How to Grow and Prune Climbing Roses

Pink Climbing Rose

Climbing roses have a romantic appeal, especially when they are surrounding a country cottage or spiraling up an arbor. However, they will quickly become a tangled web of flowerless branches if not pruned and cared for appropriately. It's not complicated: it's merely that timing and procedure matter significantly. 

Planting

First and foremost, pick a climbing rose variety that is suited to your climate. Check the hardiness zone of the variety and make sure the mature size will fit in your desired location. There are two types of climbing roses: once-blooming and repeat-blooming. Planting is the same for both. However, pruning will vary.

Choose a spot that gets full sun and has well-draining soil. If the soil doesn't drain well, the roots of the rose will rot or develop fungus. An eastern-facing location is best. This helps guard the leaves against burning in the afternoon sun. 

A rose plant needs about 1-inch of water per week. Depending on where you live, Mother Nature may take care of this nicely for you. Otherwise, ensure the plant receives enough water each week. 

Training

The climbing rose wants to climb. If you want it to go in a specific direction, you need to train it. Leave at least 3-inches of space between the plant and the wall or structure that you want it to climb. This provides valuable breathing room and lets air circulate freely. Without appropriate air circulation, diseases can take hold and spread. 

Climbing roses do not produce tendrils that can be wrapped around supports, so it takes a bit more effort to train them. Gently hand-tie the stems to the desired structure with soft stretchable strips of cloth. Old t-shirts are fantastic for this. Spread the branches out into a fan shape for easier pruning later on. Try not to let them cross each other. It is ok to bend or shape them carefully into position.

Train the branches as horizontally as possible. This encourages the canes to produce more blooming laterals, which means more flowers!

training climbing rose

Pruning

For the first few years, do not prune at all. Let the rose get established. Focus on training it, instead. Once the plant is established, it needs to be pruned once a year. Pruning promotes healthy, flower-filled plants. Do not neglect it. 

Pruning Once-blooming Roses

The correct time to prune this variety is directly after it has finished blooming. This is generally late spring or early summer. Remove the oldest and weakest canes at the bud-union base (this is directly above the rootstock) if there was a lot of new growth. If the climbing rose only produced a few canes, cut them back to several feet above the ground. Rearrange the canes as necessary, retying them to the trellis to train them.

Do not prune in winter except to remove suckers growing below the bud union. Or, to get rid of any dead-growth. 

Pruning Repeat-blooming Roses

This type of bloomer is pruned in the winter after it has finished blooming. Remove dead canes and any suckers growing below the bud union. Old canes can bloom for years. Once they start to produce fewer flowers, remove them, and let new canes grow. At this time, untie and reposition the canes as desired. Clean up all the debris around the base to prevent pests from making it home.

Maintenance

A climbing rose needs fertilizing on a scheduled basis. The frequency depends on the climate where you live and which type of fertilizer you are using. If you're using a time-released rose food, apply it once or twice in a season. For organic options, like a cottonseed mix, administer every ten weeks. After applying any fertilizer, water the plant, so the nutrients sink into the soil. In areas that have cold winters, apply the last fertilizer at least six weeks before the first hard freeze, so the rose goes dormant.

All climbing roses should have mulch applied around the base to keep the soil moist in summer and protected in winter. Do not let the mulch touch the stem, though. Leave at least 5 inches around the stem to allow air circulation. The mulch should be a few inches thick in the spring and a few inches more for extra protection in the winter.

For any pest invasions, use an insecticidal soap. Pesticides kill all insects, beneficial and pests, so be careful when applying anything so as not to kill bees and butterflies.

climbing roses

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