Often people say to me “Don’t you stop working in the winter?” and are surprised when I answer that the winter is as busy a season as any other. The main issue with winter is tailoring the jobs to the weather.

So what needs doing in December? Number one is the big prune of the roses. The “how much to prune roses back?” question has varying answers depending on the source you refer to as well as which rose type you wish to prune.
When I was studying for my horticulture qualification we were taught to prune shrub roses back to roughly 20cm from the ground or main stem, depending on their age and previous pruning. The reason we prune roses low this time of year is to protect the roots from wind rock. This is exactly as it sounds the strong winds in the winter can knock rose bushes around loosening their roots.

First remove all dead, dying, diseased and damaged stems (you do this for any shrub or tree that you prune). Then clean your secateurs with diluted household disinfectant so that you don’t transfer any infections to the health part of the plant. I use a spray bottle and an old tea towel to clean the tools.

You need to prune the stem, with sharp secateurs, to a node with a bud. The cut needs to slant downwards to prevent water collecting and rotting the stem, but the bottom of the slant needs to face away from the bud, so as not to rot the bud. You need to make sure you cut the plant with the blade of the secateurs and the piece of plant to be discarded has the anvil, please don’t hesitate to ask me about this if it’s news to you, many people (including Monty Don) do not know about this pretty important technique.

What is a node? A node is the area of the stem where the bud forms. Stems grow in segments, budding area (node), growth area (internode) budding area and so on. Rosebuds rotate around the stem one maybe on the top, next on the left, next maybe underneath and then on the right. When cutting to a node choose carefully, you want the new branch to grow out and away from the plant, not into the middle or towards the next door branch where they may rub and damage each other over time. Shrub roses are traditionally goblet shaped for a reason, to allow air to circulate through the plant and to give branches room to grow.

What if the required bud is dead? Knock it off and a new one should grow.
When cutting to the node be careful not to cut too close and damage the growing area of the node, 1cm above the node will be fine. Shrubs pruned.

What next? Clear any dead leaves, especially if they’ve got black spot, away from the base of the plant and then add a layer of compost or manure if you didn’t do this in autumn and if the ground is not too cold, otherwise you are locking in the cold to your soil.

Climbing and rambling roses need pruning differently. A rambling rose will produce flowers on last year’s growth so if you cut it back now you won’t have any flowers next year. Prune a rambler after flowering to the area you wish it to inhabit. Climbers can be pruned back now but don’t have to be, often these two roses have some sort of support around them, a wall or an archway that will give them enough protection from wind rock, but check them in December if you didn’t check them in autumn when removing fallen leaves and applying mulch (compost or manure).

What else needs doing?
Clear leaves of borders. They are an excellent place for slugs and other pests and diseases to live.
Take any hardwood cuttings you require from fruit bushes and shrubs.
Clean paths to prevent them from getting slippery.
This is a good time to repair any fencing or garden structures as most plants are dormant.
Clean pots and seed tray and service tools.