How to prune roses

We all know that pruning is a very important task in your garden, but we’re often asked about pruning roses and other shrubs.

Rosa 'Iceberg' at the San Jose Heritage Rose GardenIf the shrub flowers on current year’s wood, then cut it back hard each winter. Buddleia is a good example – If you simply trim the plant it will become leggy and bare at the bottom. Cut each stem back from October onwards to within a foot from the ground and you will get vigorous, healthy growth in the new season.

If you have inherited an old shrub with little foliage on the lower half of the plant, take out the older branches thus leaving some newer ones to maintain health. Continue taking out the oldest branches each year and within two seasons you will have a new looking shrub.

There are some special cases, such as those roses in need of specialist pruning. Usually they are cut short – just above a bud which will grow into a new branch and consequently bear flowers.

Rosa 'Banzai 83' im Volksgarten in WienThere are lots of reasons for pruning shrubs. Unlike the rest of us, roses are not able to forecast the weather, and they take the mild weather as a trigger to put on new growth, and off they go doing what they do best – growing towards the sun.

Actually, roses are really glorified brambles, and if left alone they would soon become a tangled mess, impenetrable and thick – which might be good in a hedge, but not in the flower border. To keep them under control is the most important part of growing roses.

General rules for pruning roses:

  • Deadhead – and in the winter, go round pruning off the fruit that is rotting off on the plant. We all have them in our garden, and it is good to get rid before they cause infection.
  • Don’t leave a long piece of stem from a bud, it will only die and rot – cut as close to a bud as you can.
  • Always cut in a sloping direction away from the bud, so that any rain will actually run off the cut and not soak the bud – which can cause rotting.
  • Always take out branches that touch or threaten to touch another branch.
  • Always cut out dead wood back to good, healthy wood.
  • Do not leave your cuttings on the floor to rot, burn them and then compost the ashes – rose branches take ages to compost themselves.
  • Remember the goblet shape, and this goes for standard roses too, at the top of the central stem.
  • Always use good quality secateurs – so the cut is sharp and clean, ragged cuts provide a home for fungal infection.
  • Always disinfect your secateurs when you have finished a plant – I use a disinfectant baby wipe – you don’t need to pass infections from plant to plant.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

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The importance of pruning

Multicoloured RoseUnlike trees, a shrub can easily survive the lopping of its stems. Pruning stimulates growth and increases the vigour and productiveness of the plant.

To a plant, pruning is a stimulus. Although you have reduced its size by cutting it back, you stimulate the growth of buds on the plant that were once forced to be dormant by the dominance of the terminal bud.

Remove the bud and others below will start to grow resulting in a bushier plant.

What does pruning actually do?

Gardeners talk a lot of rot about pruning. They talk about all the plant’s energy being routed into certain directions and whereas this might be the end result, what is actually going on is the result of changes of hormone levels within the plant.

Large-sized, deep red Hybrid Tea roseEach bud, and the tip of each branch, as well as each flower, and in the roots too – as well as under the bark and deep in the branch, gives off a cocktail of hormones that determine how the plant will grow. If you remove a branch, the hormones produced by it are removed, and this has consequences for the rest of the plant.

So, if you cut the branch off just above a bud, the hormones from that branch that usually inhibit the bud from growing are suddenly removed, and the bud will start to grow!

Pruning can allow us to create a plant that will grow in a way we want it to, rather than how the plant might naturally wish to grow. And there are many advantages to this. You have to remember that a bud will grow in the direction it is pointing and therefore you can determine the overall shape of the plant.

For roses, one of the reasons for pruning is to cut down the amount of fungal problems by allowing the breeze to flow through the plant effectively. This is done by creating a plant that is goblet shaped.

When you are pruning you need to look. Which way is the bud you are cutting above pointing? if it is towards the inside of the plant, then choose another that points outwards.

Read part two – the practicalities of pruning.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Friends in the Garden

Sometimes, because of life’s changes, work, poor health, family or whatever, you miss out on what you love. I have friends in the garden, and sometimes I ignore them. Well, actually, all the plants in the garden are my friends. I don’t care what they are, how common or exotic, I love them all the same.

And yes, I talk to them! Sometimes my best conversations are with plants, you see they always agree with me and we share a point of view. So you will understand that – apart from being quite mad, sometimes, when there are some old friends I simply have missed out on, I get rather melancholic.

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit - see you next year old pal!

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit – see you next year old pal!

I have found it difficult to physically walk to the end of the garden these past months. Down there in the hedge are to be found some white bluebells that make an appearance each year, and this year I only managed to see them once they had finished flowering and were literally past their best. A short walk away there is a wood, full of bluebells, and what a sight they are! But these little whites are solitary and special.

Now having plants as friends can cause you some problems. I have to confess loving weeds, and always feel a little guilty pulling them up. So Ii try and keep a space for them when I can. This year, so far, has been the year of the buttercup, and aren’t they beautiful?

Don't turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

Don’t turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

So the edge of my lawn is punctuated with a stand of field buttercups, and if I lift my head, across the valley, I can see a whole field of them, and on a warm Sunday I can imagine myself in a huge hundred acre field of yellow.

There are times when old friends have mishaps. when we moved here there was a clematis in a pot, growing up a trellis. The pot was about 6 inch diameter, and the plant went up about 20 feet!

Clematis - you can't kill them, they just keep coming back - thankfully!

Clematis – you can’t kill them, they just keep coming back – thankfully!

During our first summer the trellis fell off and I had to remove the plant. The roots had gone through the bottom of the pot and disappeared under the paving of the patio.

We get lots of questions about clematis. You will find, on the internet, all kinds of methods about pruning them, none of which are actually correct. The truth is there are two groups for pruning this brilliant climber.

If it flowers in the Spring, such as C. montana, then don’t bother at all, just keep it trim as you need. All the rest cut back as short as you like on Valentine’s Day – call it a massacre if you will.

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Anyway, back to the old friend. I took a spade and cut the root at ground level and thought no more about it, until a few weeks ago when a hot day snooze found me waking to the sight of the old pal climbing the wall again.

I never have a better time than when talking to the iris. We have a strong bond, we two. I sometimes think I get more sense from them than anyone else in the household.

But this year they have a problem that needs fixing. It is the invasion of nettles. Nettles are hungry plants, beautiful in their own right – I love the geometry of the leaves, and the stings are so elegant when you look at them through a microscope.

But their heavy profusion means only one thing: the septic tank needs emptying, because there is a leakage. Nettles grow where there is a lot of nitrogen in the soil, you often see them in fields where cattle or sheep have gathered.

If it's archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

If it’s archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

It has come at an opportune time, the iris need dividing and replanting and this I will do in the autumn, so that next year there will be even more of them for a summertime chat!

Now, I am blessed with an ancient hawthorne in the garden. I wish everyone would grow them just because of the aroma of the flowers. In case you are somewhat bemused by my having plants as ‘friends’ then spend a little time thinking about hawthorne.

It is said to be terrible bad luck to burn the wood, or cut the plant without asking permission and when in flower you are not supposed to sleep under its branches, or you will be pulled down into the underworld to meet Bottom and his pals. I can well believe it!

Can't wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

Can’t wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

During my recent poor health I have fallen asleep, when the rain has left me a warmer blanket, under the hawthorne many times, and never have I had a more relaxing, deeper sleep. Thankfully the underworld left me alone, I didn’t grow donkey ears nor thought myself enamored of an ass.

My last pal for now, though there are hundreds more, is about to make an appearance. A lovely white climbing rose makes an appearance for a few weeks, rain permitting. Growing within it is a honeysuckle and a rowan, which I think is forming the basis for the whole structure, and I keep it trim to the top of the hedge.

When the flowers appear you cannot but want to sit beside it watching the bumblebees buzz heavily around. And a hot day, when the nectar is more fermented than normal, they sit lazily on the flowers and you can stroke them.

You know, regardless of its size, the garden is about the best friend we humans have. Perhaps that’s why all of the creation stories set our origins in one.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Autumn Garden Jobs

I’m getting tired of writing about the weather – and I dare say you are getting tired of reading about it. Besides, there are so many jobs to get on with we won’t have time to pause for breath, and it all starts with my favourite plants – Dahlias!

Dividing Dahlias

Likely as not, frost will hit us sometime in October, and this marks the end of the dahlia season. It is time to lift, divide and store them for the winter.

You will need some sulphur powder for this job, and a sharp knife.

Dividing Dahlias - dig up tubers

Remove the stalks and dig up the tubers, giving them a good wash to remove the soil / compost.


Cut down the plants and carefully dig up the tubers with a garden fork. Wash them clean and dry them with an old towel.
Dividing Dahlias - cut the tubers

With a knife or scissors, cut out the tuber as close to where it joins the plant as you can.


You will have a stem with lots of tubers that look rather like fat fingers. With a sharp knife, cut the fingers away at the base.
Dip the Dahlia ends in sulphur

Dip the cut end in sulphur powder to fight off any infections. Repeat with all the decent sized tubers you have.


Dust the cut surfaces with sulphur powder and then wrap the lot in newspaper – lots of layers, and store them in a frost-free place until spring.
Insulate dahlia tubers

Either wrap in several layers of newspaper or in a saved bubble wrap envelope for insulation. Place in a cool, dark place until Spring.


Label divided Dahlias

Don’t forget to label your dahlias with their name and the date they were stored.

Runner Beans

For perfect runner beans next year, now is the time to start a trench. Dig a trench that is around 18 inches deep. Mark it so you don’t fall down it and pile the soil along the side of the trench. Over the coming weeks, fill 3/4 full with vegetable matter – kitchen waste, potato peelings etc, but no gravy or meat, and when there is about 6 inches free space, top up with the soil leaving a little mound.

The vegetable material in the trench will rot and create heat, and it is amazing how long this heat lasts. It will give your plants a good start when you get to sowing, or transplanting in the spring. Actually, I sow in late February, covering the area with a cloche, protecting the seedlings from cold and rain and giving them a head start in their warm soil.

Roses

Roses have had a torrid summer and some of this can be alleviated now. Take cuttings of new growth and place them in compost – say 5 per six inch pot. Remove the lower leaves and cover with a plastic bag and around 60% at least will root, giving new plants for next year. Keep them in a frost free place, I use the polytunnel, and this is heated a little when the weather gets really bad.

Transplant them in April into a larger pot – 8 inches per plant will do, and give them generous water and feed every month. Plant them out next October.

This method is ideal for climbers and bush types where the root stock is not important – and don’t be too careful, I have had great results simply chopping at climbers with shears to control them, and using the most likely ones for cuttings.

Sweet Peas

The real promise of a summer of colour and fragrance is sown now: Sweet Peas! The best are sown in October, and I sow mine in pots and keep them in a cool greenhouse until spring, when they are transplanted as small plants. They get such a good start this way, rather than sowing them in spring. If you are in a sheltered area, spend some time preparing the soil, so they can grow rapidly in a nutrient rich soil – give them plenty of rotted manure. Plants that have to make lots of colour or aroma need a lot of nutrients, and this rule holds true for any plant.

Frost

Furry plants need protecting from frost – if you have furry leaves in the rock garden (sempervivums and so on), they need to be covered. If you can get a cloche in place, all well and good, but sometimes you need a sheet of plastic held down as firmly as you can, or a covering of straw held down with plastic.

Hedges

Making a good hedge is an October job because these shrubs take well if planted now. I recently made a hedge of blackthorn, berberis, mahonia – each planted about a foot apart, in a slight zigzag. As they grow, I train them into each other and, having made a backing fence of stout garden wire attached to stakes, I will tie them into their supports. Once they are in place, they need little looking after and are particularly good at living together. Mahonia especially is very colourful and makes for a super autumnal display.

Vegetables

In the vegetable garden it is time to take down the asparagus fronds. Don’t let the fronds settle on the ground, but cut them off and bring them away to the compost heap. This will keep the asparagus beetle at bay next year. I give them a mulch of compost and well rotted manure mixed at 50-50 proportions, and they seem to come on a treat using this regime. Here’s to next June!!!

Plant out cabbage ‘All Year Round’ and cover with a cloche. This way you will get cabbages right through the winter that look good. It’s one thing being able to actually get this variety to grow in Winter, it’s quite another to get great specimens. The wet wind plays havoc with them, and they soon look messy. A cloche will do the trick!

Don’t forget to earth up your leeks against the winter storms and go round heeling in the shrubs and young trees to make sure they are really firm in their beds before they get rocked about by the Winter weather, like a dentist pulling a tooth!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Flowers from my Garden

I love to have fresh flowers in the house, and one of the joys at this time of year is to cut them from the garden. It certainly saves money, and they are fresher and last much longer than the bunches you can buy at the supermarket! It also means I can still enjoy my flowers close up in the house, and not watch them suffer from wind and rain!

I’m not a “flower arranger”, but I like to experiment with different flower combinations, and containers.

All the flowers shown here have been recently picked from my garden.

Rose Royal Matrimony and White Sweet Peas

The wine glass on my mantelpiece holds a lovely creamy rose, called “Royal Matrimony”, with white perennial sweet peas, and a sprig of gypsophila. These are all grown in my front garden.

Flower arrangement from kitchen garden

In the kitchen I’ve used a glass carafe and filled it with a variety of herbs, a few annual sweet peas and an opium poppy. These all grow in the tiny “kitchen garden” outside my back door. It’s wonderfully scented with the combination of lavender, sage, oregano, chocolate mint, rosemary and fennel, and of course the fragrant sweet peas.

Mont Blanc Lily, Silver Wedding Rose, Alchemilla and Astilbes

In the living room I’ve used a simple glass vase and a whole array of flowers for my coffee table. The lily is called “Mont Blanc”, the large white rose is “Silver Wedding”, and the small creamy coloured roses have no name because I lost the plant label! I’ve mixed in lots of “frothy” flowers such as the lemon coloured Alchemilla mollis, and white Astilbes, then added blue flowers as an accent colour. The blues include spires of Veronica, sprigs of Lavender multifida, Brodiaea, and the pom-pom flowers of the small blue allium caeruleum. Oh, and I included a couple of poppy seed heads for good measure!

Dorothy Perkins rose, astibles and gypsophila flowers in a jug

Into the dining room next and a big jug of flowers on the dresser. The darker pink rose is the rambler “Dorothy Perkins” that grows in my front garden, and the paler dog rose is another of my many “lost label” plants. It’s a shame I can’t remember its name, but it has a beautiful scent, almost like sherbet lemons, and very thorny stems! More poppy heads, astilbes and gypsophila…

Hydrangeas arranged in a teapot

Back to the kitchen, and an old teapot makes the ideal container for a few hydrangea heads. Always be sure to plunge hydrangeas into a sink full of cold water head-first before you display them — you’ll be surprised how many creepy crawlies come out of them!

Rosa Bonica and Marjorie Fair with Fuchsia and Honeysuckle bouquet

Then a jug of flowers for my desk: Rosa Bonica and Rosa Marjorie Fair from the back garden, with a stem of fuchsia (that broke off in the wind) and a few sprigs of honeysuckle for fragrance. Mmmm…better than an artificial air freshener any day!

Rose Scarlet Cluster, Agapanthus, Echinops, Hydrangea flower arrangement

Finally, I couldn’t resist picking this selection of red rose, “Scarlet Cluster”, blue Agapanthus, Echinops and hydrangeas. I added a few stems of eucalyptus from the tree in the front garden and yet more poppy seed heads.

Lovely flowers from the garden

Seeing the individual flowers close up makes me appreciate their intricacy, detail and beauty — things I often miss if I’m just looking at them in the garden.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my flowers. Have a look round your garden and see what you can pick. You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to fill a vase or two!

Happy Gardening!
Di x