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Climbing Roses

A rose by any other name is still a rose & that includes the climbing & rambler types.  Roses are the most popular, the most beautiful, sometimes the most fragrant, & the one flower that triggers more fond memories than any other.  Climbing & rambling roses have been around for centuries.  Our first thoughts of a climbing rose might take us back to Grandma’s, or of a fine rose in a well manicured garden of note.  It could have a cluster bloom, or a solitary blossom resembling a hybrid tea.  They might scramble across the ground, or up into a tree, arching down over a pergola, or looping over a stone wall.  It could be a beautiful red rose on a white trellis in a neighbors’ yard or better yet one of your own.

A climber, or a rambler, is differentiated from other roses by the length of their canes.  Some hybrid tea, grandiflora, & David Austin roses can be used as short climbers because their canes are longer than 6 feet.  There are miniature climbing roses too (perfect for containers).

A true climber has tendrils, rootlets or twines.  No rose is a true climber.  Their canes do not cling nor twine.  The canes have to be tied, or attached, to a support system of some type.  Canes will vary in length from 6 to even as long as 30 feet depending on the rose.  This is definitely a case for the right plant in the right place!

Blooms vary too. Some are clusters with many small blooms & might bloom only once a season.  Occasionally they may bloom sporadically or again in the fall.  Many of the older roses fall into that category.  Newer introductions are repeat bloomers.  Single blossoms can be multi-petaled, or a single layer of petals.  Some blooms last only a day, others 5-7 days or longer.  Others bloom all along the cane at the same time.

Height is a welcome component in every garden & fortunately the climbing rose fills that need.  They do not require any more ground space than other roses.  Their canes can be used as ground covers on banks (an often overlooked option).  The Lady Banks rose is especially useful for this purpose because not only is it a rambunctious climber, it is evergreen, & tolerates a fair amount of shade.  (The Lady Banks blooms in early spring along the stem, certain cultivars are fragrant, & come in white & the more common double yellow form.)  A wonderful rose, easily tied to a pillar on a pergola, & allowed to spill over in a yellow waterfall.  One of the nicest things about this rose is its thornless habit.

Climbers & ramblers bloom better if the canes are bent, or are on a more horizontal plane that when growing straight skyward.  This makes them perfect to secure to fences or drape over stone walls.  Twisting the canes around a pillar or trellis in a spiral pattern accomplishes the same result.

Canes need to be attached to something to prevent them from thrashing about in the wind (which has a detrimental effect on the roots).  If allowed to grow unchecked they can become a hazard to those who pass by too closely (unless they are ground covers).  Using strips of cotton cloth or white kitchen twine keeps them in bounds & makes for a neater appearance, & is more eco friendly.  Green twist ties, twine etc blends into the landscape better & can be purchased at your favorite garden center.

Combining climbing roses with other vines is a common practice.  A popular pairing of plants is roses &  clematis.  The clematis roots appreciates the shade the rose gives it, both thrive in a sunny location, & both like some lime in their soil.  Chosing complimentary colors is suggested as they might bloom at the same time.  Often they are on different bloom schedules.  If that is the case you can get 3 or 4 bursts of color adding to a longer season of interest.

Rambling roses are often asked for but few are available.  The Fairy is probably the best known rose that can sometimes be considered a rambler.  It is a polyantha (2-4 ‘).  The polyantha class of rose includes dwarf roses with small flowers in dense clusters, & they are sometimes called “baby” ramblers.)  .  Its’ growth habit is unpredictable.  Usually sold as a short rose there is a climbing sport that stretches 8-12 feet.  It is noted for its petite, double, baby pink, clustered blooms that keep their color well when dried.

Other things to consider when growing roses: 1) Their care is very similar to other roses (see the rose article).   2) Pruning will depend on the age & growth habit.  Never remove more than 1/3 at a time.  Remove older, thick canes periodically.  Some of the new types can be pruned significantly every February.  3) Trellises should harmonize with the color of the bloom.  Red looks fabulous on white, any light color goes nicely on brick, all show well on a natural, black, or green background.

Jean Tracy