Pruning Sweet Briar Roses
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Jean Detheux
Posted: Before April 1998

Some years ago, I purchased several Sweet Briar Rose plants from you. They are doing very well and seem to need pruning. Is there a special way to do so as these roses "act" and look very different from any other roses I am presently growing. In fact, I remember "eglantiers" in my youth in Europe (Belgium) as large bushes forming fences around pastures.

Every single plant we have received from you over the years has more than survived, it has thrived. Thank you.

Sweet briar roses (Rosa rubiginosa; formerly, R. eglanteria) are shrub roses growing 2-3 metres (6-9 feet) high. They can be pruned much the same way as standards: in early spring cut out all weak and diseased canes to the ground and cut healthy canes back to live wood (as indicated by the white pith in the stems). The plants are grown on their own roots so removing understock suckers is not necessary. Roses grown on their own roots also tend to last longer than grafted roses.

The sweet briar rose is famous among roses for its scent – not of the flowers, but of the foliage. The scent is strongly reminiscent of apples. Here is what Margaret Grieve says about the sweet briar rose in her classic, "A Modern Herbal":

"Its fragrance of foliage is peculiarly its own and has lead to it holding a cherished place in many old gardens. Under its older name of Eglantine its praises have been sung by poets.

"It takes a shower to bring out the full sweetness of Sweet Briar, when its strong and refreshing fragrance will fill the air and be borne a long distance by the breeze. Though the leaves are so highly odorous, the flowers are almost entirely without scent."

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