By: Stan V. Griep, American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian, Rocky Mountain District
By Stan V. Griep
American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian – Rocky Mountain District
Pruning climbing roses is a little different from pruning other roses. Let’s look at how to prune climbing roses.
First and foremost, a good rule of thumb for pruning climbing rosebushes is to not prune them for two or three years, thus allowing them to form their long arching canes. Some die-back pruning may be required but hold it to a minimum! The two or three years is a “training time” for you to keep them trained to a trellis or other feature of your garden; keeping them tied back and growing in the desired direction early on is of the highest importance. Not doing so will cause you much frustration in trying to train the rosebush to go where you want it to once it has grown truly out of control.
Once it is time to prune a climbing rose bush, I wait until their new foliage has come on well enough that they show me where to prune them back. Pruning some climbing roses too soon will greatly diminish the blooms one gets for that season, as some bloom on the previous year’s growth or what is known as the “old wood.”
Single blooming climbing roses should only be pruned right after they have bloomed. As these are the ones that bloom on the old wood, doing a spring pruning will take away most, if not all, of the blooms for that season. Be careful!! Removing up to one-quarter of the old wood after having bloomed to help shape or train the rosebush is usually acceptable.
Repeat flowering climbing roses will need to be deadheaded often to help encourage new blooms. These rosebushes can be pruned back to help shape or train them to a trellis either in late winter or early spring. This is where my rule of waiting for the rosebush to show me where to prune applies very well.
Remember, after climbing rose pruning, you need to seal the cut ends of the canes with Elmer’s White glue to help stop the cane boring insects from causing problems with these roses too!
I highly recommend using some long-handled rose pruners for pruning climbing rosebushes, as the longer handles cut down on scratches and pokes. The long-handled rose pruners also improve on your reach for these often tall rosebushes.
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At Heirloom Roses, we refer to roses that are used in climbing applications as “roses that climb” because there are two types of roses to consider in this category: climbing roses and ramblers. Climbing roses are bred to grow tall. Ramblers also grow tall, but they have softer, more pliable canes and generally less thorns than climbing roses. Regardless of if you have a climbing rose or a rambler, the following pruning tips should be used to prune in Spring (February). The only exception is for once blooming ramblers which should be pruned after they bloom. Repeat blooming roses - as in most modern climbing roses - can withstand Spring pruning. Once blooming roses - usually ramblers - bloom on old wood, so prune keeping in mind that growth that develops the previous year will be that which produces blooms
Pruning roses that climb is more about training the canes and less about cutting them back. However, if you have an older climber that is not doing what you want it to do, you will need to recondition it, which requires some hard pruning.
There are two types of canes on roses that climb: main canes and lateral canes. Main canes start at the ground and climb upward. Lateral canes come off of main canes and produce blooms. In order to have your rose produce blooms from top to bottom, you must train your main canes in a horizontal manner and allow the lateral canes to grow upward. Main canes need to be horizontal for their lateral canes to produce blooms. Climbers that are not properly trained tend to have roses only at the top of the bush and none at the bottom or the center.
The most important thing to remember is to always start at the bottom of the plant and work your way up. Starting at the bottom enables you to make decisions about the plant’s structure and health without getting mixed up on which main cane you are working on. Older roses may have many canes that are intertwined, making it difficult to tell which cane you are working on unless you start from the bottom.
The Cecile Brunner climbing rose is a very fragrant, long-lived Old Garden rose. It can grow to a height of 12 feet. and a width of 12 feet. This rose adds both beauty and fragrance to your landscape design, and looks wonderful growing on a trellis, fence, post or column. It blossoms from early spring through fall, and it is hardy from zones 6 through 9. You will not need to prune a newly planted Cecile Brunner rose. It will only need to be pruned after the first two to three years, when you'll remove dead, damaged or diseased wood.
Tie down the canes to your supporting structure with plastic ties. Train the canes to grow horizontally and form a branch structure that fits within the boundaries of your supporting structure (fence area, trellis, arbor or column/post).
Remove dead, diseased or damaged branches by cutting them off from the cane. You should do this immediately. Do not deposit any diseased plant material in your compost bin.
Prune an established/mature Cecile Brunner to remove old canes, and to remove any crossover branches. In the early spring when the plant is dormant, remove old canes from the base of the plant by making your cut at ground level. When removing crossover branches, use your judgment as to where the cut should be made keep the younger branch intact. (Younger branches will produce more flowers.)
Trim branches to maintain the form of your climbing rose by cutting back lateral (side shoots) branches. You will make your cut so that two to five buds remain on the lateral branch. Leave approximately ¼ of an inch of wood above the bud—and be careful not to damage the bud.
During the growing season, trim main shoots if they extend beyond your framework/structure, and if they end in flowers. Then cut them back to the first side shoot.
Mulch during the hot summer months to keep the roots cool, the weeds down and to retain moisture.
Your climbing rose will produce more flowers the more horizontal canes you have.
If you train your rose to grow on/around a post or a pillar, two or three canes are usually sufficient when wrapped spirally around the post or pillar.
Do not leave too much dead wood above the bud (a quarter of an inch is sufficient) when you prune, as this could lead to disease.
Pruning climbing roses is very different from other roses. Not only is pruning necessary, but you will need to train your rose to grow in the direction you want.
The canes of climbing roses are long, so be sure to wear protective gloves and arm protection. Start by removing any canes that are sticking straight out from the bush. This will allow you to get closer to the bush without getting stuck by thorns. Also, remove any wayward branches that you won’t want to use.
Next, inspect the remaining canes for damage and disease. Remove any broken or dead wood and any diseased branches. Also, look for canes that are crossing or rubbing each other. Those spots could be the site for disease to gain a foothold. You should be left with healthy main canes ready to be trained into position. Main canes are canes that you can follow all the way back to the base of the plant.
The flowers on your climbing rose will come on the lateral branches. To encourage your plant to have a full profusion of flowers, the main canes need to be trained in a horizontal position. If you allow the canes to grow straight up, the only blooms will be at the ends of the canes. Attach your rose canes to the supporting structure (trellis, porch rail, fence) using cloth strips, covered wire or even zip ties. The cane should be loosely attached to allow for growth and some movement in the wind, but tight enough to keep it in place.
The final pruning is of these lateral branches which should be pointing upward. Any branches that are pointing down or out will want to grow upward and will actually curl up as they grow. This gives an unattractive appearance to your plant, so remove any lateral branches that point down or out. What you should have is a long main cane trained into a horizontal position with numerous lateral branches that all point up or vertically. Prune these lateral branches back to two buds. These will form two branches instead of one and give a fullness to your rose with lots of blooms.
As always, a good cleanup after pruning is essential. This one step can prevent problems later. Be especially meticulous if you have removed any diseased materials. You don’t want to leave behind anything that could reinfect your healthy roses.
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Climbing roses (Rosa), also known as rambling roses, grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 10 depending on the variety. Prune climbing roses to control size and disease, remove diseased or dead branches, and to promote more vigorous growth the next season. These bushes produce flowers on canes from the previous year and from the current season. Older canes seldom produce an abundant show of flowers. Spring pruning is done early in the season before the bush breaks dormancy.
Cut off any suckers that are growing below the graft union. Make the cuts flush with the main stem. The graft union is the part of the stem where the top of the rose bush was secured to the root stock of another rose bush. Many rose bushes are grafted onto the bottom of another rose bush to promote a healthier bush.
Remove dead or diseased canes from the climbing rose bush. Cut the canes as close to the base of the main stem as possible. Prune away any broken canes or those damaged by crossing branches and stems.
Use a strip of colored marking tape to tag four to six healthy canes that are evenly spaced around the central root system. For a large climbing rose, you may wish to retain eight canes.
Prune the unmarked canes as close to the main stem as possible. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle with the slanted part of the cut facing the inside of the rose bush. The angle keeps water from settling on the fresh wound and causing rot.
Reduce the length of the marked canes by about one third. Make the cut straight across, not at an angle, and at least one quarter of an inch above a bud. This allows the bud to generate new growth for the following year.
Reposition the canes on the trellis or climbing support as you desire, and fasten with new ties. Use a plastic-coated wire to avoid damaging the stems. Coat each of the open cuts with a small amount of all-purpose glue to keep disease and pests from infecting the tender, exposed wood.
Rake up the pruned canes and bundle them together with garden twine. Dispose of them in your compost pile or as required by your trash collector. Clean the area around the climbing rose bush to keep pests to a minimum. Discard infested or diseased clippings and canes as yard waste do not add to the compost pile.
Cut back your hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses to about 18 inches tall in early spring, just before they start to grow. One guide to help you know when to prune is to watch for forsythia to bloom. In the coldest climates, prune these roses back to live growth. It may be as low as 8 inches, depending on how severe the winter was.
Because many of these types of roses are grafted, watch for any shoots that seem to be coming from the roots and not the rose stem. These are usually unwanted suckers from the root system and should be removed at ground level.
Though it may seem like butchering, pruning this way will give you plants that produce lots of lush blooms on sturdy stems.