Training Climbing Roses – How To Get A Climbing Rose To Climb

climbing rose
climbing rose
(Image credit: Musat)

When training climbing roses, purchase a roll of flexible tape for tying back canes or other flexible ties like wire with a rubbery coating on them. You will want ties that provide strong support but offer flexibility with growth, not anything that may cut into the canes causing disease entry point wounds. Not only is it important to have good support ties but also check on them often to make sure they are in good order – I have heard of cases where climbing roses have popped loose and collapsed into a heap. Imagine trying to wrestle with a huge thorn-covered octopus!

How to Get a Climbing Rose to Climb

Climbing roses need your attention to help train them in the way that they should go. I have read recommendations to let the climbing roses grow for two to three years without pruning them except to remove broken or damaged canes. This is a good recommendation, but it does not mean that they need no attention. While growing in those first years, keep an eye on where the canes are growing and help train them by tying them back to the support structure you have chosen. Canes that are totally unruly are best removed early on. Not doing so can become a major frustration as they grow older and larger. These roses do not need to be pruned way back after winter. I give climbers all the time they need to leaf out in the spring. I like them to show me where to prune and not guess at it. Pruning them too much can sacrifice blooms. Some climbing roses bloom on the previous year’s growth, thus over pruning them can severely diminish the bloom production!

Why a Climbing Rose Won’t Climb

In most cases, a climbing rose that will not climb is one that has not been trained early on in how it is expected to grow. The main structural canes, without proper support, bow over into a mass of canes along the ground. Such a sight can make some gardeners toss their hands in the air and run! At this point, the beauty has truly become a beast (remember my comparison to wrestling an octopus?). I have taken different approaches when confronted with such situations. Either prune out the most unmanageable canes and slowly tie up the canes that are manageable until things meet your vision, or prune out all of the canes and allow the rose to grow back with all new canes. As the rose bush grows back, the canes can then be properly tied back and “trained” in a manner that fits how you want them to grow. Another option is to prune out all the canes and dig out the rose, then plant a new climbing rose bush and start from scratch. The beauty beheld in those paintings and photographs can be our very own, but you must be willing to dedicate the time and effort into making it so. Enjoy your roses and the time spent with them; they will reward you in a like fashion.

Stan V. Griep

Stan V. Griep contributed to Gardening Know How for many years. An American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian in the Rocky Mountain District, he served as Gardening Know How's in-house expert on all things roses.