By Jonathan Diaper
As I write, this mild weather and sudden spring lends urgency to those winter and early spring jobs that are yet to be done. Case in point, roses are beginning to shoot presumptuously. I like to have any rose pruning completed before they shoot into life, feeling that the plant’s energy is wasted if the fresh green shoots are destined only to be cut out. Roses are tough old darlings though, so don’t be afraid to prune them if they have already started to grow.
Generally speaking, it is advisable to prune shrub roses and climbing roses when they are dormant. I think of this as taking them by surprise. With the benefit of some hard frosts, the leaves will have dropped, making the job of deciding which dead or wayward stems to remove much easier. With this mild winter, however, many roses have stubbornly clung onto their leaves. These will drop as new shoots form, so carry on pruning as usual. It is not necessary to prune a climber in the first couple of years, as long as the stems are going to be tied-in.
The difference between a rambler and climbing rose is that people tend to be scared of the rambler. A climbing rose flowers on stems produced on the current year’s growth. A rambler flowers on the previous year’s growth. A rambler should be pruned soon after flowering so as not to reduce next year’s blooms. Don’t discount ramblers, they are tough and healthy, and add natural beauty to a garden. Some rambling roses can grow to be enormous, so ensure you have the space if you choose these varieties. However, it is important to know that not all ramblers are the same and some varieties could be ideal for their laidback elegance.
Climbing roses vary in vigour. Sometimes it pays to be pragmatic: if there are few (or no) fresh stems to tie-in, then that gnarled old stem will have to be left (unless it is dead of course). Ideally, strong green shoots can annually replace a few of the older stems. Tie them in with twine or a soft plastic tie (not plastic-coated wire) and avoid tying them too tightly – leave breathing space for the stem to grow. Aim to space the stems an even distance apart. If you have the space to fan out the branches, this will encourage lateral shoots along the length, on which the flowers will develop.
If the rose is on a pillar or obelisk, spiral the stems around, again keeping a regular gap between them. It is wise to tie-in promising young stems in late summer while they are pliable. They soon mature and may break if bent over later. The snap of a promising shoot on a still day may lead to bad language.