out-of-control climbing roses

cajun-qn81(8)August 14, 2014

The previous owner of my house planted 5 climbing roses in a 6 ft. space and let them go. I'm now left with a tangled, thorny mess to get back under control. What's the easiest way to tame them? Is it possible to get them onto a trellis after they've been let to grow every which-way for so long?

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nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska

Hi Cajun-qn81

Boy that photo brings back memories of 2 years ago when I finally decided to put up something for my monster Quadra to grow on after about 6 years as a bad-tempered 7'X6' shrub. Mine looked almost exactly like that, although it was only one plant rather than several - are all of these the same variety? It looks like this rose wants to grow wide in your zone even with a support, so making it stay flat against a house on a trellis may be a harder or longer term process than getting an arch for it to climb on. I went the route of training my out-of-control rose on a curved arch, and even so it was an all-day process in maximum body protection to get it to even stay in the arch, and it has been two years and counting for it to look more like a climber than a bush.

Here's what I did. First I had to get the arch settled around the outside of the bush with most of the canes on the inside of the arch to work with. Working by myself that was a good hour, since those independent canes kept wanting to whip out on their own and the rose kept pushing the arch over in every direction as soon as I'd get part of it inside. After it was mostly contained, my main goal was to get at least the majority of the main canes attached to the arch structure in some way. A few of them could be coaxed into a sort of vertical position at the edges of the arch, but Quadra has thick canes and they resisted much redirection at first. My method was to angle most of the canes sort of diagonally toward the arch in one of the two directions and tie the ends on with the green garden tape you see in the photo below.

I did this manhandling in late summer one year, and the photo is from the next year. You can see the canes that I leaned to the left starting to reluctantly agree to stay along the arch, and the thick thorny branch you can see at the right that used to be sticking straight up in the air has finally mellowed enough to stretch to the far side. Most of the tall growth at the back is from one cane that was in the best position to lie along the right hand side of the arch, and the blooms above it are laterals that grew from this cane. A good 1/3 of the rose is still flopping off to the front, with canes that were either too stiff or too short to be attached to the arch. Even though the blooms were quite nice in that spring flush, it still isn't climbing so much as "leaning", though it's much less scruffy than it was and it stopped eating the plants in front of it.

If you're planning to train yours flat against your house, the same kind of principle would apply, but it might take longer to look very vertical and you might still have a fair bit of the flopping like in my photo, perhaps indefinitely - depending on what kind of rose it is. You'd wedge your trellis in against the house, tie on any canes you can stretch or lean toward that trellis, and start orienting the rest of the canes to grow more directly towards it. This is a gradual approach, but it lets you save more of your rose and have longer blooming canes to work with.

There's another faster approach that's basically to whack some or all of it back to 3' or so and train the new growth that should be more flexible on the trellis. Given how far your rose is extending out from the house at the base, even this approach will likely leave some floppy bits out on the left side of your photo until they're long/flexible enough to reach the trellis. You could try a hybrid approach - tie on as much as you can from the back side nearest the house and whack off maybe 1/3 of the parts farthest to the left away from the house. That would improve its tidiness and still give you some cane to work with to retrain on the trellis.

All of this takes some time and patience with gradual change. If you know that this rose is robust and healthy in your zone you could cut the whole thing off down to a foot or so and basically reboot it, then train new canes as you wish. Realize with this approach that some climbers resent this drastic pruning and it might sulk or die (roses with tea heritage are apparently very good at sulking with this treatment). Again, if the base is wide at the bottom, training the farthest canes onto a flat trellis will mean stretching them horizontally for a few feet before they can reach your support. Climbers can tend to grow arms in every direction when they're happy, even when they're on a support, so I always keep an eye out every few weeks for canes that "sproing" out in a direction I don't want, and retrain them where they need to go.

There's no one right way to tame this - and what you choose depends on how much you want to play with this rose. I'm not good at rose ID, but I suspect this rose isn't going to want to be a tidy mannerly climber that stays fully flat against the side of the house however you tame it. Quadra is one of the wild child climbers - even on the arch it has filled in most of the middle with lots of side arms and looks pretty bushy, even after 2 years of taming. It's still bushy, it's just an upright bushy.

If you don't like the way it grows after you try some taming, another option is always to whack it back to the ground and dig it up to plant something tamer (not an easy prospect, but much better than trying to dig it out without any whacking). It's your house and your choice for how you want things to look.

Have fun - regardless, we want to see the "after" photos!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 8:33PM
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All five plants are the same variety; not sure if this makes a difference.

The previous owners of the home mounted the trellis, but the roses have quite obviously not stayed on it; so I know training it up the side of the house just isn't going to work for us. Few tendrils that did stay attached were not healthy (not enough air/light and too small a space). I also seem to recall seeing somewhere that it was a bad idea to trellis a rose directly against a wall for just that reason...?

These seem to be fairly hardy; no matter how much I cut off, they just keep going. Whacking them back and starting over seems like a good option. Do you think one large arch would work? Or should I try two separate ones side by side?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 2:19PM
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charleney(8a PNW)

Go to Paul Zimmermans videos. (Roses are plants too). I really learned about pruning climbers, and what a difference it has made!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2014 at 1:58PM
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I ended up deciding on an arrangement of curved trellis panels to encompass all the plants, and started trimming (again) before the weather went haywire here. Before our first frost, the rose to the far right had already put out enough new growth I was able to start training it! Since the first attempt was successful, I'll be able to gradually work my way across the arc next year and eventually have the roses eventually back under control (we hope). Will follow with pictures when the weather warms up a bit.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2014 at 11:33AM
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