Care For Climbing Rose Bushes

climbing roses require Patience

What images come to mind when you think of climbing roses? A cottage tucked away in rural England, covered with blooming vines? Perhaps an old prestigious university with one of the lecture halls bedecked in this regalia? Or do you see a trellis of flowering climbing roses as an arch while the bride and groom exchange vows in a wonderful garden wedding ceremony?

Whether it’s any of these or another, no one can certainly fault you for including climbing roses in your personal garden. The secret to raising climbing roses though can be summed up in a single word: patience.

That’s right! You see this particular variety of rose may take several years to reach maturity. You may get frustrated by this, because very often the climbing rose is also placed and designed to be the “centerpiece” if you will of the garden, one of the key elements.

To start with, you want to make sure that you’re starting out with the best possible choice. To that end, five factors exist that you must give careful consideration to. They are size, shade tolerance, disease, resistance, rebloom and basic aesthetics, in other words, color, fragrance, and any other personal preferences.

What about size?

large climbing rose climbing rose large : photo by James Insell

How much room do you have? That’s not a flippant answer to the question. I ask that only to get you to think about the space limitations, if any, with which you’re working.

Do you want a very large climbing plant, one that will climb upwards of 30 feet? Or are you looking for a smaller, more delicate version of a climber to grace the door to your garden?

A common mistake among novice rose growers is to chose the climbing rose they love, and darn the size. They seem to have the mistaken impression that if the plant really wants to grow 20 or more feet, they merely have to cut it back to fit the five-foot area they have planned out for it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, in many ways, roses like this one have minds of their own. For one thing, you’ll find that you’re nearly always pruning the poor plant, which in the end may only cause it fatal injury.

For example, I knew a person who once really only wanted a climbing rose that would climb a maximum of eight feet. But she chose a rose called the

Climbing Cecile Brunner
Cecile Brunner by Malcolm Manners

Climbing Cecile Brunner. As soon as she told me what she did, I realized she was in trouble with it.

The Brunner is known to climb tall and aggressively. Let’s just say that the Brunner has been accused of tearing the front porches off of houses with its large and overwhelming mass.

After a year of battling that monster of a climber, she realized her mistake. The following year she bought a Blush Noisette that fit her space perfectly. Unfortunately, she was never able to view the Brunner with the initial love that she felt before she purchased one of her own.

I’d hate for you to have an experience like that. Not only is it frustrating, but it’s disappointing to think your passion for a particular rose would be quashed like that.

Made in the shade.

Rose tree
photo Rose tree by T.Kiya from Japan

Yes, we’ve established earlier that roses like the sun — at least six hours of sunlight a day (I can see them now in a chaise, with the sunglasses on lounging along a beach!).

After you’ve determined the size you have available to allot to your chosen love, seriously consider how much sunlight the area receives. Don’t rule the area out immediately just because it may get some shade. Some climbing roses thrive in partial shade.

Some climbers, especially those that produce white, light pink, and light yellow roses can tolerate more shade than those plants which produce brighter and stronger colors (reds, oranges, and the like).

In fact, just about the majority of the Hybrid Musk Roses, which can occupy a space as small as six to 10 feet — are capable of withstanding up to half a day of shade. The particular varieties in this category include Buff Beauty,

Rosa Lavender Lassie
Rosa Lavender Lassie photo by Salicyna

Lavender Lassie, Kathleen, and Cornelia.

Again, don’t go knocking your head against that brick wall by trying to fill shaded space with a plant that needs sun and vice versa.


Madame Alfred Carriere climbing roses
Madame Alfred Carriere climbing roses in the shade

When choosing a climbing rose, the degree of its disease resistance is probably a more important consideration than with the lower-lying plants. Why? Are you really going to climb 10, 15, or 25 feet above the ground just to spray your plant to rid him of disease?

Give this some thought (you might not have thought this factor through completely yet). Not only would it be more difficult to apply any disease killing materials, but it would be nearly impossible to visually check the plant’s health status, as you do with other plants and roses in your garden.

So, it’s of vital importance that you begin with a plant that is hardy. Roses growing along a wall, by the way, receive less air circulation which opens them up to greater risks of disease. Roses growing in the shade may also experience more health problems.

Similarly, roses growing on a chain-link fence or on top of a trellis getting that full sun won’t experience nearly the number of fungal problems than roses on a north wall.

If you’re bound and determined to place your roses in a shaded area (it’s the only available area, which is more likely the case) then consider choosing one of the Noisettes, like the Madame Alfred Carriere. While these roses may not be extremely resistant to illness while young, they seem to acquire that trait as they get older.

Bloom and bloom again?

Felicite et Perpetue
Felicite et Perpetue photo by A. Barra

Now that you have those issues resolved, well, at least you’re thinking about them — let’s tackle yet another topic: the rebloom factor. Many climbing roses — especially the old Ramblers (the roses, not the cars!) bloom only once. They bloom in the springs. Other climbers, though, bloom from spring through fall.

Rambler Roses
Rambler Roses

If your climbing rose is taking center stage in a small flower garden, then you’ll want a flower that’s going to last for more than just a month or so.

On the other hand, if it’s going to be among an ensemble cast of a group of one-time bloomers, then that becomes less of an issue. If you’re looking for a single bloomer than, think of the Belle of Portugal, Kiftsgate,

lady banks rose
lady banks rose

Lady Banks or even Felicite et Perpetue. These once-blooming plants put more energy into vertical growth and far less into the flower itself.

There are some large climbers which are repeat bloomers, like the white Sombreuil. This plant, which can climb to more than 25 feet, is also quite healthy. You’ll be pleased with its rate of blooming if you provide it with enough water, fertilizer, and sunlight.


Finally, that brings us to color. And of course, that’s purely a matter of individual taste. I’m sure you’ll find some color that complements the other flowers you have in mind. Or, you could possibly choose the color of the roses, and pattern your garden around them. Yeah! Roses deserve that consideration, now don’t they?

Related How To article: 3 Methods to Plant a Climbing Rose

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