Expert offers advice for climbing roses

rose climbing3

Is there anything prettier than a picket fence smothered in roses?

Is there anything more pitiful than a leggy, 10-foot-tall rose bush with a few flowers up at the nosebleed section?

Whether you end up with one or the other comes down to training, says Robert Powell, a consulting rosarian with the America Rose Society, who gave a talk on climbing roses Saturday at Akin’s Nursery.

His number-one tip: Bend the rose canes horizontally and they’ll produce more flowers.

That’s because a rose’s growth hormone naturally goes to the top of its canes. If the canes shoot straight up, they will flower only at the top. But if you train the canes to grow out instead of up, laterals will form all along their length and produce masses of flowers.

More advice from Robert:

  • While there are many roses that are true climbers — Don Juan, Joseph’s Coat, New Dawn — there are other varieties that can be trained like climbers. Examples: shrub roses Sally Holmes, Penelope and Sea Foam; and David Austin roses Graham Thomas and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
  • Know the mature size of a variety before planting it. Some climbers can reach more than 20-feet wide; others only a few feet wide.
  • Plant climbing roses about one foot from the structure – trellis, wall, fence, arbor, shed — on which you plan to train it in a hole that’s about two- to three-feet wide and about one-foot deep. Mix about one-third compost into the soil from the hole. If you have clay soil, roses will likely perform better in raised beds. You probably won’t need to fertilize it the first year.
  • Use a soft material, such as twine, to tie the rose canes to the structure and don’t pull too tight. The canes need room to grow. Strive to end with the tip of the cane pointing down instead of up.
  • If you want the rose to cover an arbor or other tall structure, wrap the canes around its posts so you’ll have flowers along the uprights and not just all on top.
  • Don’t prune a new climbing rose for two to three years and then only if needed. That means to remove dead or diseased canes and to control size. Prune at the right time for the type rose you have. Once-bloomers – many of the antique varieties – should be pruned after they bloom. Pruning now would cut off their flowers. Repeat bloomers can be pruned now for size control, then have their spent blooms trimmed off after a bloom cycle to encourage another cycle. Encourage old climbers with “bare bottoms” to put on new growth by cutting some of the oldest canes back.
  • Fertilize established roses now, after the first bloom cycle and around Labor Day – the most important feeding of the year, Robert says, because it makes sure the plant will be in good shape to put on a show in spring. He prefers organic fertilizers, like manure, because they feed over a period of time and aren’t likely to burn plants, even if you apply too much.
  • Have patience. Unlike hybrid teas, which take off relatively fast, climbers take several years to reach their full glory.

It’s worth the wait.

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