Pruning climbing roses

Getting flowers all the way up and not just in the sky!

Roses have a ”thing” called apical dominance.  In very basic terms it means the main shoot is dominant and wants to reach the stars as quickly as possible.  The problem with this is that the sideshoots don’t develop leaving you with one or two stems and flowers only at the top.

To get flowers and more stems lower down we have to trick the plant into thinking it has several main shoots.  This means creating a framework with the main shoot at an angle between horizontal and 45° or gently wound around the pillar on an arch.

Still with me?

Don’t worry too much about the science bit.  If you have a new climbing rose it is easy to establish a framework.  As the new shoots grow, and whilst they are still quite springy, gently ease them towards the position you want and tie them onto a support.  It is best to tie them with garden twine as this will rot and break as the plant grows, in case you forget to loosen them as the stem gets bigger.  Don’t tie it too tightly to the support or the support could damage the stem of the rose.  Allow the plant a little bit of room to move.

If you have an older plant it is best tackled in early Spring (end of February/early March) and may take a couple of years to really get the framework established.  It may involve quite a bit of cutting but don’t panic.  Once Spring gets going your rose will soon leap into renewed life, especially if you help it along with some rose feed as the growing season begins and mulch with some compost or well-rotted manure.

Choose the stems you can tie in at more or less the angle you want.  You then remove any crossing stems (where one stem sits across another or may rub on it), cut out all the dead, or diseased shoots.  Where there are a couple of shoots together remove the weaker one.  Also, shorten all the existing sideshoots.

In summer all the side shoots along the angled main shoot will “think” they are the main shoot and flower giving you flowers along the whole stem and filling your trellis or arch with colour.

Below is a small pergola with a rose over it.  The rose had gone a bit wild and was no longer producing as many flowers.  All the growth was at the front and not covering the top of the pergola.  I gave it a fairly major haircut (!) to establish the framework and clear out the old or dead wood.  I now go every year in February/March to prune it ready for the year ahead.

Climbing rose before pruning                         Climbing rose after pruning

I have taken the rose back to its main framework and removed any damaged/dead wood and any crossing stems to allow plenty of light and air around the plant.  After pruning the rose is mulched with plenty of well-rotted manure.  This helps give it a bit of a feed and also helps retain moisture as we head into summer.  In summer the arch is covered in white roses.


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