A few years ago, a client asked me to remove the suckers from a climbing rose growing up the back of her house. At the time this rose wasn’t part of my work and the job fell to the man who cut the grass because the client hadn’t the heart to take the task from him. I was disappointed but accepted it and got on with the rest of the garden. Until I was asked to work on the rose I hadn’t looked at it properly and, to my horror, I realised that although there appeared to be plenty of growth trained against the wall, it was almost all suckers that had been tied in and only one stem of the main rose was left. Worse, it was completely bare for the first 2m (approximately seven feet). It looks like ‘Easlea’s Golden Rambler‘ which is vigorous, but with a reputation for legginess and this one was certainly leggy.
What was left after the suckers were removed
What do you do with a climbing rose which is bare for the first 2m? I could have cut it back hard and let it start again, but the client was by no means young and she’d been ill recently. I wished her to have her rose back as quickly as possible, so I looked for other options. It struck me that I could trick it into thinking it had been cut back by taking a notch out of the lower stem, cutting into the cambium just above a dormant bud, and seeing if this broke the bud dormancy.
That was at the end of September and the rose was left to think about it over winter. Spring broke and I checked the stem at every visit I made to the garden, searching for a sign of growth. It finally arrived, a little red nub poking out of the bark.
The red nub made short work of growing, fast becoming a thick, very thorny stem. In the following weeks more red nubs appeared and seven new stems erupted from the bare wood. New wires were put up to support them and the training began.
As is done elsewhere, I bent the stems horizontally and have been tying them in so that they curl at the ends. Encouraging horizontal growth changes the plant hormone mix in the stem and promotes the development of flowering buds.
Two years later and it’s flowering well and starting to cover the wall again.
Rose number two. This was another wall trained rose and it was one of the saddest roses I’ve ever seen.
Like the other rose, the stems were bare for several feet. It was a complicated tangle, with long-unpruned stems zigging back and forth across the wall. Others had been bundled up, had wire wrapped around them and then been stuffed behind a drain pipe.
It was hard to see where on the plant growth started and it took a good long session of puzzling before I decided how to tackle the job. It was as well that I started then, too, because the client said two weeks later that he was thinking of taking it out because ‘It’s never done anything’. He’d lived there for nearly 20 years and it had performed so poorly that he couldn’t remember what colour the flowers were.
Work had started in mid-March; fast forward to the end of June. The rose reacted better than my highest expectations. New stems appeared along the bare wood, glossy foliage unfurled all over and large clusters of flower buds burst forth.
One by one, the buds opened until there was a mass of richly scented creamy white flowers and I recognised it as a variety called ‘Wedding Day‘, a truly lovely rambler. There is still plenty of re-shaping to be done, but it came back and that’s what matters. I smiled for weeks about that rose, it made my summer.
The Golden Rule with this type of pruning is called ‘The Three ‘Ds’ – standing for dead, damaged and diseased. Everything coming under those descriptors is removed. After that congested growth is thinned out and you see what you’re left with; often it isn’t very much, but as long as it’s healthy growth it should be okay. Give the plant a good feed, mulch with compost, give plenty of water and you ought to get positive results.