How To Grow and Care for Climbing Roses

Get old-fashioned cottage charm with colorful climbing roses.

Climbing Roses
Photo: Photo: Jean Allsopp

Plant a climbing rose for a charming and dramatic element to your Southern garden. Vigorous and relatively easy to grow, let them sprawl on a fence, ascend a trellis, drape over an arbor, or scramble up a tree. Favorites such as 'Climbing Cécile Brunner,' 'Climbing Old Blush,' and 'New Dawn' not only bloom profusely in spring but also during summer and fall. Others, such as Lady Banks climbing roses, 'Albéric Barbier,' 'Russell's Cottage Rose,' and 'Veilchenblau,' provide one overwhelming display in spring. To get the most out of your climbing roses, here are a few simple tips to assure an abundance of blooms.

Choose the Right Site

Roses do best in full sun. (Perhaps that is why Southern gardeners love roses so much?) While they tolerate some shade, they will bloom more and grow denser and fuller when they receive at least four to six hours of direct sun each day. Choose a location that will accommodate the climber's growth habit. Climbers can grow from 6-12 feet tall (some even taller) and spread almost as wide.

Plant ASAP

When possible, buy a climbing rose as a bareroot plant. It will be dormant at this time, which makes it easy to handle and plant. Bareroot planting season begins in late winter or early spring when the soil has thawed and is workable. Planting at this time allows the roots to get established in their new home before the heat of summer hits. Since bareroot roses have not been surrounded by a potting soil media, their roots get established in the indigenous garden soil very quickly.

Prepare the Soil

While roses can adapt to many types of soil, they do best in rich, fertile, loamy soil with good drainage. Whether you have good soil or not, you can always enhance it with the addition of organic matter such as compost, mulch or peat moss. This will improve drainage in heavy clay soils and increase water retention in sandy soils.

Pick a Suitable Structure

Climbing roses do not twine or have suckers or tendrils to attach themselves to a structure, so you need to loosely secure the rose to a sturdy structure, such as a trellis or fence. One trick to make climbing roses produce more bloom is to train them more laterally than vertically. When trained more horizontally, climbers will produce short spurs along their main stems, and these will produce blooms.

Remember to Feed

All plants need a lot of energy to produce — whether they produce flowers, fruits, or vegetables, etc. Fertilize regularly with a balanced fertilizer that provides ample amounts of all the necessary nutrients. Avoid fertilizers meant for lawns, which tend to be quite high in nitrogen. This will produce a very lush, dark green plant, but less blooms.

Easy-Does-It on the Pruning

Climbers need little to no pruning the first two years. Many of the older climbing varieties tend to bloom on second-year canes. Most climbing roses bloom at least twice each growing season: first on older branches and then on the current season's growth. When you do prune, do so in the dormant months of mid- to late winter to encourage plenty of late-season flowers. Remove any diseased, injured, or spindly branches. Prune off any of the older, woody canes that failed to bloom well the previous season, and remove any crossing or awkwardly placed branches.

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