Choosing & Caring for Your Roses
Photo by Courtesy John and Louise Clements, owners of Heirloom Roses
Sander's White Rambler
Trusses of beautiful, small, semi-double fragrant blooms of purest white. Shiny, medium to dark green foliage. This is a late bloomer. Hardy zones 5-10. Grows 15+ feet. Available from ClimbingRoses.com
Unless routinely pruned, ramblers can quickly develop into a tangled mass, enveloping a fence or arbor altogether. Climbers are more restrained, but still benefit from annual trimming to maintain a pleasing shape and encourage blooming. Every spring, Lowe dons his leather gloves and heads out with some sharp pruners to work on his ramblers and climbers. "Don't be timid. Roses are tough and grow back fast," Parton says. "Save the main canes, then do what looks good. If you let climbers get too tall too fast, the blooms will gather at the top, and you'll have bare parts at the bottom. Keep it more compact, and it will fill out at the bottom and can still get very tall over time." At the same time, Lowe cautions against cutting too much new growth on any rose. "They bloom first on old wood, then on recent growth, so if you remove too much new wood, you'll shorten the bloom duration," he explains. Always cut above a bud that points to the outside of the bush; this prevents new canes from growing into the middle.
Beyond pruning and watering, both ramblers and climbers will thrive with little maintenance, so long as you select a variety that's appropriate to your climate—and that doesn't just mean your hardiness zone. For example, a lot of roses that grow fine in the Southeast won't make it in the Southwest, says Parton. He advises calling local rose nurseries or rose societies to learn what varieties do best in your area. "Rosarians love to talk about roses," he adds with a laugh. They can help you pick an appropriate rose with your preferred color, flower type, fragrance, growth habit, size, and duration of blooms.
All roses have one overriding characteristic, however: "They need sunlight to bloom," Parton says. That means at least six to eight hours of sun on a clear day. This is an almost absolute rule; roses don't flower in shade. And roses are meant to bloom—foliage, however lush and green, is secondary.
With that in mind, you should match a plant's mature size to the structure you want it to cover. "Some modern climbers grow only six to seven feet," Parton says. That's ideal for fences and lampposts, but may not make it to the top of a tall arbor, pergola, or trellis.