Roses That Climb
How to Grow and Enjoy Climbing Roses for Your Garden
By Steve Jones, Master Rosarian


There are several types of roses that grow such long canes they could be considered climbers. These include the large-flowered climbing roses (LCl ARS designation), ramblers (R), noisettes (N), ayrshires (Ayr), hybrid moyesii (HMoy), hybrid sempervirens (HSem), and many of the larger members of old garden roses (OGRs), shrubs, and even hybrid teas such as Lynn Anderson.

Any rose that puts out long canes can be used or trained as climbers. I have several OGRs, such as La Reine Victoria (1872 bourbon), Madame Hardy (1832 damask), Louise Odier (1851 bourbon), and Baronne Prévost (1842 HP) that I have trained along a wall as climbers. They take very well to this type of treatment and La Reine Victoria especially, will break all along the laterals and will have hundreds of blooms along the 15-foot plus canes.

Many of the Austin English Roses are so big, they can be used as climbers. Graham Thomas® is one exception. It is difficult to get lateral breaks on this rose unless you do some drastic pegging. Evelyn and Kathryn Morley are two of the larger Austin shrub roses that take well to being made into a climber. Leander can grow to 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, producing hundreds of blooms at one time.

The hybrid tea rose Lynn Anderson, budded, will grow to 12 feet, and takes well to pegging, where it will produce dozens of laterals of good sized exhibition proportion blooms and stems. 

There are several terms you should understand because they are used throughout this article. "Pegging" is the bending down of a rose cane and attaching it so it will remain.  A common treatment for OGRs is to peg the canes down, by wiring, hooking, or burying the cane tip in the ground so it gives the appearance of an octopus. Climbing rose canes can be weighted down or tied to a support or onto itself. "Laterals" are new growths from the bud eyes on the main canes. When you bend over or peg down a rose cane, the plant thinks it is injured, and produces new canes (breaks) from that cane's bud eyes. Most references suggest that you remove the foliage or at least every other leaf to encourage new laterals as well. Does it help?  Can't say, but it could not hurt.  Climbing roses that are trained upright will tend to bloom only at the tips, and will not generate laterals. Other terms that are commonly used are climbers, ramblers, pillar roses, etc.  There is no "official" definition of these terms. Generally, climbing roses are repeat blooming roses with large, stiff canes.  Rambling roses are those with pliable, supple canes that "ramble" along the ground without support. Pillar roses are short climbers that can be trained on a post or pillar.

So how do you train large roses and climbers? Probably the most common method is to train the canes parallel to the ground tied to some support, such as trellises, wires, etc.  This method is called "espalier."  When the canes are young and supple, bend them carefully over and attach to your support. You can use telephone cable bundle ties, plastic strips, or other materials that will hold the canes loosely, and not cut into the surface (where diseases such as cane canker enter), and will not be affected by the weather. Older canes should be removed after a few years if new canes are being produced. By keeping 4-6 good canes, the plant, which might be a 7-foot plant as a bush, will often grow in excess of 10 feet. 

Large climbing roses can be trained to grow into trees, over buildings, and some varieties such as Kiftsgate or Montecito will take over a small neighborhood. One of the most impressive sights in my travels was a plant of the rambler Wedding Day growing up the side of a building at the Royal National Rose Society's garden at St. Albans, England. My Rosa banksiae lutea grows up through a Castlewellan Cypress and cascades down the sides, which is quite a sight during the early spring. I was going to prune down the tree but my neighbors will not let me because they love the rose on their side of the tree. Rambler roses are very common roses in England used to climb through old dead trees.  

Climbing-type roses can also be trained on arbors and pergolas. Many of the gardens in Europe use different climbing-type roses, especially ramblers, to train along pergola lined paths in the gardens. A favorite photo of mine is a wedding party taking photos under a pergola with a rambler in full bloom in a garden in France.  Any of the taller growing roses are best suited for pergolas, such as those that grow in excess of 20 feet.  Ramblers, some species, and some noisettes are best for this type of treatment. Another popular treatment of climbers in Europe is to train them along ropes or chains that are strung between posts, buildings, etc.  

For arbors, I would suggest the medium-sized, repeat-blooming roses, such as Sombreuil, New Dawn, Madame Alfred Carrière, America, and Altissimo®. Train them through the slats of the arbor or use ties. Keep replacing older canes with newer, more vigorous canes. Climbing Cecile Brunner was a very popular rose for arbors and can still be found in older gardens. The only problem is the climbing version has very little repeat bloom. One or two flushes a year is normal.  

If you have little room in your yard and want some climbing roses, go up! Consider placing a 4" x 4" post in the ground and training your climber up the post. This is called a pillar type rose. The shorter growing ramblers and climbers such as Dublin Bay®, make great pillar roses. Just wind the canes around the post upward. They can be held into place by plastic strips, hooks, etc. Noisettes and shrubs also do well with this treatment. Altissimo® is great trained this way. Roses that tend to be more upright can be trained upon themselves. Take a long cane, bend it completely around, and tie it to the same cane. You can make some artistic designs, such as hearts. The canes will break with new blooms all along the cane. Graham Thomas® will only produce laterals with this drastic pegging.

Similar to the pillar is the tripod arrangement. Three poles are lashed together in a tepee set-up and three roses are planted by each post and then the canes are wrapped around the outside of the three poles. I have seen hybrid musks such as Will Scarlet used effectively this way. 

One thing you'll have to decide is the effect you want for the climber.  Many climbers bloom in flushes, while others bloom somewhat continually. Don Juan and Climbing Cecile Brunner are two roses that explode with blooms that literally cover the plant all at once. After the blooms are gone, the plant builds up enough energy to give another flush of blooms. La Reine Victoria and Ulrich Brunner Fils trained as climbers respond in flushes as well. Noisettes and hybrid musks are examples of roses that pretty much bloom all season long, rather than in flushes.

Ground cover roses are just climbers that are allowed to climb on the ground. Species and ramblers were two of the "original" ground covers, especially the wichuraiana ramblers. If you have a hillside or large area you wish to cover, consider a low growing climbing rose such as Hiawatha (red blend) or Seagull (white).  

Once your climbing rose is up and growing, how do you prune it? The once-bloomers should be pruned after blooming is done. Most once-blooming climbing roses like the pink blend Newport Fairy, require year-old wood in order to bloom. If you prune late in the year, you may not get any blooms the next spring. Repeat bloomers can be pruned anytime. All dead and weak growth should be removed. Older canes should be removed completely from the crown as newer canes come in. Lateral growth should be cut back to have 4-6 bud eyes remaining. Some of the pruned laterals may die back to the main cane, but do not worry as each cane has several budeyes in reserve. A friend claims he just cuts all lateral growth off to the main cane, and the climbing rose blooms just fine. 

There are different types of climbers and ramblers. Multiflora ramblers tend to have larger, stiffer canes than wichuriana ramblers which are more supple and pliable. As mentioned before, most large plants can be trained as climbers. Keep 4-6 canes or more if you have the room. Do not keep all of the canes as they will eventually form such a thick mass that  you will need a machete to prune with.  

Some of my favorite roses with a climbing habit that perform well in our area, by type:

Short climbers up to 8' (pillar type, repeat blooming): Abraham Darby (Austin shrub, orange pink), Altissimo (medium red), America (orange pink), Angel Pink (climbing mini, orange pink), Ballerina (hybrid musk, medium pink), Captain Thomas (white/pale yellow), Dublin Bay (mr), Dortmund (kordesii, medium red), Eden Rose (Cl HT, deep pink), Hurdy Gurdy (climbing mini, red and white stripes), Jeanne Lajoie (climbing mini, medium pink), Kathryn Morley (Austin shrub, light pink), Leander (Austin shrub, apricot), Little Girl (climbing mini, orange pink), Madame Driout (pink blend), Madame Trifle, Nastarana (noisette, white), New Dawn (light pink), The Impressionist (apricot blend); William Allen Richardson (noisette, yellow blend, Yolande d'Aragon (OGR, pink-mauve).

Medium climbers 8' to 15' (arbors, pillars, tripods, walls, repeat blooming): 
Aimée Vibert (noisette, white), Baronne Prévost (OGR, medium pink), Buff Beauty (hybrid musk, apricot), Celine Forestier (light yellow), Clair Matin (medium pink), Cornelia (pink blend), Don Juan (dark red), Fourth of July (red and white striped), Gloire de Dijon (orange-pink), Iceberg, Climbing (white), Vanity (hybrid musk, deep pink),  Kathleen (light pink), Lady Hillingdon, Climbing (yellow blend), Lamarque (white), Madame Alfred Carrière (OGR, white), Maréchal Niel (light yellow), Moonlight (light yellow), Phyllis Bide (climbing polyantha, yellow blend), Reine des Violettes (hybrid perpetual, mauve), Sally Holmes (shrub, white),  Souvenir de la Malmaison, Climbing (OGR, light pink), Will Scarlet (hybrid musk, medium red).. 

Tall Climbing roses 15'+ (arbors, pergolas, tripods, trees, houses, repeat blooming): 
Alister Stella Gray (light yellow), Belle Portugaise (lp), Blaze (medium red), La Reine Victoria (OGR, medium pink), Mermaid (ly), Narrow Water (light pink), Sombreuil (white), Ulrich Brunner Fils (OGR, deep pink).

Once-blooming climbing roses less than 15': 
Agnes (hybrid rugosa, light yellow), Francis E. Lester (hybrid musk, white), Mary Wallace (medium pink), Paul's Scarlet Climber (mr).

Once-blooming climbing roses 15'+:  
Alberic Barbier (ly), American Pillar (pb), Apple Blossom (lp), Bleu Magenta (m), Bobbie James (w), City of York (w), Climbing Cecile Brunner (lp), François Juranville (op), Newport Fairy (pb),  Rosa banksiae subspecies, Rosa laevigata, Russeliana (mauve),  Silver Moon (w), The Garland (w), Wedding Day.  

So you can see that there are all kinds and uses for climbing roses, even if you have limited space.

This article is an American Rose Society Award of Merit winner, originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor. 

© Copyright Steve Jones. All rights reserved.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

For questions about Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, contact:
Kitty Belendez
Updated March 1, 2014
FOURTH OF JULY 
APPLEBLOSSOM / Steve Jones
BERRIES 'N' CREAM 
WEDDING DAY / Steve Jones
LADY GODIVA / Steve Jones
CITY OF YORK / Steve Jones
EDEN / Steve Jones
LEANDER 
YOLANDE D'ARAGON and
BARONNE PREVOST 
PAUL'S SCARLET CLIMBER / Steve Jones
AMERICAN PILLAR / Steve Jones
AMERICAN PILLAR / Steve Jones
ROSE MULLIGANII / Steve Jones

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