Rose pruning: climbing roses

Rose pruning ensures that plants grow vigorously and flower well each year. If left, climbing roses can become a tangled mess of branches with very few flowers. Although often considered complicated, rose pruning is not difficult if you follow this guide. Such plants fall into RHS Plant Selector pruning group 17.

Pruning a climbing rose growing on a wall.

Quick facts

Suitable for Climbing roses
Timing Late autumn or winter
Difficulty Moderate

Suitable for...

This method is suitable for climbing roses. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between a climbing rose and a rambling rose. The easiest way to tell the difference is to take note of the flowering time. A climbing rose will repeat-flower almost all summer and well into autumn, while a rambling rose flowers only once, usually in June.

This method is also suitable for climbing roses (including miniature cultivars), boursault, noisette and climbing bourbon roses.

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

When to do it

Climbers are routinely pruned in late autumn or in winter, after the flowers have faded.

Renovation can be carried out at any time between late autumn and late winter. It is easier to see what you are doing when the rose is not in leaf, plus there is a better response from the rose, which should grow back vigorously the following spring.

How to prune climbing roses

Formative training and pruning of young climbing roses

Climbing roses are not self-clinging and need supports of trellis or horizontal wires to which the shoots can be tied. 

  • Set the lowest wire 45cm (18in) off the ground and space subsequent wires 30cm (1ft) apart 
  • If training roses up pillars, arches or pergolas, twist the main shoots gently around the uprights, keeping them as horizontal as possible, to encourage flowering shoots to form low down
  • If the main stems are slow to branch, tip-prune them to the first strong bud to encourage side shoots, otherwise leave them to fill the available space
  • Remove dead, damaged, diseased or spindly growth, and deadhead during the flowering season to encourage further flowering

Routine pruning of climbing roses

  • First remove dead, diseased or dying branches
  • Then tie in any new shoots needed to fill supports
  • Prune any flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length
  • If the plant is heavily congested, cut out any really old branches from the base to promote new growth

Renovating overgrown climbing roses

  • Remove all dead, diseased, dying and weak shoots
  • Cut some of the old woody branches to the ground, retaining a maximum of six young, vigorous stems that can be secured to supports
  • Saw away any dead stumps at the base of the plant, where rain can collect and encourage rot
  • Shorten side shoots on the remaining branches and prune back the tips by one third to one half, to encourage branching
  • Give pruned plants a boost in the following spring by spreading a granular rose fertiliser over the soil and mulch them with a 5cm (2in) layer of garden compost or well rotted manure

Problems

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.

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