Rose climbing an oak tree?

aggiebee(6b)November 10, 2010


We've got a HUGE old oak tree in our front yard, with massive roots. The area around it is in full sun, almost the whole day, so I think it would be a great rose spot. This is because the lowest branches have been removed and the canopy thinned out. In fact, there are no branches until at least 20 feet up.

Would it be possible to train a rose up it? Maybe a vigorous climber like New Dawn? I am a total newbie to roses, but I would like a vigorous climber and preferably a repeat bloomer.

Could I plant a foot or two away and train the rose to the tree?

Do you need to have lower-down branches to make this work?

Any thoughts/advice welcome! TIA.

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karl_bapst_rosenut(5a, NW Indiana)

Roses don't climb naturally. They don't have tendrils that curl around and attach to other things. Along a fence, a rambling rose may intertwine through the links or lay across the top but the rose doesn't actually climb. Those you see on Arbors or trellises, are often attached with ties of some sort. On buildings there are attachments used to hold the canes to surface.
You have to figure a way to attach the rose to the tree without damaging and possibly eventually killing the tree. In zone 6b, winter may be severe enough to cause quite a bit of cane dieback, although New Dawn may be cane hardy in your area, spring pruning of cane dieback would be extremely difficult on really long canes.
I'm not trying to talk you out of trying it, just making you aware of the many difficulties you could face.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 11:06PM
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Karl's right It's a bit of a night mare for even a rambler before during and after establishing growth near a tree

New Dawn as would (all or most all) climbers would become real leggy on there way up 20 feet high and would look more like a one leafed palm tree with a few flowers arching on the top.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 12:13AM
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Ugh, tbis sounds awful. Back to the drawing board.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 1:11PM
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Aggiebee, I would not give up on this idea. I have personally seen large roses growing up very large trees (and I have 2 in my garden), and it is a wonderful sight. You do NOT have to climb up the tree to prune them - just leave them alone. They will need some string in the beginning, from where they are rooted (maybe 3 feet away from the trunk) up to the tree.

While it is certainly true that roses do not have clinging tendrils, I grew one up a 30 foot tall plum tree once, and I did not have to tie it up at all. I started it up a string, as I said, and then it just went up by itself. It sent up very tall vertical canes, and sort of braced itself against the trunk and the branches. In 2 years it was up to the canopy on top, and I assure you I had nothing to do with that - it did it itself. Climbing roses have been doing this for millions of years without some human having to climb up the trees to help them!

I do not live in your climate zone, and so will not recommend roses by name. However, what I would do if I were you is to go on the web site for the Heritage Roses Group, and you will be able to find old rose experts who DO live in your climate zone. Just ask them - they will tell you what rose might work for this idea.

Don't worry about them "getting leggy" - what happens in reality is that once the rose (I am talking about a BIG climbing rose) gets up to some height, they drape canes out & down, which are covered with blooms, so you see roses all along the height of the tree. I have seen this myself - up to 30 or 40 feet tall - it can be done. How tall is your oak tree? The main key, in my opinion, is to not be too picky about trying to prune/shape the rose - just let it do what it does. A rose will not hurt a "HUGE" oak tree, either.

I have two oaks on my property which both have trunks that are 3-4 feet in diameter. The trees are at least 5 stories tall. Coincidentally, I just rooted "Fortune's Double Yellow" specifically in order to make it grow up one of them. I have SEEN this rose in full bloom growing 40 feet up a large oak tree, and sending out canes horizontally along some of the large branches - it is spectacular. FDY is a once bloomer, and may not be a good choice for your climate, but I am sure that there are roses that are - you just need to find someone local who can help you. Good luck!


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 4:31PM
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karl_bapst_rosenut(5a, NW Indiana)

Is that sunset zone 9 California, or USDA Gardening zone 9? There's quite a difference. You cannot compare a USDA zone 9 to a USDA zone 6. The zone six will require severe pruning after winter's cold and drying winds, especially exposed like that so far up in the air. If not pruned, eventually the dead canes will have a bad appearance and some sort of ladder will have to be used to reach them or the canes will have to be pulled down to prune.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 6:32PM
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Now I am thoroughly confused. I am wondering, how essential is morning sun?

There is a dogwood that might be a better candidate, since the trunk is narrower and canopy lower, however it doesn't get sun until noon, but then it is in full afternoon sun until night. Is this def. not rose territory?

My only other "climbing" spot gets morning sun, but only until 11 a.m. or so.

Any advice? This is the DC area, so summer afternoons are blazing and humid.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 6:55PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

If you are a beginning rose grower, my advice would be to grow a climbing rose on something easy FIRST, like a arbor. Learn about climbing roses and their habits, how they behave in your garden. Learn about roses in general and how they do in your garden. Learn whether or not you have the patience for rose growing in your area, whether you really like it or not.

Then think about trying one in a tree.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 8:58PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

And have you tried digging close to your trees? It might be a big solid mass of roots.

You may have to damage your tree's root system in order to plant a rose. Do you want to do that?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 9:04PM
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What hoovb said. If you are lucky enough to have a "huge old" oak tree, don't disturb it by trying the plant under it. It's a treasure. Roses like quite a bit of water which might not be a benefit to an oak--being watered around the base like that. Plus the digging. This is not a good idea.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 9:31PM
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Well, I would have dug a ways from the tree, as I did with a clematis, but I suppose you are all right and it is not meant to be. Those territorial roots are telling me something!

Funny you say we are lucky enough to have a huge old oak. We don't feel so lucky with the mountains of roots and the constant pinging of acorns and accompanying squirrels.

Maybe I will try the trellis idea, but I don't want to spend a lot of money. I will have to look into frugal trellising.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 10:23PM
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karl_bapst_rosenut(5a, NW Indiana)

You can get an inexpensive trellis at WalMart or other big box store. I have a number of oaks in my yard. I've tried growing roses under them but the roots make it difficut and take a lot of moisture and nutrients away from them. I eventually moved the roses as they weren't doing well planted there. There're doing fine now.
Roses in my back yard facing west get no morning sun. They get full sun by early afternoon until night. The do well with only afternoon sun.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 11:07PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

You can make a super-inexpensive rose support structure from rebar and a hose clamp. Make a "teepee" from rebar stuck several feet into the ground, and bring the bars together at the top with a hose clamp. Plant the rose at one side of the teepee and attach the canes as they grow to the rebar. Easy, inexpensive, pretty cool looking. In winter if it looks a little unattractive, a great garden object to decorate with Christmas lights... :)

(tree roots often extend out 3 times the width of the canopy--planting "away" from the trunk might mean planting 20' away)

Also should be clarified to avoid confusion: a California native Oak isn't the same as east-of-the-Rockies oaks. Summer watering can eventually kill an old California native oak, which is probably not true of the east-of-the-Rockies species...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 1:20PM
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Oh, I didn't know that, hoov. Thanks for the education!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 10:19PM
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If I was going to train a rose into a tree I probably would first choose to work with one of the "tree eating" roses, such as Kiftsgate. They tend to be roses that only bloom during the late spring/early summer flush, and they also usually only have white flowers, in clusters (perhaps with unnoticeably pink buds, not unlike apple blossoms).

I also agree that if the oak has been there a long time you may want to consider whether planting an aggressive rose nearby would damage it. It may not, but that will depend on the oak and its location.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2010 at 3:58PM
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How in the world would the signature oak of the Deep South, the glorious live oak, ever survive if it couldn't deal with summer rain while living in a swamp? :)

Likewise where I live north of Boston no oak (and there are a bunch of native oak species here) would survive if it couldn't deal with summer rain. That's probably our driest time of year, but we have quite rainy summers once or twice a decade.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2010 at 4:05PM
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vasue(7A Charlottesville)

Agree it's a charming idea & with a suitable rose & careful planting should be doable. Spring-blooming Cherokee roses climb the native cedars here 40' to cascade in delightful abundance of blooms without hurting the trees. The birds feed on the rose hips & surely planted those roses.

We also have a magnificent pin oak (that keeps its Fall-browned leaves till the new leaves push them off in Spring) and I've been contemplating growing a rose into its branches, too. The lower arching branches are still intact, except for an entrance I pruned away to for access beneath the tree. Remember fondly such a hideaway from my childhood & had to duplicate it for my little granddaughter. Moss carpets the "bower" & we much enjoy the coolness & seclusion there in the warmth of Summer. Roses nodding down from above would add to our delight.

When we moved here 12 years ago, I removed the grass between the oak's dripline & a walkway to make a garden bed about 10' wide. Carefully dug down 3' to amend the soil with gypsum & compost and discovered 3 of the oak's roots that ran a foot below the surface, leaving them undisturbed. Planted several roses there, including two shortish Romantica climbers that grow on an arch over the walkway, and all have done well, including the oak which appreciates the extra water.

I've seen other flexible limbed, shade tolerant roses - that don't grow very thick canes that might eventually girdle the tree - grown into trees of lesser stature such as dogwoods. The taller musk roses come to mind, and ones that drop their petals cleanly. As long as the rose was planted carefully between the tree roots or beyond the tree's dripline & guided into the tree, feel sure it can be done. Imagine it's a puzzle of fitting the rose's habits & stature to that of the tree to find a suitable pairing...

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Maybe I should be, but I am not concerned about damaging the oak. That seems impossible. After reading all your replies I am wondering how a container (large) near the oak tree would do. That way, no competition for water, no root disturbance etc.

Anyway, thanks everyone for your advice and thoughts. Lots to think about this winter! Hoovb -- thanks for the trellis "recipe" -- this is just the kind of hardware store project I love.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 9:18PM
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karl_bapst_rosenut(5a, NW Indiana)

Roots will grow out of the drainage holes into the soil if left in the same place too long. If I leave potted roses in one place too long, I have similar problems. When moving you'll have to either sever the root or pull it out of the ground. Tree roots have been known to grow up and into a well watered and fertilized potted plant through the same drainage holes. Placing the potted rose on a short plant stand may work though.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 11:17PM
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brhgm(z8b LA)

Cherokee, Mermaid, Fortuniana and Lady Banks could climb an oak and survive periods of drought. However, why disturb the beauty of a majestic oak. I had mixed success with roses around a cherry oak. It blew over when Gustave came to town. You may want to cover a less attractive tree with a climber instead. I find that roses climb better on smaller trees and really shine on deciduous trees in the early spring.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 5:55PM
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Aggiebee, I had the same thought of growing a rose into a large live oak, but after digging around the roots, decided it was impossible to dig a planting hole. However, a couple of years ago I had planted an unknown climber (might be 7 sisters) on a fence maybe 20 feet from the tree. When I was out in the garden today, I noticed this rose has thrown canes up into the oak tree (probably 20 feet up) and is growing itself up into the tree. Interestingly, it seems to have used some hanging Spanish moss to hoist itself up into the branches. So it figured out how to do what I couldn't.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2010 at 6:53PM
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We have a 5 story high scarlet oak in our front yard (and another one in back of the house). It is right next to the lawn, and seems to LOVE the all summer long watering it gets - it is over 80 years old and thriving, despite its native range being in the Northern East Coast.

I am thinking about trying to plant a rooted cutting of Fortune's Double Yellow near it to see if it will go up the tree. I understand how daunting it seems to try and dig a rose hole near such a tree because of the roots - you just can't. However, in my garden a rose volunteer has planted itself (or the birds planted it) right next to the tree in between two of its giant surface roots - the bush is touching the tree. The rose has been there for at least 10 years, and blooms prettily every Spring. It is not a climber, and stays only about 3-4 feet high, but it is evidence to me that a rose CAN grow near a large oak. Mother Nature is constantly doing things in the garden that we think are "impossible"!


    Bookmark   November 27, 2010 at 1:44PM
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Elise(9b BayArea CA)

Due to heavy shade and competing roots, I think it would be very difficult for a rose to get a foothold next to a big oak trunk. Why don't you instead locate a rose or two out away from the trunk near the drip line (the outer reaches of the oak branches).

I have a coast live oak in my upper yard, about 30 ft tall. Its branches extend outward about 15 feet to a retaining wall which creates a lower level on the slope. On the lower level, I have a large bed of roses and the ones along the retaining wall are climbers. Some of the climbers have grown up 10 ft and then just kept going straight up into the oak canopy another 20 ft. The two most successful climbers doing this are "Buff Beauty" and "Sally Holmes".

Sally Holmes is very vigorous and covered all summer with clusters of 5 petal single blooms that start white and age to pale pink. It has very clean, disease free leaves but its heavy foliage can totally overwhelm its host by blocking out too much light.

Buff Beauty is more delicate and subtle. You can hardly detect the foliage at all, and then suddenly rose blooms burst out all through the oak leaves. The roses are old-fashioned double and a charming soft yellow color. I think it complements the dark oak leaves very well and I let it have its way through the canopy.

Of course I live in a frost-free California climate so these roses may not be good choices for you. But the concept is worth looking into.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2010 at 8:43PM
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Campanula UK Z8

roses climbing into trees is a popular idea in the UK but there are a few caveats. Not all tress are suitable. Very shallow rooting trees such as flowering cherries or beech are not usually considered suitable, neither would trees which have an allelopathic effect from root exudations or such (yew, walnut). Among deciduous trees commonly used are apple, birch, rowans and also some conifers if the foliage is not too dense (Pine, cedars). The roses are generally planted at least 2 -3 feet away from the trunk and are guided upwards and inwards by simple timber or metal stakes. The roses we generally go for tend to be fairly vigorous ramblers such as Bobbie James, Seagull, Wedding Day, Treasure Trove and also some of the wichuranas. There is always a balance to be struck between the host trees requirements and the needs of the rose so it is unusual for repeating blooming roses to be used since the early flowering ramblers are coming into leaf at the same time as the tree so the rose is still able to photosynthesise adequately and does not have to compete later in the season when the tree will be more fully transpiring and needing considerable amounts of ground water. A favourite trick is to use a dead tree, especially one with an interesting form such as an ancient apple - in many ways, growing roses into trees epitomises the romantic ideal of English horticulture.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 4:47PM
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