When to prune roses: Now is the ‘perfect time’ and here’s how to do it

The garden is probably not looking its best this month, especially with the rain and heavy winds, as it dips slowly under the protection of winter’s duvet, only to reveal itself again in the spring. Bare branches, fallen leaves and weeds need a tidy up, but corners of the garden can be left a little wild with piles of twigs or leaves or unused roof tiles to protect wildlife. November should be seen as the month when you start to protect your plants and structures.

November is the perfect time to stand back and look at the bare structure of the garden. Colder temperatures, strong winds, heavy rain, sleet or snow are not uncommon during November, and while deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges begin their dormancy, it’s the perfect time to carry out renovation pruning. Bare branches make it easier to see what needs cutting back.

Climbing roses should have been pruned by now, but if you didn’t have time earlier in the autumn then November is your last chance to get them into shape. Deciduous shrubs such as Cornus, Lavatera or Buddleja, which are pruned hard in the spring, can be cut back by half to prevent wind rock and neaten their appearance.

Strong winds can cause plants to sway excessively, pulling and tugging on their roots. This continuous movement interferes with the roots’ ability to remain grounded within the soil. This is known as ‘root rock’. It reduces the plant’s ability to absorb water, leading to severe water stress and even death. Wind can also weaken the roots’ grip on the soil, so that the plant is partially lifted out of the ground – this is known as ‘wind rock’.

Prune shrub roses

Before the cold, wet and windier weather comes along, on a more regular basis prune your shrub roses now to prevent root and wind rock. The plant will be at the start of its dormancy period, ie, it is going into hibernation over winter. Shrub roses are hardy plants so don’t worry about them being exposed to frosty conditions. Wait until the roses have faded before pruning. With the leaves and flowers absent you can see the structure of the branches well. If the shrub rose is in an open location, windy or exposed area then it is good practice to prune the rose by a third of its size.

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3 steps for pruning your shrub roses

Step 1: Ensure you start with the right equipment. For roses with thorns wear thick gloves or gauntlets. Your secateurs need to be sharp, clean and dry. Sharp loppers may be required for thicker stems. A bucket or large pot is handy to have nearby to place all the clippings.

Step 2: Cut off shriveled flowers to prevent rot setting in and remove any remaining foliage that shows signs of black spot, mildew or rust. Remember to check around the base of the rose and pick up all leaves on the ground.

Step 3: Prune out the dead, diseased, decaying, crossing and weak stems, aiming to create an open vase-like structure with a good shape, to outward-facing buds. Prune before any signs of frost as this may damage stems. By reducing the plants height and creating an open structure for air and wind to flow through you are reducing the plant’s mass, which would otherwise sway in the wind, damage the roots and eventually the plant itself.

Cuts on shrub roses should be no more than 5mm above a bud and slope away from it, so that water is directed away from the bud. If a dormant bud is not visible then prune to the appropriate height. Ensure your secateurs are sharp and clean and wiped between cuts. Browning ends on rose stems is a sign of die back, an accumulation of weather conditions, poor care, diseases, or any combination of these. Browning on the tips alone is a sign of frost damage, normally in spring, whereas browning and a dying stub that extends down the branch is the result of poor pruning. Remedy by pruning back to 5mm above an outward-facing bud, where the branch is green, below the browning end and remove it.

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There are other plants that need pruning in a similar way. Shorten stems on Buddleja to produce an open structure. Unlike some shrub roses, Buddleja does not have thorns, so sharp secateurs will do the job brilliantly. Abutilon needs to be pruned back by a third, cutting to just above a node.

Prune out any branches that are rubbing or growing towards the centers. Brassicas, such as sprouts and broccoli, can be adversely affected by wind rock, hindering growth and at worst killing the plant. Ideally plant in a sheltered location, and rather than pruning, plant a bunch of them together to help support one another.

Apple and pear trees also need pruning this month. You need to remove crossing, dead, diseased, decaying and dying branches and anything that is rubbing against each other. Also, shorten previous year’s growth by about a third, but leave laterals to develop fruit buds in the subsequent year. Ensure you remove water shoots at their base. These are easily distinguished, especially once all of the leaves have dropped, from the others as they are vigorous, upright shoots that develop from dormant buds on the trunk or large branches of trees. Take care not to damage the trunk, but remove as much of the growth as you can. If necessary, move some of the underlying soil to make your cut right at the base of the sucker.

With Eucalyptus cut back all new growth annually. Mature trees can be pruned hard by cutting back, lopping or topping before growth starts in the spring. Blueberries, red- and blackcurrants need to be pruned by removing some old wood each year. Aim for an open shape, but leave young branches unpruned, as these will produce crops in subsequent years. For Cotinus, although pruning for shape is normally done in the spring, rejuvenation pruning can be done in November, by cutting back hard to the ground.

There are some plants that you SHOULD NOT prune in November. These are:

Evergreen shrubs – now evergreens should be pruned just before new growth in mid-spring. Pruning in winter can result in frost damage to new shoots.

Plum trees – pruning in the winter can lead to the spread of silver-leaf disease. Spores of Chondrostereum purpureum can infect trees through wounds.

Lavender – leave unpruned until either after flowering or early autumn to avoid damage from frost. Pruning in November can cause dieback.