How to Choose, Raise, and Maintain Beautiful Climbing Roses

Is there anything more delightful than a fence draped in colorful flowers, or walking under an arbor woven with fragrant blossoms? There’s just something so beautiful about climbing roses.

Don’t be afraid of growing these plants.

It’s not difficult to get that gorgeous display, though many people are intimidated by roses and rambling ones in particular. That’s a shame because they’re fairly easy to grow, as far as roses go, so long as you can manage the training process.

A close up vertical image of bright red climbing roses growing on a brick wall. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Roses need a little help when it comes to climbing. They won’t do it all on their own, so you’ll need to have something for them to climb on and you might need to attach the canes using tape or twine.

Sound like something you’re up for? Then let’s discuss growing climbing roses. Here’s what’s ahead:

When it comes to selecting and raising rambling roses, it never hurts to reach out to your local American Rose Society (ARS) chapter. They know best which climbers grow well in your area and what particular diseases and pests you might face.

Combined with their advice and our guidance, we hope you’ll find massive success with your graceful beauties.

What Are Climbing Roses?

Let’s clear things up straight away. Climbers aren’t like ivy or clematis. They don’t have aerial roots, tendrils, or suckers. Climbing roses only “climb” if you help them.

They won’t “cling” to a wall or a fence like true vines and they can’t support themselves.

A horizontal image of pink roses climbing over a garden arbor pictured in bright sunshine on a blue sky background.

In other words, if you want a plant that will climb up a bare brick wall without any assistance from you, this isn’t it. They can maintain a little bit of support on their own, particularly at the end of the canes, but the rest needs some help.

Ramblers, as they’re also known, are actually shrubs that have particularly long and strong canes. Growers can train and support these long canes to create the effect of a true climbing growth habit.

This growth habit can actually be a positive thing because it means that while you might need to put in some extra work to encourage your plant to climb, you don’t have to worry about it creeping up the side of your house and lifting up your roof or punching through a wall.

Cultivation and History

Roses have been cultivated for centuries. We have evidence of them in Japanese and Chinese gardens from as far back as 5,000 years ago.

A horizontal image of red roses growing on a brick building around an arched doorway.

Ancient Greeks and Romans valued them, and the red and white blossoms are famous symbols of the British aristocracy, with the red rose representing the House of Tudor and white representing the House of York.

Climbing types came from plants that were selected and further bred over the years because they had particularly strong and long canes.

Over time, hybrids and cultivars that we now consider climbers were developed. Climbers can be any type of rose, including damask, hybrid tea, species, shrub, or floribunda.

Not sure what all that means? Visit our guide to rose classifications to learn more.

Propagation

Climbers are no different from their lower-growing counterparts when it comes to propagation.

You can reproduce them from seed, cuttings, layering, and transplanting both live and bare root specimens. They come as both grafted and own-root plants.

To learn more about all these options, you might want to read our general guide to growing roses or our guide to propagating roses from cuttings. We also have an article to walk you through transplanting these plants.

A close up vertical image of gloved hands planting out a rose seedling into rich soil.

The only thing to keep in mind is that you might need to prune back the plant quite a bit if you decide to go the transplant route.

Some stores sell their climbers with a bit of height on them, but you want the plant to focus on its roots rather than developing its canes at first. Cut back each cane by at least a third before you install it in its permanent home in the garden.

How to Grow

What truly sets climbers apart from other types is that they need a lot of room to grow. The same characteristics that make them good climbers – strong and long canes – also make them quite vigorous.

A close up horizontal image of 'Joseph's Coat' roses growing in the garden.

It might be tempting to place them in a small area against a wall, but you’ll probably be sorry down the road when you have to prune them monthly to keep them from grabbing you each time you walk by.

When I say that these plants can grow large, that’s not an exaggeration. The tallest rose is a climbing ‘Cecile Brunner’ in Los Angeles that has reached 91 feet tall!

Having said all that, most of the growth usually happens vertically. You don’t usually need a large footprint. There are some exceptions, but you’ll usually find that most grow much taller than they do wide.

A close up horizontal image of light pink climbing roses growing on the side of a building.

You might see plants labeled as “miniature” climbers. The only thing miniature about them is the size of the flowers. They produce adorable little blossoms rather than massive ones, but the canes themselves still grow quite large.

Pick an area that is big enough to accommodate the mature size of the plant. If the mature size isn’t included on the tag, look it up online or contact your local chapter of the ARS.

The space you’re planting in should be the same size or larger than the rose will eventually be.

Also keep in mind that many climbing roses are capable of becoming much, much larger than the tag claims. For instance, ‘Cecile Brunner’ is generally labeled as growing about 20 feet high or so.

But as you can probably tell, that’s not a hard and fast rule, and results may vary depending on your local conditions.

A close up horizontal image of yellow roses growing on a wooden arbor.

In addition to making sure you have the right amount of room, you also need to make sure your new plant receives full sunlight. Some roses can get by in partial sun, but not ramblers.

They absolutely need at least six full hours of sunlight each day or you’ll end up with a spindly shrub that doesn’t grow as tall or bloom as much as it could.

Of course, as with most things in life, there are some exceptions, so be sure to do a little research if you find a cultivar at your local nursery that you just can’t live without.

When it comes to soil, the usual rose rules apply. The pH should be around 6.0 to 6.5 and the soil must be loose and loamy for the best results.

If you need to amend your soil to improve drainage, dig about two feet wide and 18 inches deep. Work in lots of well-rotted compost, which works to improve both sandy and clay soil.

Once the plant is in the ground and has started to grow, you need to train it. It will need some sort of support or you’ll end up with lanky, weeping canes that will eventually break. A fence, trellis, tall stake, or even an old shipping pallet propped up on its side will do.

A close up horizontal image of a hand from the left of the frame tying a climbing rose to a metal arch.

You don’t need to tie the canes in place, but it can certainly help, especially if you live in a windy area. If you do, use something that won’t cut through the flesh of the canes, like twine or tape. Avoid wire.

These plants like a good amount of water and they should receive about two inches per week, whether that comes from Mother Nature or your irrigation system.

What that translates to in the real world is that you should water when the soil feels dry up to your second knuckle. A rain gauge can help to determine how much precipitation you’ve received.

Fertilize young plants in their first year after planting with a mild potassium fertilizer, like one that contains seaweed. Neptune’s Harvest is a reliable option that I’ve had success with.

Neptune’s Harvest

Grab a gallon from Amazon. Start fertilizing after you see new growth emerging and repeat every six weeks as long as the plant is actively growing.

Growing Tips

  • Amend sandy or clay soil with compost.
  • Soil pH should be around 6.0-6.5.
  • Provide support and secure the canes in place, if needed.

Pruning and Maintenance

If you’ve pruned roses before, you might be tempted to skip this section. But don’t!

Pruning climbers is vastly different from what’s required with a shrub or ground cover. You ultimately want to have about four robust canes on a plant at any given time.

That means removing sickly, twisted, or crossing canes, as well as any weak, broken, or crowded branches. Then, remove all but four of the oldest, healthiest, or largest canes.

With the four remaining canes in place, cut each one to about four feet shorter than you ultimately want the plant to grow.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener pruning the stems of a climbing rose.

This encourages bushier growth and limits the height. Eventually, some of the older canes will stop producing nice flowers and leaves. At that point, cut these out and let other, younger canes replace them.

You can allow the plant to grow wider by allowing more canes to form, but avoid allowing the plant to become crowded at the center. In other words, additional canes on the outside of the bush are fine. More canes in the center are not.

Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer. There are tons of rose-specific fertilizers on the market, and these work nicely, as well. An all-purpose product should be applied every six weeks or so. For rose-specific fertilizers, follow the manufacturer’s directions.

If you aren’t sure what to pick, Great Big Roses is a compost extract that has always made my flowers look fantastic.

Great Big Roses

Pick up a 32-ounce, one-gallon, or two-and-a-half-gallon container at Amazon.

Cultivars to Select

There are many excellent climbers out there. Once again, your local rose society can be an excellent resource for locating cultivars that will excel in your neck of the woods. The choices below tend to work in most rose-friendly regions.

Cecile Brunner

‘Cecile Brunner’ is a classic option that has been around a long time, for good reason. It’s a repeat bloomer that is resistant to fungal diseases and can handle partial shade.

A close up horizontal image of pink roses growing on a wooden arbor in the garden.

It’s absolutely smothered in light pink double blossoms from spring until fall. The sweet little medium-pink buds were once a favorite for men to stuff into their lapels, earning it the nickname “the sweetheart rose.”

Claire Austin

Remember how we said that climbers need full sun? This is another one of the few exceptions.

A close up horizontal image of 'Claire Austin' roses growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Claire Austin’ will climb up to 12 feet tall, even in a partially sunny spot with only four hours of sunlight. The creamy white, cupped, very full blossoms are a sight to behold, particularly on an obelisk or pillar.

She’s also disease resistant and has a strong myrrh fragrance.

Highwire Flyer

Like the ruffled skirt of an acrobat performing on a circus highwire, ‘Highwire Flyer’ is perfect for drawing the eye. The double flowers are deep, bold, hot pink on a 10-foot-tall plant that resists rust, mold, and mildew.

This cultivar will blossom continuously for a summer-long show. It was bred by the same breeder – Will Radler – who brought us Knock Outs, so you know it’s a reliable choice.

Joseph’s Coat

This is a flower draped in a robe of many colors. The double blossoms start out salmon pink before opening into a dramatic ombre of yellow, pink, and orange. As they fade, the colors transition to less pink and more yellow, with a softer, pastel hue.

A close up square image of 'Joseph's Coat' rose flower pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Joseph’s Coat’

The canes reach up to 12 feet tall and the blossoms form on both new and old wood, so you can prune away without fear.

Ready to wrap yourself in color? Head to Fast Growing Trees to purchase a plant for your garden.

Lady in Red

‘Lady in Red’ is all dressed up in her finest, with dark, velvety red petals on ruffly double flowers.

She grows to a manageable 10 feet tall and has dense foliage that makes her perfect as a filler for a fence between you and your neighbor’s property.

A close up square image of 'Lady in Red' flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Lady in Red’

Bring this lovely lady home as a bare root plant from Home Depot.

Malvern Hills

Like a stroll through the fields of Herefordshire, ‘Malvern Hills’ is a rambler that captures the spirit of a perfect summer afternoon.

It features creamy yellow blossoms that start out as medium yellow buds, all on a 15-foot-tall plant. It’s a repeat bloomer with double flowers held in large clusters.

A close up vertical image of 'Malvern Hills' climbing roses growing in the garden.

This cultivar isn’t too thorny, has a pleasing fragrance, and stays fairly slender, which makes it ideal if you’re looking for an option to plant next to a walkway, to grow over an arbor, or to cover a pergola over your patio.

That should be enough to recommend it, but it also happens to be as tough as nails! It’s highly resistant to most fungal diseases that commonly plague other roses.

Sky’s the Limit

When it comes to the beautiful ‘Sky’s the Limit,’ it’s not just about reaching great heights. While this cultivar can reach a respectable 12 feet tall, the sky is the limit when it comes to your enjoyment!

A close up square image of yellow 'Sky's the Limit' flowers.

‘Sky’s the Limit’

Without a lot of work, this is a hardy, disease-resistant option that shows off with big clusters of double, creamy yellow flowers.

Home Depot has this cultivar available as a bare root if you’re aiming to add this beauty to your space.

Stormy Weather

With ‘Stormy Weather’ in your garden, you won’t mind rough weather.

This stunner calls to mind purple rain clouds just before a deluge with its purple-magenta blossoms. But at the center of each is a bright splotch of yellow and white, like the sun peeking out after a storm.

A close up square image of Rosa 'Stormy Weather' flowers growing in light filtered sunshine.

‘Stormy Weather’

‘Stormy Weather’ will eventually reach 10 feet tall and is a reliable, prolific bloomer.

Invite the storm into your yard by grabbing a bare root specimen at Home Depot.

Managing Pests and Disease

Anything that may affect other roses will impact ramblers. Herbivores like deer, rabbits, and squirrels will nibble on your shrubs, as will pests like aphids, cane borers, Japanese beetles, sawflies, scale, snails, spider mites, and thrips.

A close up horizontal image of aphids infesting a flower bud picture don a soft focus background.

For an overview of dealing with diseases, we have a dedicated guide.

Best Uses

Remember, climbers don’t have tendrils or suckers, so you’ll need to aid them in their climbing adventures. There are lots of ways to do this in a beautiful and interesting way.

A close up horizontal image of a window surrounded by climbing roses.

Climbing roses are a particularly good option for growing against buildings because they won’t destroy the walls or roofs that they’re set against.

Use a trellis, structural wires, or wire fencing to act as a support. In the garden, they can be beautiful crawling up a trellis, obelisk, arbor, or other structure.

You can also let them create a barrier between you and a neighbor’s yard along a fence or wall.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Perennial flowering shrubFlower / Foliage Color:Red, pink, white, purple, yellow, orange, peach, lavender/green
Native to:Asia, Europe, North AmericaMaintenance:Moderate
Hardiness (USDA Zone):3-11Soil Type:Loamy, rich
Bloom Time:Spring-fallSoil pH:6.0-6.5
Exposure:Full sun to partial shadeSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:2 feetAttracts:Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds), bury graft union (transplants)Companion Planting:Basil, dianthus, foxgloves, geraniums, lavender, mint, speedwell, tomatoes, violets, yarrow
Time to Maturity:Up to 5 yearsAvoid Planting With:Ivy, honeysuckle, morning glory
Height:Up to 25 feet, more depending on varietyUses:Trellises, arbors, wire grid, fences
Spread:Up to 5 feetFamily:Rosaceae
Water Needs:ModerateGenus:Rosa
Tolerance:Some droughtSpecies:Centifolia, chinensis, damascena, moschata, moyesii, multiflora, rugosa, virginiana
Common Pests:Deer, rabbits, squirrels; aphids, cane borers, Japanese beetles, sawflies, scale, snails, spider mites, thripsCommon Diseases:Black spot, botrytis blight, cankers, crown gall, powdery mildew, rose rosette, rust

Climb to Great Heights with Rambling Roses

Climbing roses offer you the elegance of a flowering vine without the danger of damage to your property. If you want to bring a little bit of the cottage style to your space, there is absolutely no better plant if you’re seeking a classic choice.

A close up horizontal image of climbing roses growing on a wooden fence.

Where are you growing your ramblers? Against a brick wall? Over an arbor? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, if you’re looking to expand your Rosa knowledge, we have a wealth of information that you might find useful, including:

Photo of author
Kristine Lofgren is a writer, photographer, reader, and gardening lover from outside Portland, Oregon. She was raised in the Utah desert, and made her way to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two dogs in 2018. Her passion is focused these days on growing ornamental edibles, and foraging for food in the urban and suburban landscape.

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