Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2003
Regional Report

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This summer, I watched this ancient old climber bloom for two months on a neighbor's fence.

The Case for Climbers

Although I'm not usually a bearer of bumper stickers, I've considered having one made that says "I break for climbing roses." Amazingly exuberant, climbing roses can charm a chain-link fence, arch over an entryway, or turn a simple trellis into a beautiful boundary. There's no time like fall to build a fence or trellis to support a climber you want to plant in the spring, or to sculpt and secure a climber you already have in your garden.

Nifty New Climbers
Many country gardens feature old climbing roses, but newer varieties have much to offer in terms of disease resistance, cold tolerance, and plenty of energy for repeat bloom. Some, such as pink 'Polka' put out strong fragrance, and 'Paprika' can be counted upon for heavy production of orange-red blossoms followed by a good crop of colorful and nutritious hips. Today's climbers also are more restrained than many older strains, with canes that top out at about 12 feet. This makes them easier to fit into a home landscape.

Lovely Laterals
As you plan for the installation of a new climber (or prune and tie an old one), keep in mind that climbing roses bloom best when the branches rise up 4 feet or so and then arch outward until they become horizontal. This growth pattern helps the plants intercept lots of light, and it stimulates the production of short lateral branches, which bear the biggest bouquets. Fences that allow air to circulate freely are ideal, provided they are sturdy enough to support the plants.

Beyond trellising, modern climbing roses require little maintenance. Allow new plants to grow unpruned for two years. After that, prune out only the oldest canes. Many gardeners in our region prune their climbers only every other year, which works well when the plants are happy with their site, soil, and support structure.

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