Ask Tom: How do I prune climbing roses at this time of 12 months?


If you love your garden but need advice on how to keep it looking lush and welcoming all year round, top head gardener Tom Brown can help. In this regular column he demystifies common gardening problems, explains what to tackle when, and shows how to make every moment on the plot more fun and productive. Happy gardening!

Dear Tom,

How do I prune climbing roses at this time of year?

There are two pruning jobs in the garden at West Dean that attract more attention than any other: fruit pruning and the management of our climbing and rambling roses.

It seems that we become nervous and mystified by climbing roses, but they are a lot simpler to prune than you may think. The main reason for picking up the secateurs is to remove any dead or diseased stems and maintain a healthy and vigorous plant which encourages a strong flowering performance – trust me, it’s not rocket science.

When pruning roses, aim to make a slightly sloping cut above a strong bud with the base of the cut opposite the bud on the stem.

When it comes to climbers and rambling roses, I treat them both the same and prune in February because it is easy to see the growth and make those judgments about what to remove and what to tie in. (Some advocate pruning ramblers in the summer, but I’ve had no problems with a February prune and the job is a lot more civilized without all those leaves.)

Rambling roses tend to flower early and in one brilliant flush, whereas climbers can repeat-flower throughout the summer in a less dramatic fashion. For the first few years, simply tie in growth and keep the rose fed and watered – avoid any dramatic pruning at this early stage as we are establishing a framework. Tying in the stems in a more horizontal position will reduce vigor and encourage more flowers.

When the rose is a few years old, first reduce any side shoots to a couple of buds from where they branch off the long stems. Remember to remove any dead wood as you go. Tie in those long stems at a horizontal angle, allowing a little slack in the string for growth.

Ultimately, I try to achieve a fountain shape with a clear center and remove a few older stems at the base to encourage replacement shoots. By removing and replacing a couple of stems each year, we constantly rejuvenate the rose to achieve a healthy and productive climber.

Jenny Barnes, head gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall and Gardens in Northamptonshire, has a great Instagram account (@niff_barnes) where she creatively pushes rose pruning boundaries to great effect.