How to Train and Prune Climbing Roses

A pink climbing rose against a red brick wall

Acabashi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Climbing roses make a big impact in the garden. These aggressive growers add accent to sunny, vertical walls and are capable of growing many feet per season, even in poor soil. Climbers can transform any bare wall, unsightly fence, or thicket of weeds into a tapestry of blooms, but only if you train and prune them correctly. Roses left to their own devices can soon overtake your garden with thorny, untamable growth that's impossible (and downright painful) to control. However, with a proper start and regular maintenance, climbing roses make a glorious garden backdrop.

When to Train and Prune Climbing Roses

When you first plant your climbing rose bush, wait a year or two to let your plant overcome any transplant shock. During this time, your rose bush will put on some bulk, requiring minimal pruning. You can remove unmanageable canes, but otherwise, let the rose go wild with long growth. It will be this long growth that you will train and prune in year two or three.

What to Train and Prune

After the initial growth period of one to two years, your bush will have canes that are very long and extend in many directions. Training these major canes will coax the plant to grow in the direction you prefer and help maintain the structure.

In subsequent years, flowering shoots will form off of the major canes. These shoots should be pruned each year to allow for the proliferation of blooms.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Total Time: Several years
  • Material Cost: Up to $100, depending on the chosen support

Equipment/Tools

  • Heavy leather gloves (to protect yourself from thorns)
  • Hand pruners
  • Hedge shears

Materials

  • A large (6-foot by 6-foot) fence or strong support
  • Jute garden twine or plant tape

Instructions

  1. Select a Structural Support for Your Rose Plant

    Choose a structure of appropriate height, width, and, most importantly, strength to support your roses. A fence made of horizontal wires strung tight between posts—like an espalier—is typical. Other options include a cheap and easy-to-build steel wire fence, a tall trellis supported by a house wall, or an armature screwed into masonry.

  2. Choose and Train Major Canes

    One by one, select healthy and large canes, bend them into the structure, and secure each one with twine or tape. Bend the cane as horizontally as your space and the cane's direction permit.

  3. Continue Training Canes to Suit Your Plan

    Select major canes so that you have at least one that is situated in each direction (for example, seven canes radiating out on a chain-link fence). You can also choose canes to attach to each rail on a wood fence.

  4. Trim Growth That Extends Beyond Your Planned Area

    Once you've trained your major canes, trim off any ends that extended higher or wider than your support structure.

  5. Prune the Rose Plant Each Spring

Each year, before the plant leaves out, trim your rose plant's shoots so that only a few nodes extend past the structural canes. Also, refasten the major canes to the structure, if required.

Climbing Rose Training and Pruning Tips

Don't plan on using the cheap plastic trellis that your climbing rose came packaged with. It will be crushed under the weight of a full year of growth. Instead, think about the shape you want the plant to take, and make sure the structure will be large enough to accommodate long-term growth.

When training your climbing rose, keep in mind that the major canes (the structural part of the plant—won't produce many flowers. Instead, the canes will throw out shoots full of blooms. If the canes are trained horizontally, they will send out more shoots, yielding more flowers.

Working With Climbing Roses

Each spring, cut off weak, dead, or damaged canes. The brown branches are not necessarily dead though; they may just be old and woody. If canes are alive, but weak, and produced very few blooms last year, consider removing them.

Also, train and tie up new major canes, as needed. These canes can be used to replace any dead ones or they can be directed to a new area of growing space.

Lastly, cut unneeded canes in the spring. New major canes will often form from as suckers at the plant's base or from bolting growth on a major cane. Snip them off at the base as part of regular plant maintenance.

Deadheading Roses (Optional)

As with any flowering plant, deadheading spent blooms keeps your garden fresh and leads to more flowers. And it's easy to do if you take the imprecise route and pick off random heads, as you would for a floribunda rose. However, if your garden is expansive and the task seems too big, leaving the deadheads is rarely an eyesore. Climbing roses aren’t meant to be viewed up-close, making the extra work of deadheading hardly worth it.