Rose pruning advice

Keep it simple. That’s the wise advice on rose pruning from Laurie Jeyes who has been tackling the winter task for about 55 years.

“I was about 12 when I started taking care of roses,” he says. “We moved into a place with roses and somehow it was left up to me to look after them, but I’ve always had an interest in nature and horticulture.”

However, that interest didn’t lead into work until Laurie “eased” himself out of his telecommunications career and turned his rose-growing hobby into a small business producing blooms for the cut-flower trade in Auckland.


Laurie Jeyes. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A former member of the Auckland Rose Society, Laurie has been in the Western Bay for 25 years and is a past president of the Bay of Plenty Rose Society, as well as having organised the annual show for some 14 years.

There are a few simple safety rules to remember when pruning, he says:

  • Always wear a hat (to protect your scalp from thorns)
  • Wear gloves, preferably leather but at least with leather across the knuckles
  • A pair of glasses or safety goggles is also a good idea.

Cutting gear should include secateurs, mid-sized loppers (which can replace secateurs for much pruning) with a gear operation to help leverage, a fold-out pruning saw for small spaces and a stiff brush (not wire, which may cut into the bark and allow disease into the plant), something like a potato brush.

Make sure the cutting gear is both sharp and clean – cuts should not break the bark and if you’ve used your gear on diseased wood make sure it’s cleaned well before the next use.

Pruning should take place from about mid-July to the end of August to protect the new growth as far as possible. “When you prune you kick the new growth off and we can get stiff frosts in July and cold winds so if you’ve pruned before that you may find the new growth burns off.”


Wedding Day is a climber that covers itself in flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Laurie recommends spraying the bottom half of rose bushes with a winter-strength solution of lime sulphur in May to deal to scale (the top half will be pruned off).

“It’s a bit smelly, but it’s very good as a disinfectant and dealing with over-wintering fungus. On pruning day you can use a winter spray oil to smother the last of the scale and about a fortnight later spray again with copper.”

He fertilises his roses three times a year – end of August, Christmas and mid-February – to keep them going during our long flowering period. “In colder climates they get more vibrant colours but a shorter flowering season. Here, our colours might be a bit less intense but we have flowers from the end of October to May.”

Bush/standard roses:

Step 1: Prune out dead wood, spindly branches, old wood and any criss-crossing branches in the centre of the plant. Generally shorten the growth and then look at the shape you want to achieve (usually a vase shape).

Step 2: Select the branches you’re going to keep and cut about 6mm above an outward-facing bud, sloping the cut back to just behind the bud. If you prune between buds the wood will die back to the bud, but may die back all along the branch. Laurie recommends cutting back about half to two-thirds of the bush size. Any large saw stubs may be covered with pruning paint, but take care to apply it only to the cut.

Step 3: Clean the crown (base) of the plant with the brush. As well as clearing away garden debris, the removal of flaky bark and exposing the crown to the weather may “wake” dormant buds which will develop into new framework branches.


Anna Leese rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Step 1: Carefully release all the ties, holding the branch with one hand while you release the tie with the other.

Step 2: Prune out dead and broken wood, branches growing in odd directions and any cane putting out thin branches (a thin branch will grow only a thinner branch).

Step 3: Prune all the laterals to the first or second bud from the main cane – each stub will produce two or three flowering stems.

Step 4: Tie the canes back into your desired shape.

Roses in pots:

Repot at a minimum every second year, but better done annually. Laurie recommends pruning both top growth and roots before replanting into new potting mix and slow-release rose fertiliser.

“Potted roses get a lot of very fine root growth and this interferes with the take-up of nutrients and water so it’s good to get rid of some of that.”

Flower Carpet roses:

Use hedge clippers to create desired size and shape.

Water shoots:

These are vigorous new growths that come away from the crown of the rose. They will form part of the plant’s framework but need protecting while in their fresh growth stage. “They are a bit like a ball and socket and will just pop out of the crown if they get moved round too much while they’re still soft,” Laurie says. “It’s wise to put a stake in next to one, especially during our spring winds, to stop it rocking about too much. It’s a shame to go round the garden and see all that gorgeous growth lying broken.”

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.