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Rose pruning: shrub roses

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last updated Nov 28, 2011
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Pruning a shrub rose

Rose pruning ensures that plants grow vigorously and flower well each year. There is great diversity among shrub roses but most require only light pruning. Many flower just once in summer and will bloom freely for years with little formal pruning. Such plants fall into RHS Plant Selector pruning groups 20-23.

Suitable for... Back to top

Shrub roses are a large and diverse group of roses. They are usually larger than modern bush roses and have thornier stems, often with scented flowers. They may repeat flower or flower only once in summer. Many shrub roses are suitable for hedging as well as making excellent specimen plants.

When to prune shrub roses Back to top

Roses can be pruned during late winter when growth is just resuming, usually mid-February in the south, but in northern and colder areas wait until March. 

Deadheading is carried out in summer after flowering.

How to prune shrub roses Back to top

Unlike modern bush roses, shrub roses generally flower on older wood and should be allowed to develop naturally, maintained by light but regular pruning and with a balance of older wood and young, vigorous growth.

Bear in mind that a large number of old garden roses have an arching habit and need adequate space; shortening stems simply to restrict spread spoils their graceful shape.

Shrub roses that have a single flush of flowers

  • Prune in late summer once flowering is completed
  • The main requirement is to keep the plants free of dead, diseased and damaged wood, crossing or rubbing branches, or spindly growth
  • Avoid excessive build-up of older, unproductive wood that is causing the centre to become crowded, removing one or two older branches from the centre if necessary
  • If they become leggy and bare at the base, remove one or two stems back to near ground level, which will usually encourage new growth from the base

Includes: Species, Shrub, Minature and Rugosa groups; which includes the cultivar 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup'.

This method also works for: Alba, Centifolia, Damask, Gallica, Hybrid Musk, Moss, Scots and Sweet Briar groups; which includes the cultivars 'Charles de Mills' and 'William Lobb'.

Repeat-flowering shrub roses

  • Maintain a balanced framework by reducing strong new growth in late winter by up to one-third. “English” roses:  prune back the previous season’s growths by 30 to 50 percent of their length
  • Shorten strong sideshoots to two or three buds
  • Mature plants require a light renewal pruning each winter by cutting some of the older main stems back to the base. This encourages vigorous new shoots from the base that will flower the following summer
  • Deadhead spent blooms as they fade in the summer, to encourage production of further flowers

Includes: Bourbon, China and Portland groups, and remontant roses. These contain the cultivars 'Duchess of Portland' and 'Reine Victoria'.

To prune other types of roses, see our advice topics below;

Problems Back to top

Roses can suffer from a range of common rose problems, including replant disease, rose diebackrose black spot, rose powdery mildew, rose rust. Particular pests include rose aphids, rose leaf rolling sawfly, rose large sawfly.

Blindness (lack of flowering) is another common problem with roses.

Quick facts

Suitable for All shrub roses
Timing After flowering and in late winter (February to March)
Difficulty Moderate