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 initial training and regular maintenance pruning, climbing roses can be a glorious garden backdrop.
What Is a Climbing Rose?
Rose varieties that have canes that are too long and flexible to support themselves upright without artificial support are often known as climbing roses. In reality, this group comprises two different types of roses, known as climbing roses and rambling roses. Climbing roses include those types that grow 6 to 12 feet long with relatively large single or clustered flowers. The canes on climbing roses are fairly stiff and well suited for attaching to trellises or fences.
Rambling roses are more unruly plants, growing as much 20 feet tall—considerably larger than climbers. They have very flexible canes that will grow through trees and bushes, or which can be trained to arch over tall gateways or to cover large walls. The flowers on ramblers are generally smaller, grouped in large sprays.
When to Train and Prune Climbing Roses
A climbing or rambling rose is ready to begin training in the spring of its second or third year, after it has fully overcome any transplant shock. During this time, your rose bush will have put on some decent bulk sufficient for training. While you can remove unsightly canes during the first years, you should otherwise let the plant go fairly wild with long growth. It is this long growth that you will train in the spring of the plant's second or third year.
Before You Get Started
Successfully growing a climbing or rambling rose is a combination of tying up the canes to conform to a structure you've erected or a design you have in mind, along with trimming the plant to remove any growth that interferes with the goal.
Ideally, you have planted your climbing rose adjacent to a trellis, wall, or other structure intended to support the plant. If not, then such a structure should be built before you begin training the rose.
After the initial tying up of canes, proper training and pruning consist of an annual springtime routine of removing diseased or damaged canes, or those old woody canes that have stopped producing ample flowers, combined with trimming back the secondary canes to stimulate new flowering shoots. 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. But where necessary, you can retain selected new canes to replace dead ones or to fill in a new area of the design.
Watch Now: Tips and Tricks for Pruning Roses
Equipment / Tools
- Thick work gloves
- Hand pruners
- Hedge shears
- Jute garden twine or vinyl plant tape
- Support structure (trellis, etc.)
Select a Structural Support
Choose a structure of appropriate height, width, and strength to support your roses. A trellis or wall around 6 x 6 feet in size, built from a fairly sturdy material (not plastic) is generally ideal. Some easy DIY 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.
Select and Secure the Major Canes
One by one, select healthy, large stems (canes), and bend them onto the structure. Secure each cane with loosely tied pieces of fiber twine or vinyl tape. Avoid metal wires or other hard ties, which can constrict the canes and damage them.
Make the bends as sharp as possible, but take care not to crimp the canes, which will kill them. With large, thick canes, the shaping is sometimes best accomplished by gradually bending them to the desired angle over a course of several days or even weeks.
Give careful thought to the initial arrangement of the major canes, as this will form the basic structure of the plant for many years.
Secure the Secondary Canes
The way in which you select and attach the smaller secondary canes depends on your design plan. For example, if your goal is to cover a wall or chain-link fence, the secondary canes can be arranged to fill in spaces between the major canes. If you are training the rose to cover a gateway arch, on the other hand, you might choose to circle or weave the secondary canes around the major canes, creating a pillar-like effect.
Trim Excess Growth
Once you've secured the major and secondary canes, trim off any ends that extend higher or wider than your support structure, using hedge shears. You also can remove any unmanageable large canes that did not fit into your design plan.
Prune Each Spring
After the initial training of your climbing rose, subsequent maintenance will generally involve a yearly pruning each spring, as well as regular deadheading of spent blossoms.
Each year before the plant leafs out in spring, trim the rose's shoots, so only a few nodes extend past the major structural canes. Generally speaking, secondary shoots that flowered amply the previous year should be cut back by about two-thirds to promote more blooms.
Also, refasten the major canes to the structure if they have loosened. Continue to check that everything is securely fastened throughout the year, so no damage to the plant or structure occurs. Should you find that an old major cane has stopped producing, this can be removed entirely, replaced with a new cane with plenty of fresh green growth.
Deadhead Spent Blossoms
As with any flowering plant, deadheading (or pinching off) spent blooms can keep your roses fresh and lead to more flowers. The recommended method for deadheading roses is by clipping off the stem below the faded flower head at a point just above the first leaf with five leaflets. However, it can be fairly hard work to do this with a large climber, so many gardeners take the easier route of simply pinching off faded flower heads as they appear.
If your garden is expansive and the task seems too big, leaving the deadheads is rarely an eyesore. Climbing roses can be enormous plants, and a few faded blossoms are not a detraction.