From the Horse's Mouth . . .

jon_in_wessex(z8/9 UK)October 23, 2007

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

Best wishes


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buford(7 NE GA)

Thank you Jon. I had a few people tell me they were now going to take up roses since they could hedge prune them. I told them no, but of course who am I compared to the Royal Horticulture Society.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 1:55PM
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iowa_jade(C 5b H 6)

Even the hedges at our church, I prune using hand pruners. It looks more relaxed and soft.

Now, I must admit our club did, one year, use hedge clippers for some highway roses planted around a band shell, but that was followed up with hand pruners. We also found the clean up took longer than usual as you stated.

Back to the tried & true.



    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 2:41PM
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Thanks, Jon, for debunking the RNRS pruning myth.

Rose societies have undertaken the mission of making roses less mysterious to the uninformed gardener. The predominant North American pruning myth I see appears to be prune everything to knee high. Poor Peace, Climbing. In parts of the eastern seaboard, they like to do it in fall.

The hedge trimmer idea never had much attraction. I assumed you Brits had superior magical mystical hedge trimmers. Our electric and even high-powered gas trimmers leave many shredded branches. In our rainy coastal spring weather, shredded canes are an invitation to crippling fungal and bacterial dieback disease. Imagine trying to curb the spread of stem canker using hedge trimmers.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 2:46PM
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Maryl zone 7a

Thank you for the post. I hadn't considered doing it to my roses, but was aware of the "new" approach to puning as espoused by the RHS. It reminded me of the old adage modified a bit: "mow 'em all down and let God sort 'em out". Individual attention made more sense to me.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 2:58PM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

Thank you, Jon.
I always wondered if die-back were a problem that I had in my garden and no one else had. And I really couldn't understand how all the twiggy bits would be better by year three.
I've always felt that some of the diseases that come in with field grown and mass harvested bare root roses had cane problems that came down from the machine cut rough ends.

(who used to play Clue and suggests the perp was Col. Grapes, in the rose garden, with the hedge clippers.)

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 7:12PM
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canadian_rose(zone 3a)

That was really interesting!!!


    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 12:43AM
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Mendocino_Rose(z8 N CA.)

As I remember they said the unpruned and hedge pruned roses had more blooms. At first that sounds great but there wasn't anything said about the health of the roses or the quality of the blooms. I do think it's true though that some people over prune. I'm thinking of a public garden that I know where all roses are mercilously cut down every year. These roses are so very compromised. But that has nothing to do with the way I know you prune.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 10:53AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Thanks, Jon.

Is David Bartlett saying he participated in the trials and the actual results he observed were different from the results that were reported by the RNRS?

For those who aren't familiar with the report, I'll summarize. The roses were several varieties of HT and floribunda. Bed A was given a flattop trim with a power hedge trimmer at (as I recall) 18". Bed B was the same cut but with pruners. Although the power trimmer mangled the stems, they reported no increased dieback over the pruner treatment. They did not remove dead canes from bed A or B. After three years the roses were cleaned out and given a more severe regeneration pruning. Meanwhile, bed C was pruned traditionally. They reported counting more bloom and higher quality (larger) bloom over a three-year cycle from beds A and B vs. bed C.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 11:36AM
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jon_in_wessex(z8/9 UK)


Just being the reporter, here :) Mr Bartlett's comments appeared in the 'Letters' pages of The Garden. Perhaps a response will be forthcoming. Mr Quest-Ritson is not known for his bashfulness :)

Best wishes

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 1:51PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

The report was on the open part of the RNRS site for some years. I recall an update saying they were replanting with different varieties to continue the trial. Now almost all the site is closed to non members. It would be interesting to know if there's anything in there about it.

Will Mr. Quest-Ritson accuse Mr. Bartlett of spouting tosh and rubbish? I look forward to a report.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 4:36PM
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neroseman(6b NewEngland)

Thanks, Jon. And thanks too for the reported comments on Quest-Ritson (wink).

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 4:56PM
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Michael, I'm just back from a search through the RNRS website member sections. Not a peep...yet! Will keep checking in, though.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 5:15PM
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riku(Z3 Canada)

I doubt he replies as it strikes me as unseemly for that class member to respond to the rantings of rabble of poor breeding and bounder pretense.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 7:18PM
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jon_in_wessex(z8/9 UK)

But Riku - I talk to you, sometimes :)

Best wishes

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 1:31AM
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riku(Z3 Canada)

Where is that buzzing come from love? :-)))

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 8:31AM
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carolfm(z7upstate SC)

LOL! Y'all are too funny.

I never tried the hedge clippers because it just didn't make sense to me despite the prevailing opinion by some "knowledgeable" people. Correct pruning makes for beautiful bushes.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 8:53AM
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LOL! I pray you, go on Jon and Michael, it is such a fun to read this! Please, please, please continue....

(A year ago a Mexican guy offered to help me: to use a gas trimmer to butcher the roses in an hour for a petty $100. He wasn't joking either about the hedge trimmer or the hourly wage. I thought that he was joking. I swear he never heard about RNRS; it's also true that he knew nothing about roses either but was very proud of having a power hedge trimmer.)

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 6:41PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Actually this is important news if true. But I'm baffled as to how the RNRS would put out a false or premature report, give it wide publicity, and then fail to retract it for a decade.

There are several theoretical points at issue. One is whether leaving stubs leads to dieback. In my experience it does not, except down to the first viable growth point. But maybe in some circumstances it does.

Another is whether a plant is better off keeping lots of stems, even small ones, so as to produce a maximum amount of foliage to gather sunlight and fuel growth and bloom. Small stems of modern bush roses are usually injured by winter in my climate, so I don't have much experience bearing on that.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 9:42AM
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iowa_jade(C 5b H 6)

We used hand pruners and not the buzzy ones; gas or electric. I think that the highway roses were thankful of any attention at all. It seems odd to have these type of roses growing in RRD heaven. If one visits the lovely gardens in Dubuque, Iowa the roadsides of the downtown interstates are covered with Knockouts and other like roses. Ames, Iowa (cow college- some of my best friends studied or are studying there -- sorry an old joke!) is a hop skip & a jump away.

Also, it brings to mind "my" habit of popping the spent blooms, which may or may not be followed up with DW's not so tender hand pruners.

If we are growing the roses for the show table of course we are going for MAX size, straight long stems and appearance, etc. HTs & FL were in the test group and not the shrub roses or OGRs that we have in abundance, I believe.

I am just trying to keep this alive until we have some response from Quest-Ritson or one of his supporters. I do like the fact that in some of his books on roses, Quest-Ritson does indicate if a rose would be better grown own root or grafted. This is one thing that is often asked on this forum.

If global warming continues we may all be visiting King Riku if he lives on a big enought hill.



Here is a link that might be useful: Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens at Marshall Park

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 11:08AM
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jon_in_wessex(z8/9 UK)

I understand that, in order to make the second edition of the American Rose Society's 'Encyclopedia of Roses' more acceptable to American readers, authorship is credited to one 'Chuck Quest'.

I hope that will make ya'll feel better :)

Best wishes

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 1:31PM
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jim_w_ny(Zone 5a)

As you may have noticed I've been a big booster of "that" book. However not impressed with the one on Clmbers by Chuck. Is Brigid the more knowledgable of the two? I've suspected that for awhile.

Then there is that old saying that goes something like "a wise man is someone far from home". Maybe so in this case.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 6:27PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Chuck Quest???? Oh dear, what must they all think of us over there?


P.S. This is not gleaned from any scientific trials, but I do think that roses "know" when they are being treated as individuals, with respect for their unique quirks. Knockout and Celine Forestier were NOT created equal.....

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 7:55PM
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No Chuck's in the British Isles, eh? Hmm, didn't know that.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2007 at 11:32PM
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jon_in_wessex(z8/9 UK)

It has a certain ring to it - kind of defines the personality, like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon . . .

Yes, Jim, I seem to remember Brigid is/was a leading light of the Historic Roses Group of the RNRS. Charles wrote an excellent book on Olives of the World. I think he's waiting for the American Olive Society to endorse it :)

Following your recent ergonomic criteria for ranking rose tomes, where does the 'Climbing Roses' fit in? I would guess that there are more words per pound, but the lower overall weight makes for a more comfortable bedtime reading experience. However, it lacks the satisfying 'kerrthump' of the Encyclopedia or Botanica when it hits the opposite wall :) There should be a formula. (With great minds like Michael's reading this, I am struggling for a measure of scientific credibility here).

Perhaps our future King will take QR's lead and make 'Chuck' a name to be reckoned with in these his Isles.

Ingrid, we loves ya!

Best wishes

ps Oh, and regarding the subject - as two of my firmest dislikes are 'beds of roses' and Hybrid Teas in general, my preferred pruning method is a severe reduction - about two inches below soil level should do it:)

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 5:18AM
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buford(7 NE GA)

Now if it was Johnny Quest, you may have a best seller there.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 7:47AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

The US press customariy refers to the Prince of Wales as Charles Philip Arthur George "Chuck" Mountbatten-Windsor.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 9:28AM
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jim_w_ny(Zone 5a)

My hybrid teas don't require pruning at all, dead to ground no matter what. But very funny Jon. Olives, gad. And Botanica is impossible to read in bed. I need to work out more!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 10:41AM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

With some trepidation I do admit to owning Chuck's Climbing Roses. I bought it on the internet for a few dollars for the photographs. It also makes a fairly good doorstop.....


    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 12:11PM
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riku(Z3 Canada)

I did acquire chuck's book on climbers, unfortunately I only made it to about page 3 due to a combination of it did not work for me as interesting and mainly "what climbers in zone 3" epiphanies ... but to be really sinful I chucked out a book by a highly regarded Isle person's relative as trifle. Though must confess his book is really the only one I predominately use as a reference and GST's when I feel a need to get into the thick of it and come out totally confused as to origins of roses and what group a rose should belong to.

As to Chuck The Black Prince, very distant of the true Long Shanks line - that died out though his solutions to national issues has not seemed to - my kind of royalty as he is totally out there on the gardening edge and besides all good "Cornish" soil he owns anyways. Now if only to find a way to be ceded his Duchy and title - he can have the millions it brings - for retirement along with St Michaels Mount as a quaint retirement villa ... the idea of a salty moat between home and the folk appeals though I might part the waters and drop the gate for Michael.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 2:44PM
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I also ordered this book on climbers - just weeks ago when it was bashed; I ordered it along with an American author's book on climbers.
I got the American's book sooner, so I started reading it one evening. On one of the very first pages I read Cl. Queen Elizabeth as recommended; so I closed the book for now. I do not intend to defend 'Chuck' but it seems that everybody makes mistakes.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 2:53PM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

Ceterum, I agree with you about the mistakes, which I think most of us have found in many rose books, with the possible exception of Graham Stuart Thomas, but how many rosarians can be compared to him? I can't even comment about Q-R's mistakes because the book was too boring for me to peruse it deeply. What I look for is the writer's "voice" which includes passion, knowledge, readability and just plain likability, the latter of which can be found in many different forms. So perhaps it is a very personal thing. More experienced people than I can find all the mistakes and, honestly, if there are many one simply does lose respect for that person as an author and authority in his field. That seems only natural to me.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 7:19PM
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iowa_jade(C 5b H 6)

Jon, looks like you are on a roll. Keep those pruners sharpened.

My Uncle Chucky died in the Korean war. Chucky is a good name.

Better than Chuck---so formal.


    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 12:22PM
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I have the great pleasure of looking after a garden designed by and mainly planted with David Austin Roses in U.K. with both informal and formal beds and hedges totaling some 900 plants.

Due to the size and time constraints involved I have introduced a pruning and deadheading regime mainly using handheld hedgeshears.

The hedges are reduced from 6/7feet to 2 feet every Dec.,A 50 metre hedge takes less than an hour to prune; and shrubs by approx. 50% around the same time. The plants are then speedheaded with the handshears after the first flush is over. This induces an exceptional amount of new growth.

The results have been spectacular; the hedges flower top to bottom with generous sized blooms, the borders are a riot of healthy, vigorous exhibition quality flowers;and dieback and other disease problems are almost non existent, as a regular spraying program is employed.

I am very happy to state that from a hands-on, practical point of view the hedgecutter pruning/deadheading option works for me!

I will be pleased to supply more info. if needed.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2010 at 7:10PM
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I know this is a long-over discussion but the topic of pruning comes up again and again in our rose society, with the RNRS experiment being oft cited. Since most of us avoid using chemicals, we don't want to have to spray after any hedge-pruning, so that is seldom used. Some here advocate a form of "California pruning," basically involving summer pruning for size and light hand pruning and dead cane removal in winter. Have others found this effective?

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 10:25AM
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I think perhaps the style of pruning should take into consideration the conditions in which the roses are growing. Motorized hedge pruning is a lesson in futility here in the swamplands and leads to large, stumped, ugly canes, similar in growth to the stumped crepe myrtles that some folks love. The rose will regrow to its former size in a month or so. Roses just get big around here, and should be allowed to do so. I do deadhead and nip back diseased or out-of-bounds canes with some regularity, and it does make roses more shapely, healthy and attractive, but for the most part, if a rose wants to grow here, there isn't much you can do to prevent it. There are a great many cemetery roses that haven't seen a pair of shears in a century and still bloom like gangbusters.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 11:21AM
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I agree that many of the antiques that only have the dead wood removed take on beautiful shapes. I have been getting more polyanthas recently with the hopes of letting them grow naturally with minimal pruning.

After reading about the person who went to the emergency room after using a hedge trimmer, I haven't wanted to try one on anything.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 12:43AM
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Aya Shagoury

Yeah, I agree, Power trimmer pruning doesn't seem to be the best method.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 7:41AM
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Campanula UK Z8

Feh, we have taken a chainsaw to some of ours, although I prefer a razor sharp Silky

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 12:08PM
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prickles(Los Angeles, CA)

This is too funny! Poor Chuck! LOL!

This post was edited by prickles on Thu, Jan 2, 14 at 3:28

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 11:45PM
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idixierose(z8b Coastal SC)

I use a mixed approach to pruning our roses --

With roses, I use a power trimmer gently, with an eye to creating a natural shape. It's a useful tool at times for cutting a shrub down to size. Afterward, you can refine the haircut. OTOH, hand pruning is just about as quick and cleanup is not as messy.

The tall Knockout tree roses are pruned with a long, gas-powered articulated hedge trimmer, followed by selective hand trimming. These bushes are not heavily pruned, but rather lightly trimmed to maintain the desired shape.

Most of the other mature Knockouts get pruned with non-power hedge clippers and hand trimmers. Occasionally, if I think I'm in a rush, I use the power trimmer.

All other roses -- HTs, shrubs, climbers, OGRs -- are pruned by hand.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 12:35PM
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