Reach new heights in your rose garden with ramblers and climbers

The most charming and welcoming gardens have climbing roses that arch over and define entry gates; spill over arbors, pillars and pergolas; cover walls, fences and trellises; or cascade down in a profusion of blooms from trees and hillsides. These climbers and ramblers are as astounding as they are breathtaking. They are the garden’s showoffs and showstoppers.

Ramblers and climbers

Ramblers are generally hardy old roses descending from a large and complex heritage. Their general nature and growth habit are is that of very vigorous plants that flower profusely once in the spring in massive clusters of small or medium blooms. Some ramblers do have a repeat bloom, and many show off beautiful colorful hips in the fall. They often have flexible canes that can reach 20 to 30 feet.

A rambler can be trained to ascend into a tree or spill over a hillside. The more modern climbers were specifically developed to produce large blooms and to flower repeatedly during the course of the year. They often have stiffer canes, and they generally range between 8 to 15 feet long. Some hybrid teas and floribundas such as Peace and Iceberg have spontaneously developed a climbing sport.

Gertrude Jekyll's pink rosette blooms have a strong, quintessential old rose fragrance. This climber is 8 to 10 feet tall.

Gertrude Jekyll has rich, glowing pink rosette blooms with a strong, quintessential old rose fragrance. This climber is 8 to 10 feet tall.

(David Austin Roses)

Gertrude Jekyll rose blooms, in detail.

Gertrude Jekyll rose blooms, in detail.

(Rita Perwich)

Rose care

The care of these roses is similar to that of your bush roses. They need to be planted in the sun in a well-amended soil, they have the same fertilizing and watering requirements, and they are susceptible to the same diseases and pests as your other roses.


Careful thought has to precede buying a rose that climbs, as you need an appropriate site that is roomy enough to accommodate its growth habit and a structure that is sturdy enough to support the weight of the plant when it is fully grown. Unlike climbing vines that can twine or twist, these roses can’t attach themselves without your assistance. Use a flexible material like stretchable tape to tie them to prevent damage to the canes.

You can train your rose on a trellis or fence, you can drape the canes over the arch of a gate or an arbor, or you can attach them to an upright support such as a pillar. These roses are not just beautiful, but also can be useful in the landscape as a screen for privacy or as a barrier to hide something unsightly.

If you want to train a rose to grow on a wall, you will need to provide a support such as a wooden lattice attached to the wall with bolts, allowing space for air circulation and also for access to tie the canes. Plant the rose 12 inches or more from the structure, not right up against it, and train your rose throughout the growing season while the canes are young, supple and amenable to bending, weaving or shaping.


Climbing and rambling roses have main canes and side shoots known as laterals. The main canes are the long canes that you attach to your structure. The laterals come off the main canes, and they produce the buds that will flower.

When your main canes get to the height you want, you will train them to grow horizontally, because the more parallel the main canes are to the ground, the more you encourage this lateral growth with blooms. If you let your climber grow straight up a structure, you will only have blooms at the top.

On a lattice or fence, create a mirror effect by training an equal number of canes to each side of the center of the bush.

Lady Banks’ Rose is a thornless once blooming rose that can grow to 20 feet and is perfect for arbors and gazebos.

Lady Banks’ Rose is a thornless once blooming rose that can grow to 20 feet and is perfect for arbors and gazebos.

(Rita Perwich)


The starting point for pruning, which applies to when we prune all roses, is to remove dead, damaged, diseased, entangled or rubbing canes. Other than this, pruning is performed differently on climbing roses. You will not be cutting length off the main canes unless you need to shape the rose.

On repeat blooming climbers and ramblers, you will deadhead the laterals after each bloom cycle. These roses should be pruned along with your other roses in January. Strip the remaining leaves if you can reach them.

Once-blooming ramblers and climbers should be pruned after blooming, although you may want to procrastinate on those that exhibit a beautiful rose hip display.

Very little to no pruning is required the first few years after you plant a new climber. This allows the root system to develop adequately to support the plant and the canes to grow to the required length.


Climbing roses are captivating landscape plants. Many of them are fragrant, some are thornless, and each has its own personality — which makes the selection process really hard! The American Rose Society’s Handbook forCQ on Selecting Roses has a list of top-rated ramblers and climbers, which is a good starting point.

Some of my older favorites that are included in this list are the thornless yellow and white species Lady Banks’ Rose, Mme Alfred Carrière (1879), Sombreuil (1880), Mlle Cécile Brünner (1880), Mermaid (1918), Albéric Barbier (1900), Albertine (1921), Belle Portugaise (1903), thornless Zéphirine Drouhin (1868), Veilchenblau (1909) and New Dawn (1930).

Mermaid is a very thorny but vigorous repeat blooming rose that can grow to 30 feet.

Mermaid is a very thorny but vigorous repeat blooming rose that can grow to 30 feet.

(Rita Perwich)

Highly rated modern roses include Fourth of July, Clair Matin, Royal Sunset, Dortmund, Kiftsgate, Rosarium Uetersen, Altissimo, Dublin Bay, Don Juan, Eden (Pierre de Ronsard), America, Berries’n’Cream and Gertrude Jekyll.

A wonderful book with pictures and lively descriptions of the old classic climbers and ramblers is “Empress of the Garden” by G. Michael Shoup, the owner of the Antique Rose Emporium. But be warned that instead of helping you narrow down your selection, this book will leave you wanting them all.

Perwich is a member of the San Diego Rose Society, a Consulting Rosarian and a Master Gardener with UC Cooperative Extension.

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