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Reviving an old lanky rose

  • Reviving an old lanky rose
  • Reviving an old lanky rose

Last year, one of my ad hoc Clients asked me about a rose in her garden: it was an old one, had been there for donkey's years, and it only had one upright stem, five feet tall, brown and stout, with a tuft of flowers on the top. She asked how she could force it to make some new growth, lower down, so that she could get back to have a “bush” rather than a “lollipop”.

The usual answers are firstly to take cuttings from the newer growth, in order to grow on a new plant, but that can take years to get to a decent size: or to prune the rose hard, in order to promote growth lower down: I've done both of these with success.

But this time I suggested that we try tying it down: this is an old technique, I've never seen it done, but I found a reference to it in a very old gardening book.

The principle is simple: to force the rose to make new shoots lower down, you have to bend the whole stem over, as close to horizontal as possible.

This prompts the dormant buds along the stem to burst into life, and is exactly the same principle as fan-training shrub roses, fruit trees or small climbers: you make them go horizontally for as long as possible, instead of letting them shoot up to the sky.

The actual bending was quite nerve-wracking: what if I broke the stem? What if it split? This rose was an old and much-loved one, with sentimental value.... I explained the risks to the Client, I told her that if the stem broke, I would cut it off, which would be the same as the normal “hard prune” that I would otherwise have done, but that there was still a risk that the plant would not survive - and she was brave enough to tell me to go ahead.

Luckily, I didn't have to bang a peg into the ground as there was a handy tree stump to tie it to: so I scraped away some of the soil, in order to help the bending process, and started leaning the plant over.

To my relief, it went straight down like a slow-motion skittle, so I tied it to the stump, and went away and left it.

Last week I was back in that garden again, nearly a year to the day later, and lo! and behold, the rose had put up two lovely strong new shoots, one from right down at the base (“perfect!”), the second one from about a foot further along the stem.

Each new stem flowered well: had I been there during the summer, I would have cut those new stems both down to ankle height, to get more branches, but hey ho, it's a start!

As it's well into autumn now, I have left the old stem tied down for one more winter, and have instructed the Client to cut it off early next spring, as close as possible to the new shoots, which should also, at that time, be cut right down (I have also suggested that they cut back the Thuja hedge a bit more forcefully, to give the rose some more room!), and to water it well in spring, to promote new growth.

Hopefully, next year there will be more strong new shoots, and this rose will be revived: and I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this technique?

Comments (4)

  1. Grower

    Winifred Field

    Isn't it nice when something works well! As the comedian used to say "the old ones are the best"!

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Winifred, yes, it was quite a thrill to go back there after a year and see it working so beautifully. The book was published in 1938, and the section in question was to address "old and ungainly roses", which is a nice way of putting it!

  3. Grower


    We used this method on Lady Hillingdon a few years ago....I believe, Jack Vass from Clivedon (The Astors) moved to Sissinghurst in 1939 and started it there, where they still use the method on all their roses to this day......

  4. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Angela (waves), I'm assuming that Lady Hillingdon is a rose!!!

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