perennial plants, none more so than hellebores.

Often referred to as the winter rose, they are no relation to roses except to their resemblance to old-fashioned, single-petalled roses.

With modern breeding the variety of colours has increased substantially. One of my favourites is Helleborus “Anna’s Red”. Two others worth mentioning are H. “Cinderella”, with delightful double white flowers, and H. “Tutu”, aptly named for its huge pink blooms.

When at the nursery, check out Bergenia cordifolia also known as elephant’s ears due to the size of its huge leaves. This is a real toughie from Siberia and will withstand frosts to minus 50C and yet still flowers in winter. Also look for Iris unguicularis or winter iris which will be in flower. If you can find the white variety with a hint of yellow, I. u. “Alba” snap it up.


  • After pruning roses, spray with lime sulphur to prevent fungal problems.
  • Prune wisteria, Virginia creeper, ornamental grape and other deciduous climbers.
  • Now that the leaves have fallen off deciduous shrubs, it’s a good time to ensure ties left on aren’t cutting into or ring-barking stems.

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