Climbing roses can make a big impact in the garden. These aggressive growers will add interest to sunny, vertical structures and are capable of growing many feet per season even in poor soil. Climbers can transform any bare wall or fence into a tapestry of blooms but only if you train and prune them correctly. Roses left to their own devices can quickly overtake your garden with thorny, untidy growth that's difficult to control. However, with the proper start and regular maintenance, climbing roses can be a glorious garden backdrop.
When to Train and Prune Climbing Roses
When you first plant your climbing rose bush, wait a year or two before training and pruning to let the plant overcome any transplant shock. During this time, your rose bush will put on some bulk. You can remove unsightly canes, but otherwise let the plant go wild with long growth. It will be this long growth that you will train and prune in the plant's second or third year.
Each spring, cut off sick, dead, or damaged canes. But be aware that brown branches are not necessarily dead; they might just be old and woody. If these canes are alive but weak and produced few blooms in the past year, consider removing them.
Also, cut canes that don't fit into your design plan in the spring. New major canes will often grow from suckers at the plant's base or from another major cane. These canes are often difficult to train in the existing direction of your design. If you wish, snip them off at the base as part of your spring plant maintenance.
Furthermore, tie up new major canes as needed for training. These canes can be used to replace dead ones, or they can be directed to a new area of growing space.
Equipment / Tools
- Thick gloves
- Hand pruners
- Hedge shears
- Jute garden twine or plant tape
- A large (6x6 ft) fence
Select a Structural Support for Your Rose Plant
Choose a structure of appropriate height, width, and strength to support your roses. Something around 6 feet by 6 feet in a material that's sturdier than plastic is generally ideal. Some options include a fence made of horizontal wires strung tightly between posts, a tall trellis supported by a house wall, or an armature screwed into masonry.
Choose and Train Major Canes
One by one, select healthy and large canes, or stems, and bend them onto the structure. Secure each one with twine or tape. Bend the canes as horizontally as the structure and each cane's direction permit.
Continue Training Canes to Suit Your Plan
How you select and attach the rest of the canes comes down to your design plan. You can attach them, so at least one is situated in each direction. For example, you might have seven canes radiating out on a chain-link fence. You can also choose canes to attach to each rail of a wooden fence.
Trim Growth That Extends Beyond Your Planned Area
Once you've trained your major canes, trim off any ends that extend higher or wider than your support structure. You also can remove unmanageable canes that did not fit into your design plan.
Prune the Rose Plant Each Spring
Each year before the plant leaves out, trim your rose plant's shoots, so only a few nodes extend past the structural canes. Also, refasten the major canes to the structure if necessary. Continue to check that everything is securely fastened throughout the year, so no damage to the plant or structure occurs.
As with any flowering plant, deadheading (or pinching off) spent blooms can keep your roses fresh and lead to more flowers. 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 often not worth it.
Climbing Rose Training and Pruning Tips
Don't plan on using the cheap plastic trellis 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 your chosen structure will be large and sturdy 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. Prune back shoots that have flowered by around two-thirds to promote more blooms.
Pruning - Our Rose Garden. University of Illinois Extension