How and when to train climbing roses

How and when to train climbing roses

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Climbing roses unlike clematis and climbing Lonicera, unfortunately, don’t have any suckers on their shoots with which to cling to supports and walls. It’s up to you to ensure that they entwine themselves on the climbing framework that you provide.

Here’s how to train a climbing rose; combine this with my guide on pruning climbing roses here to make a display to be proud of.

What is a climbing rose?

A climbing rose is simply a rose whose canes are too long and flexible to support themselves upright. They need artificial support. Climbing roses usually grow to 2m to 4m tall with large single or clustered flowers. The canes on these roses are stiff enough for attaching to supports.

When to start training your climbing rose

Wait until the rose is well established and over its transplant shock – this usually takes about two years. So aim to start training your rose in its third growing season but tie in the branches to support them to a cane.

Set up the climbing framework

You can use a trellis on which to train your climbing roses or a system of horizontal wires on a wall or fence. Whichever framework you choose, the lowest support (wire or lattice) should be about 45cm off the ground. Try to get subsequent higher supports spaced about 30cm apart. You can also use existing frameworks such as pillars or arches around which you twist the plant.

Tip: I recommend that you don’t use a plastic trellis as the support as it probably won’t hold the weight of the climbing rose after the first few years.

Tip: Think about the shape that you want your rose to take and shape the support appropriately.

Train your climbing rose

Training a climbing rose up a pergola

The major canes

Before you start this process, draw out a rough sketch as to where the major stems should go in the framework. This basic structure will form the shape of the climbing rose for years to come, so give some thought to it.

Remember that these major canes won’t produce many flowers – they’re just the support. But the secondary shoots that do have the flowers come out from the major canes. Space the major canes well apart so you don’t end up with a mass of flowers in one part of the structure and just a few on the other side.

Select large healthy stems. Secure them onto the framework with loosely tied pieces of fibre twine or vinyl tape. Avoid anything hard as a tie – metal or hard plastic – as this can damage the stems.

You need to bend the stems to get them onto the framework. If you need to make sharp bends in the stems, be careful not to crimp them. This will kill the stems as water and nutrients can’t pass through. Consider gradually bending the largest stems over a period of days, a bit at a time.

Tip: if you train the major canes horizontally, they develop more secondary shoots.

Tip: The main canes may be slow to send out secondary canes. Prune the tips back to the first bud that looks strong. This encourages side shoots.

The secondary canes

These are the canes from which the roses develop. Refer to your design sketch before you attach these canes to the framework. Use the canes to fill in the gaps in the framework between the major canes. One option is to weave the secondary canes through the major canes for a dense effect. Weaving works particularly well if you’re training the climbing roses over an archway.

Neaten everything up

The edges of your climbing framework should be the extent of your climbing rose. Trim off any bits of stems and canes that go over this boundary. This neatens up the shape so viewers can see what it is.

You may also end up with some large canes that are just in the way of the secondary canes. Feel free to prune these off as well.

Prune to keep in shape

It’s important to prune climbing roses to keep them healthy and in the desired shape. I have an article on how to do this. Head over to How to prune climbing roses for all the information you need.

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