When to prune a climbing rose for winter? There's a definite chill in the air at the moment, so it's the question on every gardening enthusiast's mind – because, as we all know, the when is every bit as important as the how to prune a climbing rose.
If you have 'climbing roses that bloom every single summer' on your list of garden ideas, then you'll need to put the work in when the days are shorter and colder. Because, like so many flowering plants, climbing roses need...
Well, they need a little TLC when they're not in bloom. Still, it's definitely one of those timeless garden trends worth investing in: those fragrant flowers are well worth a few shivering hours in the garden each year!
When to prune a climbing rose for winter
When it comes to pruning, it's best to think about it in the same terms as getting a trim: it's the easiest way to make sure that your climbing rose grows well and flowers beautifully every single year.
And, honestly, you can't really go wrong with these relatively easy climbing plants, so long as you're prepared to give them the TLC they need on a regular basis: think deadheading, watering, and, of course, that all-important yearly pruning.
So, when's best to get started?
Jack Sutcliffe, co-founder of Yorkshire-based shed manufacturer, Power Sheds, advises that 'the best time to prune climbing roses would be in late winter, preferably right before the dormant season ends'.
'This will ensure their health, promote new growth, and maintain their shape and structure,' promises Jack, citing the same advice proffered by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Which means that, yes, you should be aiming to prune sometime between December and February.
'Don't prune too early in spring as this can damage the new growth,' adds Jack.
'Similarly, don't prune too late in the season when they are about to bloom or have already started blooming. Late pruning can remove the flower buds and diminish the bloom time.'
While plenty of experts agree with Jack and the RHS's advice on when to prune a climbing rose, Monty Don – as in, yes, the same gardening guru we look to for advice on how to take cuttings (among many, many, many other matters) – takes a different approach to things.
Insisting that late autumn is to best time to prune climbing roses, Monty explains that 'climbing roses flower on shoots grown the same spring so they can be pruned hard now'.
Rambling roses, on the other hand, 'produce their flowers on shoots grown the previous summer so should only be pruned immediately after flowering,' he adds.
Christopher O'Donoghue, one of the co-directors of Gardens Revived, also considers October to be the best time for anyone trying to suss out when to prune a climbing rose.
A gardener with over a decade of experience under his belt, Christopher set up Gardens Revived with his brother, Andrew, in 2018 to create a thriving family business. Together, they have worked on residential gardens, listed buildings and gardens, flower shows and large estates with some exceeding 70 acres – many with historical significance.
'Late autumn marks the end of the growing season for roses in the UK as the weather starts to cool down,' explains Christopher.
'Pruning at this time allows the plant to focus its energy on root development rather than new growth, which is important for winter hardiness and overall plant health – and it also helps remove any remaining diseased or dead wood from the plant, reducing the risk of diseases while overwintering.'
If you're still mulling over when to prune a climbing rose, it's good to know that doing so in late autumn helps to reduce the risk of frost damage, helping to improve the overall look of the plant come the following spring/summer.
Your pruning equipment:
Felco's range of secateurs have been hailed as the ultimate gardening gadget for any amateur horticulturalist, and they're perfect for pruning climbing roses.
Still, it might be worth considering a pair of loppers if you need to cut back anything thicker than your finger, adds Christopher.
'While late autumn is generally a suitable time for pruning climbing roses in the UK, it's important to keep in mind that specific pruning practices can vary depending on the type of climbing rose and local climate conditions,' adds Christopher.
'Always refer to the specific guidelines provided for the particular rose variety you have, and adjust your pruning schedule accordingly if necessary.'
When should climbing roses be pruned?
Steve Chilton, garden expert from LeisureBench, says the best time to prune climbing roses is over the winter.
"The best time to routinely prune climbing roses is after the flowers have faded,' he says. 'This usually falls somewhere between December and February, although this can extend to March.'
Fiona Jenkins, gardening expert at MyJobQuote.co.uk, agrees, noting that 'climbing roses can be pruned any time between December and February, after flowering has finished for the season'.
'Pruning while the rose isn’t in leaf means you can easily see which shoots are damaged or dying,' she adds.
However, if you want to take the Monty Don (and Gardens Revived!) approach, you'd be best to bring your pruning schedule forward a little, and tackle your climbing roses over October and November.
How hard can you cut back a climbing rose?
With climbing roses, you can usually be a bit more aggressive than you'd think when it comes to cutting back.
'When it comes to pruning a climbing rose, it's best to start with the three Ds,' says Christopher. 'Dead, diseased, and damaged – always start with these areas first.'
Monty Don agrees, noting that you can 'start by removing any damaged or crossing growth or any very old wood, which can be cut back right back to the ground.'
He adds that the 'main stems should be fanned out at an equidistance as horizontally as possible, tying them to wires or a trellis'. Then, once this is done, you can turn your attention to all the side shoots growing from these main stems, and cut them back to a short stub of a couple of leaves.
'The effect should be a tracery of largely horizontal growth with pruned side-shoots running along their length,' explains Monty, who says you should always finish things off by tying everything firmly in to avoid winter damage.
How do you prune an old overgrown climbing rose?
Again, you'll want to stick to the three Ds, and begin by cutting back all dead, diseased, dying and weak shoots on your climbing rose.
'Once this is done, you can cut back some of the old woody branches right down to the ground, but try to keep around 5-6 of the youngest stems and secure them to supports,' says Christopher.
'Reduce the tips by under half (just over a third), and make sure you remove away dead stumps at the base of your climbing rose, as these can become rotten and spread disease.'
What is the difference between a climbing rose and a rambling rose?
'Rambling roses tend to flower just the once, but you get one hell of a big display out of them,' says Christopher.
'Climbing roses, on the other hand, tend to flower throughout the summer and autumn months – which means that you'll need to deadhead them regularly if you want lots of beautiful blooms.'
As always, there are exceptions to this rule, so be sure to check any instructions around your variety.
What happens if you don't prune climbing roses?
To prune or not to prune? When it comes to climbing roses, the former is always true, as leaving these flowering plants to their own devices usually leads to a tangled mess of branches with very few flowers.
Can I prune a climbing rose in June?
As stressed already, it is best to prune your climbing roses in the winter (or late autumn, after the flowers have faded) as this is when the plant enters its dormant phase. Pruning in the spring can damage the new growth, while pruning in the summer can remove the flower buds and diminish the bloom time.
Essentially, June is a no-go for pruning your climbing roses. Sorry!
With that in mind, then, we hope you know exactly when to prune a climbing rose going forward.
Good luck, and wrap up warm!
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Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.
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