Where to Plant Climbers
Tips for adding climbing roses to your garden
By: Michelle Leise
When it comes to planting climbing roses, you have many locations from which to choose.
Windows, doors, and walls
Growing roses up over your front door or around first- or second-story windows is a spectacular way to meld your home and garden and create gorgeous views from inside and outside. There are plenty of sturdy, highly fragrant repeat bloomers, such as ‘Pink Perpetue’ (Zones 5 to 9), ‘Sympathie’ (Zones 5 to 9), or the English shrub rose ‘Constance Spry’ (Zones 4 to 9). Look for aromatic varieties so you can enjoy your rose’s scent as it floats through the window or greets you at your front door.
For roses that are sturdy enough to climb to the second story, pick a strong, vigorous, extra-tall variety like the yellow ‘Mermaid’ (Zones 6 to 9) or the soft pink ‘François Juranville’ (Zones 5 to 9). A word of warning: Extremely vigorous climbers and ramblers such as ‘Rambling Rector’ (Zones 5 to 9) are apt to crawl onto the roof and take over. This can be beautiful on sheds, porches, and garden houses, but it makes for difficult pruning and gutter maintenance on a taller house.
As your rose climbs up windows and around doors, it will need sturdy support from a horizontal wire trellis. For brick, masonry, or stone walls, use a hammer drill to install masonry screws at least 4 inches long; for wood or aluminum siding, install screws. Mount the bolts or screws along horizontal lines about every 3 feet to a width of 6 feet. Wrap wire around the screws or bolts so you have a support on which to tie the canes. No need to use colored wire or paint it to match your wall: the rose will grow so quickly that the wire will be almost invisible.
Make sure the wire is set at least 3 inches away from the wall, so your rose gets enough air circulation and won’t succumb to mildew. Attach the rose to the outside of the wire and don’t allow canes to grow between the wire and the house. This can promote mildew, and makes pruning an arduous task.
Free-standing trellises and fences
Climbing roses do more than provide a pretty picture; they also screen an undesirable view. Measure whatever you’re trying to hide—whether it’s something small like an air conditioner or something large like a neighbor’s yard. Then put in a fence or make your own three-dimensional trellis from tree branches, grapevines, or lumber. Just be sure the fence or trellis is sturdy, so it’s not pulled down by the weight of the roses.
If you have a utilitarian fence you’re trying to completely cover (chain-link, perhaps, or chicken wire around a vegetable garden), plant short, dense climbers like the hybrid musk ‘Lavender Lassie’ (Zones 5 to 9). Picket, split-rail, and wrought iron fences are more attractive, so trim roses to let at least two-thirds of the structure show. Neat, tidy rose varieties are often best in these cases: Try ‘New Dawn’ (Zones 5 to 9) or ‘Parade’ (Zones 5 to 9). Place plants about 8 feet apart and train the canes horizontally.
Posts and pergolas
Roses with few thorns are always a plus, especially near well-traveled areas like the front steps. If you’re growing flowers up your porch posts, look for nearly thorn-free varieties like the orange-yellow rambler ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’ (Zones 5 to 9) or the deep pink ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ (Zones 6 to 9).
Almost any vertical post can be dressed up, including those on a mailbox, birdhouse, lamp post, arbor, back stoop, or pergola. Plant tamer, shorter climbers like the miniature ‘Red Cascade’ (Zones 5 to 9) around mailboxes or birdhouses. Pergolas and large arbors can handle more vigorous growers. Try ramblers like ‘Albertine’ (Zones 5 to 9) and ‘Albéric Barbier’ (Zones 5 to 9), whose flexible canes will droop easily and beautifully. (One hint: you can make stiff-caned climbers drape down by attaching a small weight like a metal nut to the end of each cane with fishing line.)
When you plant your climbing rose, choose a spot about a foot from the support. Dig a hole no deeper than the container or plant, and three to five times wider than the container or plant. Mix compost into the soil. As you place your rose in the ground, tilt the plant slightly toward the support and plant according to label directions.
Let the rose grow about 4 feet before training the canes horizontally. This gives the canes enough sunlight to produce lateral branches, which generate large clusters of blooms.
Using a figure-eight loop, loosely tie the canes to the support using flexible material (nylon stockings, jute, or green plastic ties from your local nursery; avoid the paper-covered wire from bread bags as the paper disintegrates and the wire will cut the stems). Check the canes frequently and loosen ties as needed so they don’t bind too tightly when canes expand.
Let the plant grow for the first two years without pruning, then prune in the third and subsequent years. Roses that bloom once per season usually flower on old wood, so prune in summer after the plant has blossomed. Prune only lightly to thin and shape. Roses that bloom repeatedly usually flower on new wood and can be cut back by one-third or more in winter or early spring. Deadhead flowers throughout the growing season to encourage more flowers.
Michelle Leise is a garden writer from Red Wing, Minnesota.