Training Climbing Rose bushes
By Stan V. (Stan the Rose Man) Griep
American Rose Society Certified Consulting Rosarian – Rocky Mountain District
Denver Rose Society Member
Whenever I see pictures of roses climbing up an ornate trellis or arbor, climbing up the side of an old structure, old fence or even up and along an old stone wall, it stirs up the romantic and nostalgic juices within me. I imagine it does the same for many folks due to the number of photos and paintings there are of such scenes. Creating such scenes does not just merely happen in most cases, it takes some real effort and an ever vigilant rose loving gardener.
Just as it is with raising our children, it is of the utmost importance to start early on in helping guide them as to the proper way to go, training them to follow a good path. First on the list with our rose bushes is to pick the area and structure desired for the climbing roses. The structure being an ornate or plain trellis, arbor, fence, building wall or stone wall/fence, then the area being a place with good sunshine, well-drained soils and a place where we really want an eye-catching focal point in our garden or landscape. Next on the list is selecting the ones that have the color or colors desired, bloom form desired, fragrance and habit desired. We kind of need to stand back and look at the desired area with whatever the climbing structure is in place. Create a vision or mind painting of what our desired outcome is.
After purchasing the climbing rose bushes that meet our needs, the training begins. I like to use either a rubbery wire reinforced rope or stretchy vinyl type tie off material to attach the canes of the rosebush to the structure selected. While holding the canes in place nicely it also allows some flexibility so as not to damage the canes as they fill out and grow. Even with this flexibility the ties will need to be changed out at some point due to growth. We need to wait for the canes to grow enough to tie them off and train them to go in the direction of best support that fits our earlier mind painting. Canes that grow out and too far away from the structure initially can be either pruned out, or monitored for a while as they grow to see if they can be brought back into line and trained in the desired path. Do not make the mistake of letting them go too long though, as unruly canes can make for more work later. Also do not make the mistake of waiting too long to tie off / train even the canes that are going in the right direction, as they too can become unruly in what seems like the blink of an eye. Once they become unruly either our mind painting must change to allow some redirection, or we will need to prune them back and wait upon new growth to guide things back as desired. For training our rose bushes up the side of a building or stone wall, we will need to provide some anchoring sets to tie off to. This can be done by drilling some small holes along the desired training path and setting an expansion or glue in type anchor, perhaps a friction fit type. I prefer either expansion type anchors or glue in type as they do not ten to work loose with wind and growth movement like the friction fit ones seem to do.
I have been called over to do a garden visit at the homes of some folks that just moved into a new to them home where the climbing roses have turned into untamed monsters! This can and will happen if we do not stay vigilant of what the rosebush is doing. This can also happen if the main person tending to them gets ill or passes away. Others do not know how to tend to the roses and they start growing however they wish to without any form of guidance. It really does not take long for the once beautiful mind painting creation turns into a jumbled up mess. There are times when such a mess can be returned to being a vision of beauty but it takes considerable work to get it done. Lots of pruning, stepping back to look at things, lots more pruning, then finally back to where things need to be. With some of the older climbing roses this type of heavy pruning will also mean sacrificing many blooms, as these older climbers only bloom on what is called the “old wood” which refers to the previous season’s growth. Even so, it is best to do the work and bring the beautiful vision back. In some cases, like one I personally worked on, the bush has just gotten way too out of control. The owner wanted it totally chopped down and removed as it had become a destructive monster to her. I asked her to allow me to try to bring it all back prior to removing the bush. I got an apprehensive okay. Late that fall after the bush had started going dormant, the canes were all pruned out and down to within 6 inches of the ground. Drastic move you say? Maybe, maybe not. The following spring the rosebush did indeed send up new growth. The new growth was gradually tied and trained to a nice new ornate trellis which would then trail out onto the fence line on either side. Thus returning to a vision of beauty over time that would cause delight again instead of the feelings of frustration and depression it had come to cause.
Climbing rose bushes are indeed work, they will demand your attention for some time to come rest assured of that. If you are up for the challenge you will be richly rewarded not only by the beauty you behold, but also the ooo’s and ahh’s of delight from garden visitors and those enjoying your photos of the vision of beauty your efforts have created.