Rose pruning for plenty of beautiful cut flowers

By Paula Baxter Mill Pond Flower Farm

Last Month I gave a short talk on Rose Growing for Cut Flowers at the Flowers from the Farm conference in Lincoln. There were lots of questions at the time, and since, about pruning roses so I thought I’d give a bit more detail here. 

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I grow roses for wedding and event florists, supplying them from May to October. I have around 90 rose bushes, mostly grown under cover, and cut around 80 to 150 stems most weeks throughout the season. 

Why prune roses bushes?

Cutting roses in bloom is a form of pruning, it stimulates the growth of new stems, leaves and flowers and in a mild climate, with good light levels, there’s no reason why rose bushes would stop producing flowers throughout the year. In the UK however, we have distinct seasons that affect the vigour of rose growth and cause a slow down when temperatures and light levels reduce in the autumn. Roses can (and do) bloom in the depths of winter if they have the right conditions but will be struggling to produce good quality flowers in any quantity. It’s better for the health of the plant to rest through the winter rather than producing weak growth that is more likely to be vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

The main reasons given by gardeners for pruning roses are to get rid of diseased stems and produce a shapely, attractive bush. As a flower grower, the main reasons for pruning are to get rid of diseased growth and stimulate the production of lots of flowering stems for cutting. The hormone responsible for new growth in roses is sent to the newly cut stem and stimulates the production of shoots. The method is similar, but the timing and process may be different. 

When to prune

The timing of pruning can vary, depending on when you need the flowers. I prune all of our indoor roses in autumn, right at the beginning of November. I stop selling flowers at the end of October and once I’ve caught breath, rose pruning is one of the first jobs to be done. The bushes are usually in still in bloom but have slowed right down. Pruning them in autumn gives me the chance to check them over, weed properly and mulch them with well-rotted horse manure or seaweed. The leaves will usually naturally drop as it gets cold, but if they don’t, I’ll tidy off what is left and clear them off the soil. 

Our outdoor roses are pruned between Christmas and the end of January. They are always dormant by that time. 

How to prune

The method is the same for indoor and outdoor roses.

You need a sharp pair of secateurs. Sharpen them especially for this job. Don’t forget that you are deliberately damaging your plants and want them to recover quickly with little adverse effect. Clean cuts heal well and don’t harbour disease.

  1. Remove any dead or diseased wood completely

  2. Take a stem

  3. Locate a node/leaf joint 6-8 inches from where the stem joins the main plant. Cut using a sloping cut (although apparently there’s no evidence to say this makes a difference). 

  4. Cut back all stems to a framework that sits about 18 inches above the soil level. As the plant ages, the main framework will become much more woody so it may be taller once pruned. 

  5. Remove and destroy all plant material, including dead leaves. 

  6. Apply a deep mulch

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The plants will start to sprout fairly soon after pruning. My roses that were pruned in November now have lovely pink shoots appearing. 

A last piece of advice – don’t worry about pruning, it’s not going to kill your lovely rose bushes, they’re tough plants and will grow back strongly if they’re well fed, giving you lots of gorgeous blooms in the summer and autumn.