From the Horse's Mouth . . .
I have long felt that one of the greatest disservices done to the rose community was the column inches given to a Royal Horticultural Society head gardener's comments about 'pruning trials at the National Rose Society'. You've all seen and heard them, or the praise given them by other lazy or incompetent rosarians, as an excuse to butcher their clients plants.
Now read on :
'I have just read 'Roses:Myths and Facts' (The Garden March, p 176-179).
Charles Quest-Ritson states: ' A rough clip with hedgetrimmers gives better results than traditional pruning methods'. This is rubbish. In fact, I consider hedgetrimmer pruning to be wanton vandalism - and I can prove it.
At the time of the experimental pruning trials at the Royal National Rose Society I did most of the testing and pruning. We put aside 12 beds of roses and divided them into three sections: 'A' for hedgetrimming, 'B' for light pruning and 'C' for normal pruning.
The first result for 'A' was that it took longer. Although we went straight across the tops of the bushes, it took a great deal of back-breaking labour to clear up the cuttings. The second result was that, although 'A' flowered earlier, the roses were a poor standard and quality.
Disease spread amongst these weaker plants in trial 'A' and began to infect other beds. We conducted a normal spraying programme, but were unable to contain disease. Dieback was also a major problem. By the next Spring the roses looked even weaker.
We persisted with the hedgecutting trial for a few years, with the plants getting weaker and weaker. Eventually we were forced to remove the poor, pathetic things and replace them with healthy plants pruned with traditional methods.
Because of the results of the hedgetrimming experiment, and the weak, disease-prone roses it produced, we lost 11 beds out of 12. The only cultivar to survive the savagery was 'Mullard Jubilee' and even that had to be cut back hard to ensure its survival.
The claim Charles Quest-Ritson makes that you cannot underprune a rose, but can kill it by overpruning is just tosh. I suggest he talks with experts like Tony Bracegirdle, National Rose Champion for many years. Experienced growers like him have traditionally pruned with marvellous results.
David Bartlett, Norfolk.'
The Garden August 2007