Roses Trained

Green thumbs up...

...to the optimistic attitude required to train roses. As an illustration:

Here is a story of two climbing roses.

One is on a trellis, one is grown in classic pillar form. We present it to illustrate both the basics of training the canes and the inherent, enthralling nature of the game.

Roses are willful. They are drama queens, as well -- inclined to magnify any infection, infestation or meteorological quirk until it fills the screen with tragedy, comedy or romance. So it takes a great deal of optimism to pair the word "rose" with "train."

Yet this is the essence of growing a climbing rose. We dedicate ourselves to cultivating branch configurations that are both architecturally pleasing and productive of the finest floral show. The rose strings us along, apparently happy to behave well and even to flourish under our care but ever ready to take the show off in a wholly different direction. Years accumulate and their number becomes inconsequential in this partnership that embodies the phrase "Live for the day."

Training and tending a trellised rose

This story of rose 'New Dawn' on a trellis could be the story of any trellised climber.

This story of rose 'New Dawn' on a trellis could be the story of any trellised climber.

In short:

Begin by spreading some main canes at wide angles to attractively cover the trellis. Near-vertical canes will grow most quickly. Nearly- but not quite horizontal canes will bear the most flowers.

Each spring, clean up the framework you created by removing any dead wood and suckers, and shortening overly long side branches and tips.

After bloom, remove wild growth. Shorten the side branches that bore the flowers and nip the tips of main canes -- both moves encourage more branching that can mean more blooms next time.

Arrows mark some branches to be cut back post-bloom.

Arrows mark some branches to be cut back post-bloom.

It's been a productive rose. Each spring, we simply shorten each main cane and clip the flowering side branches back to a few inches from the main cane.

It's been a productive rose. Each spring, we simply shorten each main cane and clip the flowering side branches back to a few inches from the main cane.

We used this very rose to create this illustration of climber pruning, for issue What's Coming Up 157.

We used this very rose to create this illustration of climber pruning, for issue What's Coming Up 157.

(We do touch on climber pruning in this article but our focus is on training. For more on pruning and a detailed explanation of the diagram above, see What's Coming Up 157.)

The rose shares the trellis with a late blooming Clematis viticella. Since we cut the clematis to the ground every spring it seems the two should be amicable roommates even after the cut the vines must be disentangled. Then we must continue as referee through the year.

The rose shares the trellis with a late blooming Clematis viticella. Since we cut the clematis to the ground every spring it seems the two should be amicable roommates even after the cut the vines must be disentangled. Then we must continue as referee through the year.

We were nursing scratches after playing referee between a climber rose and a clematis when we wrote in What's Coming Up 140:

Green Thumbs down...

...to clematis in climbing rose. It sounds romantic and can look beautiful now and again during summer, but what a nightmare to manage at pruning time. Is there anything more vicious than a rose cane, anything more fragile and tangled than a clematis?

At pruning time one year, with all the main canes gathered out of the way for trellis maintenance, we think all the thorn pricks we've received in the process should net us greater reward. We decide it's a good time to correct some of our previous training decisions.

At pruning time one year, with all the main canes gathered out of the way for trellis maintenance, we think all the thorn pricks we've received in the process should net us greater reward. We decide it's a good time to correct some of our previous training decisions.

We put the main canes back in place at the end of April, arranging them to lay closer to horizontal and to cover the trellis evenly. This, the best we can do, still leaves too much rose extending beyond the trellis' left side.

We put the main canes back in place at the end of April, arranging them to lay closer to horizontal and to cover the trellis evenly. This, the best we can do, still leaves too much rose extending beyond the trellis' left side.

So we cut back the left-most main cane. We're satisfied. The rose is in its proper place on the trellis and is developing more flowering side branches on parts of their canes formerly shaded by that portion of the left main cane.

So we cut back the left-most main cane. We're satisfied. The rose is in its proper place on the trellis and is developing more flowering side branches on parts of their canes formerly shaded by that portion of the left main cane.

We can wish for a flatter fit against the trellis but one of the beauties of gardening and especially rose growing is that there is always something to look forward to "next year."

We can wish for a flatter fit against the trellis but one of the beauties of gardening and especially rose growing is that there is always something to look forward to "next year."

The stub of the main cane we cut back is at the top center in each of these photos. In the left photo: Arrows show the plant's response to that cut, three wild canes from just behind and one foot down from the cut. In the right photo, our answer to that move: We'll cut off all three. We've bent the three down to make them stand out for the picture.

The stub of the main cane we cut back is at the top center in each of these photos. In the left photo: Arrows show the plant's response to that cut, three wild canes from just behind and one foot down from the cut. In the right photo, our answer to that move: We'll cut off all three. We've bent the three down to make them stand out for the picture.

Remove these unwanted suckers in April...

Remove these unwanted suckers in April...

...they will be back.

...they will be back.

Suckers are both nuisance and blessing

Every spring we prune out suckers from the vine's base and throughout the year we may remove more basal suckers. We might cometimes be thinking "Nuisance!" as we remove suckers but their presence is assurance of continuation. Whenever we need to replace a main cane that's become old or damaged and less productive, we can keep a sucker and train it into place.

For instance, the spring after we removed suckers several times we were glad of the plant's vigor because an historically cold winter killed the whole plant back to the ground. So we cut the vine to the ground. (We have no photos of removing the canes because we had so much hauling out of winter killed plants to do that spring we had little time for photography.) We let a half dozen suckers grow to be trained into a new fan.

There was no bloom that year since climbers bloom only after a cane is two years old -- the flowers form on the side branches that develop in year two and beyond.

Here's what we had one year after complete cutback ...and a bit more neglect of the new configuration than is right. (Even the most optimistic gardener is allowed some slack years.) The new canes are long enough to form the desired pattern.

Here's what we had one year after complete cutback ...and a bit more neglect of the new configuration than is right. (Even the most optimistic gardener is allowed some slack years.) The new canes are long enough to form the desired pattern.

What a great feeling it is on a sunny spring day, to stand back and see the canes well arranged and to imagine those lines traced with blooms. The best configuration yet. "This year!" We say.

What a great feeling it is on a sunny spring day, to stand back and see the canes well arranged and to imagine those lines traced with blooms. The best configuration yet. "This year!" We say.

No bloom?

You may notice that we haven't make much of this rose in flower. Nor will we crow over the second example, below. That's not for want of bloom but lack of photos. We accept that gap for what it is, another aspect of a rose's nature.

Both plants have displayed well and sometimes gloriously but at the same time they display their mastery of irony, peaking on days we were not present or when conditions were entirely wrong for a good photo. Maybe this year...

We love it. If you think after you see this that you cannot go with this flow then change your plan right now. Dig up that climber and grow something more amenable to direction.

Training and tending a pillar form rose

In short:

Spiral some main canes around a post/pillar. Keep the canes in place by tying them to hooks set into the pillar.

Each spring, remove dead wood and suckers.

In mid-summer every year, shorten side branches and the tips of main canes to encourage branching.

'Alchymist is a beautiful, fragrant rose... but we'll hear no more of that today.

'Alchymist is a beautiful, fragrant rose... but we'll hear no more of that today.

In classic rose gardens the architects set beautiful columns to support a pillar rose. For this 'Alchymist' rose (fragrant double/cabbage salmon pink blooms once a year) we make use of a more ordinary column, a utility pole.*

In classic rose gardens the architects set beautiful columns to support a pillar rose. For this 'Alchymist' rose (fragrant double/cabbage salmon pink blooms once a year) we make use of a more ordinary column, a utility pole.*

*It's not strictly legal to grow vines on a utility pole. Utility companies have the right to cut down or kill such impediments to cable maintenance. Janet worked for fifteen years in telephone line maintenance before we went full-time into gardening so we have personal knowledge of obstruction and damage caused by vines on poles. So we accept the risk of loss, should a utility company representative exercise their right. And we never plant very big vines such as wisteria and trumpet vine on a utility pole. They can reach electric lines and in wet weather form a continuous, energized and potentially deadly path between the wires and anyone on the ground who touches the plant.

Climbing roses bear their flowers on side branches, and such branches are most likely to develop where a cane bends toward the horizontal. On a trellis we can spread canes like a fan to encourage these "breaks." On a pillar the twist of each spiral encourages breaks. See here, few side branches on the vertical stems but more - with remnants of bloom -- where each cane begins its twist around the pole.

Climbing roses bear their flowers on side branches, and such branches are most likely to develop where a cane bends toward the horizontal. On a trellis we can spread canes like a fan to encourage these "breaks." On a pillar the twist of each spiral encourages breaks. See here, few side branches on the vertical stems but more - with remnants of bloom -- where each cane begins its twist around the pole.

After bloom we cut a great deal out of the vine, to shorten all side branches and clip the tips of main stems to encourage more branching. We also train in replacement canes if a main cane's age or production warrants retirement.

After bloom we cut a great deal out of the vine, to shorten all side branches and clip the tips of main stems to encourage more branching. We also train in replacement canes if a main cane's age or production warrants retirement.

The next spring on the leafless canes you can see the effect of our post-bloom cuts. See that the side branches have each branched -- that means more flowers per break.

The next spring on the leafless canes you can see the effect of our post-bloom cuts. See that the side branches have each branched -- that means more flowers per break.

There's ladder work required in keeping the top of a vine in a spiral when it's as big as 'Alchymist' (15', sometimes more). New growth has to be bent into place and tied to hooks we set into the pole.

There's ladder work required in keeping the top of a vine in a spiral when it's as big as 'Alchymist' (15', sometimes more). New growth has to be bent into place and tied to hooks we set into the pole.

The same terrible winter that killed the canes of our trellis example cut this big rose to the ground, too. Here we are one year into training the new from-the-ground canes into place. We twisted and tied them, and nipped their tips in mid-summer to encourage breaks. One of the main canes extended itself mightily at the end of summer and its tip (top right) is not yet fastened in place.

The same terrible winter that killed the canes of our trellis example cut this big rose to the ground, too. Here we are one year into training the new from-the-ground canes into place. We twisted and tied them, and nipped their tips in mid-summer to encourage breaks. One of the main canes extended itself mightily at the end of summer and its tip (top right) is not yet fastened in place.

Now all wayward canes have been bent and tied in to create another twist. There was no bloom last year on those all-new canes but they will bear flowers this summer on the side branches.

Now all wayward canes have been bent and tied in to create another twist. There was no bloom last year on those all-new canes but they will bear flowers this summer on the side branches.

They're vicious and try to hurt us at every opportunity but we keep at it, this rose growing thing. There's nothing like the scent of a rose!

- Janet -