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Planting And Care Of Climbing Roses

[The Importance Of Climbing Roses]  [Hardy Climbing Roses]  [Less-Hardy Types]  [Obsolete And Undeveloped Strains]  [The Use Of Climbing Roses]  [Supports For Climbing Roses]  [Planting And Care] 

Climbing Roses
Probably, climbing roses are as easy to grow as any plants which are admitted to the garden. They will endure all sorts of conditions and much neglect. About the only way to make them fail is to plant them upside down.

But we do not want climbing roses in our gardens which merely exist. We want vigorous, full-bodied plants with luxuriant foliage and abundant bloom, brilliant, fragrant, and long-lasting. To achieve such results it is necessary to give climbing roses something more than the casual attention which ordinary shrubs and perennials receive.


If there is room for only one or two climbing roses in the garden, the chances are that there is little doubt about the place to plant them. They simply must make the best of whatever the situation affords. But if there is an opportunity to choose a place for them, select a site open to the sun for most of the day, free from enclosing trees or walls which shut out active circulation of air, and preferably on a slope and on porous soil, so that the drainage may be perfect underground.

Bear in mind that climbing roses may grow to be tremendous shrubs. The strongest of them think nothing of reaching thirty to forty feet in a few years. If left alone, they usually check their rapid growth when normal dimensions have been attained, but by pruning we continually compel climbing roses to renew themselves, thus keeping them in a constant state of active growth which makes heavy demands upon the fertility and moisture of the soil.

Consequently, to prepare the ground adequately for a climbing rose is a prime requisite for success. The soil ought to be naturally rich, or be made so. Though climbing roses will grow on poor soil more successfully than other kinds of roses, the fact remains that the better we treat them the better they will treat us.

For best results, make a hole for each plant three feet in diameter and not less than two feet deep. If the soil is sticky clay in the bottom of the hole, remove enough more to allow room for six to eight inches of broken stones or cinders for drainage, but make certain that an outlet for this drainage is provided, otherwise a water-tight tank will be formed, soggy at the bottom, which will rot off the tender rootlets and eventually destroy the rose.

Mix about one-third well-rotted manure with the best available soil for the rose to grow in. If chopped sod is obtainable, a moderate quantity laid over the drainage before filling the hole will materially improve the fertility of the soil. If well-rotted manure is not to be had, garden compost, reinforced with commercial fertilizers, will do just as well; but do not, in anxiety to provide extraordinary richness, err on the side of making the soil too light and fluffy. All roses delight in a heavy clay soil, and gardens which are blessed with a deep, strong loam ought not be tampered with too much.

Supports upon which the roses are to be trained should be put in place either before or while the holes are being dug for the plants. To put them in afterwards is much harder and is likely to cause damage to the roots of the roses.

All this preparatory work had better be done several weeks before it is time to plant the roses, in order to allow the fertilizer and the soil to become incorporated with each other and to let the disturbed earth settle again firmly into place. Roses do not like to grow in loose ground.


Before we can plant a rose we must have the rose to plant. The best place to get good rose plants is from a nursery of established reputation. In buying roses, the same as buying anything close, quality counts. It must be remembered that roses are perishable, and the careful buyer will make certain that the plants he gets have been properly cared for from the time they were dug in the nursery field until they reach his garden. This kind of care costs money, and it is not at all unusual or unfair that those nurserymen and dealers who take proper care of their plants should charge more for them. The plants are worth it; they cost more, as things of high quality usually do. Although climbing roses have great vitality, frequently making big plants quickly from small and unpromising beginnings, cheap, "bargain" plants are outrageously expensive in the end, because they either die or do not prosper, and often are not true to name, grievously disappointing the purchaser when, as, and if, they do bloom.

The best kind of climbing rose to buy is one that has grown two years in the open ground. It makes little difference whether it is own-root or budded, for almost all climbing roses strike easily from cuttings and are vigorous enough to make healthy, robust growth on their own roots. There is no need to be arbitrary about it. The important thing is that the plant should be vigorous and accustomed to outdoor life.

As a matter of fact, almost all nursery-grown climbing roses are budded plants, as roses of other types are, since the production departments of nurseries find it easier to pursue the same method in producing climbing roses as for propagating roses of other types.


Climbing roses may be planted in the garden either in autumn or spring in northern climates, and throughout the winter in the South. In the North, the only difficulty attendant upon winter planting is the danger of the ground becoming frozen before properly ripened plants can be obtained from nurseries located in milder climates. In order to forestall this danger, the ground may be prepared early in the autumn and protected from frost by covering it with a layer of manure or boards which will keep out the frost.

Autumn-planted roses need some protection from cold and dryness during the winter. It seems strange to speak of dryness in connection with a northern winter, but if the ground is frozen solid about the roots of a plant, they cannot function and are consequently unable to replace the moisture which the cold, dry air evaporates from the stems. This condition may be prevented by covering the plant almost entirely with earth.

In spring the same danger may be encountered for a different reason. The spring winds are often extremely dry, and the canes of newly planted roses are likely to be prematurely withered before the roots can get into action. Covering the plants with little hills of earth is insurance against the occurrence of such a disaster.

The act of planting a climbing rose is no different from the planting of any other kind of rose or shrub. Protect the roots from drying from the time the roses are received until they are covered with soil. Make the hole big enough to receive the roots without twisting or bending, and sift the soil among them in such a way that they lie in the ground in approximately the same relation to it as they did before the plant was lifted from the nursery. Remember that roses like to grow in firm ground, and make sure that the soil is packed tightly as it is placed around the roots. Do not be afraid to tramp it firmly until it refuses to yield any more. If the ground is very dry, a bucket of water in each hole before it is completely filled with earth will alleviate the situation. But this is seldom necessary except in periods of drought.

As a rule, nurserymen shorten the tops of all roses before they ship them. If this has not been done before planting, remove all the canes except two or three, and reduce their length to about twelve inches in the autumn, or six inches in the spring. This seems like a very drastic procedure, but results will justify it. Experiments without number have been made to prove that roses could be transplanted without removing most of the branches, and many such experiments have succeeded in keeping the plants alive, but in only very few instances have they amounted to much until they killed off the old wood and restored themselves entirely by new growth. So it might just as well be done first as last.

A climbing rose planted in the autumn, winter, or early spring should begin growth as soon as the buds of deciduous trees begin to burst. Under normal conditions, ordinary strong-growing climbing roses will produce several canes six to eight feet long the first year. These canes should be fastened to the support as they grow, or they may be allowed to sprawl as they will over the ground, if there is no particular need for neatness. Generally, it is better to train the canes around the support while they are young and pliable, at least a few of them, in order that there may be bloom at the bottom of the plant as well as at the top.


Climbing roses are not immune to the diseases and insects which attack other rose bushes. Blackspot, while not as pestiferous on climbing roses as it is on Hybrid Perpetuals, Hybrid Teas, and other bedding roses, nevertheless must be contended with, and mildew is one of the greatest enemies that climbing roses have to face.

For black-spot, the well-known garden fungicide, Bordeaux mixture, applied every two weeks throughout the season, is effective. Experiments conducted by Cornell University, with the support of the American Rose Society, have proved that black-spot can also be controlled by dusting the plants every fortnight with a fine, impalpable powder, known as "Massey dust," made of nine parts sulphur and one part lead arsenate. Various other materials and means of control are offered as proprietary articles, most of which have some merit and a few of which are good.

The curse of mildew, which afflicts climbing roses particularly, is generally controlled by the methods used to combat black-spot, but a greater freedom from mildew may be hoped for if the plants are grown in a properly ventilated location. Mildew is far more prevalent in tightly inclosed gardens and on plants which grow in the angles of buildings or on walls. Temporary relief may be afforded from mildew by spraying the plants with a strong solution of baking-soda (sodium bicarbonate) but this is not lasting, and cannot be relied upon to keep the foliage free from the fungus.

The buds and flowers of climbing roses are likely to be eaten by rose-bugs, Japanese beetles, and other pests, and the foliage also appeals to the appetites of slugs, worms, and larvx of numerous vicious insects. The one and only cure for that sort of thing is to put poison on the plants.

The most effective form of poison is arsenate of lead, which should be applied according to the method recommended by the manufacturers on the package, either as a dust or as a spray. The "Massey dust" includes one-tenth arsenate of lead, and, if used persistently as recommended, should repulse or kill all such marauders.

The green lice which congregate at the tips of growing shoots and envelop the buds at times, do not eat in the ordinary sense. They are true bugs as the zoologists define bugs. That is, they have beaks which they insert under the bark of the plant and through them suck the juices which ought to nourish the buds and flowers. These malevolent little beasts, in common with all insects, breathe through tiny holes along the sides of their bodies. They can be killed by stopping up those holes with soapsuds, oil, or some other viscous material, and their breathing apparatus can be paralyzed by some narcotic, such as nicotine or pyrethrum. Various preparations are on the market for controlling these aphides or plant-lice. The best of them have a base of nicotine sulphate or pyrethrum extract.    A thing that needs to be noted, especially in fighting plant-lice which breed so prolifically, is that they are often packed on the plants two or three layers deep. No matter how thoroughly the spraying is done, only the outer layers can be reached at one time. This means that the spraying must be repeated once or twice in order to slaughter the inmost and final layer. Good cultivators always spray for aphides three days in succession. This

method will clear the plants of the pests for several weeks. Spraying need not be repeated for that purpose within that time.

The important thing that every gardener must learn is that no matter what he sprays with, or what he dusts with, the thoroughness with which he does it is more important than the material. It is not enough to point the spray-gun in the general direction of the plant and squirt. The gardener must see to it that the plant is thoroughly enveloped in dust or drenched with spray from top to bottom, on both sides of the foliage, in order that every portion may receive its protective coating.


In the southern states, climbing roses need no protection at all in the winter. Moving toward the North, the same is true until we reach a climate where the thermometer ordinarily falls below zero for extended periods. In such climates, climbing roses need some protection, especially those which have been newly planted. The necessity for this protection will suggest to intelligent gardeners the importance of training climbing roses in such a fashion that they can be protected easily. Where it is possible to spread a protecting mat or carpet over the face of a wall on which roses are growing, advantage should be taken of the opportunity. Pillars should be arranged that they may be wrapped from the base to the top with straw or some other protective material without too much trouble, or they may be hinged or detachable from the ground in a manner spoken of in the previous chapter. 

Pending the time when a race of climbing roses which is immune to frost and winter damage has arrived, those gardeners who grow roses in the more severe climates (twenty degrees below zero for many weeks) must reconcile themselves to the work of taking down their climbing roses in the fall and covering them either with soil or leaves for the winter. A shelter over the canes which will shed water and keep off the rays of the winter sun is much more effective than a heavy, thick, wet, soggy protection which may rot the canes. Earth is the best of all materials.

Where the climate is not so severe that it requires the removal of the roses from their supports, the late autumn and early winter months can be profitably spent by tying in canes which become dislodged in the wind and making everything snug and fast against the winter blasts. Roses can do considerable damage to themselves and to each other by rubbing off the bark where it comes in contact with other canes or their supports, or by slashing themselves with their thorns as they are knocked about in the wind.

As spring approaches, the buds on climbing roses begin to swell very early, and this swelling is an indication that the protective material may be lessened as the season advances. It is well to keep a light shelter over plants which have been heavily protected during the winter, until the tenderness caused by the close confinement has been somewhat hardened by exposure to the spring atmosphere.

Naturally, one of the first jobs the second spring after planting is to tie up those roses which have been laid down for the winter and to make fast canes which have become dislodged. The second season should bring into bloom climbing roses of almost all types, and a fair crop for the size of the plants may be expected. It is doubtful whether any pruning is advisable for climbing roses that year. I rather believe that a climbing rose ought to be left unpruned until it has achieved at least three years' growth after planting.


The third year after planting, a decision either to prune the new climbing roses or to let them alone must be made. It may seem rank heresy to some rose-growers to question whether pruning is necessary at all or not, but in some cases it may be quite inadvisable. A climbing rose which is intended to be a big, healthy, specimen plant in the middle of a lawn will get along quite well without being pruned until the time comes for it to be reduced in size. If a rose is planted for a big spectacular effect, it will have served its purpose when it has produced that effect, and it cannot do justice to itself or to its planter if a large portion of its growth is removed each year.

On the other hand, although some roses left unpruned may grow into magnificent bushes and produce a perfectly enormous number of flowers, they do it at the expense of their span of life. Their glory is brief. They soon become choked with dead and decadent wood through which weak new shoots struggle to the light. The only remedy is to cut down the plant, dig it out, and put in a new one.

Pruning is a device intended to prevent that. It is also a method of controlling the growth of a rose in the garden. The vigor of some types is so great that unless they are intelligently pruned they may overwhelm any small place almost before the gardener is aware of it.

There are two theories of pruning. One is to thin or remove old wood in order to induce the plant to renew itself with virgin growth. The other is the "snip-snip" method, which is most in evidence in training barberry and privet hedges. Until recently, the "snip-snip" method has been frowned upon in connection with roses, but lately a school of opinion has arisen which teaches that this method should be used on certain types of roses. The truth of the matter is that neither method is always right. The gardener must be guided entirely by what he wants to get from his roses. The man who is a slave to the hard pruning method and follows it regardless of all other considerations is likely to have a lean, lanky, bare-looking garden, whereas the snipsnipper is either going to have to buy another acre or move out himself. Pruning should be a matter of common sense. Experts can tell you how to plant a rose, how to protect it from insects and other enemies, but nobody can tell you how to prune a rose. It is something that each person must learn for himself. Certain general rules may be laid down, and within those rules there is plenty of room for free action.

Climbing roses fall into three groups, so far as their pruning requirements are concerned. These groups roughly coincide with the hardy climbers, the tender climbers, and those which are intermediate between them.

The hardiest climbing roses, or those which are characterized by small flowers borne in clusters, and long, twiggy growth, belong to the Climber. Multiflora class or to the early race of Wichuraiana hybrids and are generally benefited by hard pruning. Most of such roses have the characteristic habit of sending up strong new canes from the base of the plant every year. These new canes mature sufficiently in one season to bear a crop of flowers the following year. Unless the gardener wants his bushes to get large and heavy, it is a wise thing to remove from roses of this type, all the canes which have 'borne flowers, as soon as the blooms fade. To postpone it until late in autumn incurs the danger of losing most of next season's bloom. The best way to do the job is to cut the roses free from their supports and lay them on the ground, tying up the strong new shoots as they grow, and cutting out the old ones. It is a murderous thing to do, and after it has been done the garden looks horribly desolate, but the results generally justify the practice.

On the other hand, climbing roses of the Tea, Hybrid Tea, Noisette, Bourbon, and such other tender strains bloom very sparingly on new wood. The finest flowers are produced from short spurs which grow out of two- or three-year-old canes. Common sense indicates at once that these roses should not suffer the devastating treatment given the hardier types. The "snip-snip" method can be used here to advantage, by removing surplus dangling ends and canes which threaten to grow in the wrong places. The vigor of these roses is sufficiently great in favorable climates to require restraint if the space is limited, but in moderate and northern climates the less pruning they have the better, since it is only under special conditions that they make any growth at all.

Between these two extremes is the new group of so-called large-flowered hardy climbers. One can readily see that climbers which partake of the nature of both classes might require judicious pruning embodying both principles. A largeflowered climber of the type of Silver Moon, for example, would soon occupy the greater part of any ordinary garden if not operated upon vigorously every season or two to remove most of its growth. On the other hand, roses like Paul's Scarlet Climber, which are cluster-flowering in habit, with blooms normally larger than the usual cluster-flowered type, make growth of such moderate vigor that the pruning-knife had better be kept away from them. Thus it appears there is a broad group of climbers on which most careful judgment must be exercised. The way to treat them is to leave as much wood on them as is practicable and to remove only those canes which seem to threaten the peace of the garden.

Very little good is done by cutting off the seedhips which follow the blooms. In fact, a good many of the recently so-called everblooming climbers will not produce their second bloom if the old flower clusters are removed. The new or secondary blooms seem to arise in the midst of the old flower clusters or immediately below them, evidently from delayed buds which could not produce their flowers on schedule with the rest of the plant. Thus cutting off the faded flowers to induce a second bloom defeats its own purpose, and at the same time removes the possibility of the secondary beauty which the rose-hips may have to offer. The fruits of most climbing roses are exceedingly ornamental, varying from the bright orange imitation Seckel pears on roses like Lemon Pillar and Mme. Gregoire Staechelin, to the innumerable orange-scarlet berries, handsomer than those of any euonymus, which adorn Bloomfield Courage from the base to the top through several months of the winter.

Undoubtedly, confusion may be expected concerning the proper method of pruning climbing roses, but the heavens will not fall if a mistake is made, and it is only by mistakes that any of us can learn. Different opinions always exist and may be equally good. Each gardener must work out his own practice for himself for his own knowledge and pleasure. Only general principles have been stated here. Rules are laid down for infants and beginners. The artist, be he poet, painter or gardener, is great only when he learns how to break them to advantage, or to make new ones for himself alone.