According to the rosesuk website, not to mention a large percentage of the population, the English rose is the nation’s favourite flower, and just about everyone with a sunny patch of soil is growing them or wants to do so. Contrary to frequently heard complaints that roses are difficult to grow successfully, i.e. with gorgeous heaven-scented blooms that beautify any spot they occupy, roses are actually quite hardy, needing only proper treatment, including pruning, for them to provide all those rosy rewards.
The experts tell us that one aspect of that treatment is due or overdue about now, for roses that were planted in autumn or winter. Early spring, before any leaves have sprouted but the first new growth has begun, is the best time to prune. You want an open-centred shape to the bush, so start by cutting away dead or diseased stems back to white healthy pith, and any that cross and rub against another one.
Then you should cut back any unripe stems where the thorns don’t snap off cleanly but bend or tear. On older, established roses, cut away any stems that are flowering poorly, and cut (or saw off if necessary) any old stubs that haven’t produced new growth. Basically you want well-spaced stems that allow good air flow; generally you’ll have about six good strong stems that form a pleasing shape.
You want to get rid of any suckers, but don’t cut them as that encourages re-growth. They’re easy to identify – they show up as vigorous shoots that emerge close to the base of the plant at the root system and have leaves and growth patterns that don’t look the same as the mature bush. Trace them all the way to their origin and pull them off.
As a general rule, cuts should be made no more than ¼ inch above the bud, and angled away from the bud so water doesn’t collect on it. To encourage the open-centred shape, cut to an outward-facing bud; with spreading roses, cut some stems to inward-facing buds as that encourages upward growth.
Except for climbing roses, any newly planted roses should be pruned hard – back to half their length – which will facilitate vigorous new growth. In colder northern regions, pruning can be left until April; your roses will flower later, but the idea is avoid having a hard frost damage the vulnerable new growth.