Rambling roses and climbing roses: what’s the difference?

Val Bourne

Discover the differences between a climbing rose and a rambling rose, to see which one suits your garden best.



What's the difference between a rambling rose and a climbing rose?

The main difference between rambling roses and climbers is that rambling roses usually flower once, whereas climbing roses usually repeat flower throughout summer and autumn, but there are exceptions.

Combining climbers for flower all summer

If you want your garden to be smothered in roses during June, choose a rambler as repeat-flowering climbers only give you measured flushes of flower and never make quite the same impact.  

The ideal combination is a June-flowering rambler planted close to a repeat-flowering climber. Then allow one of the gentle late-summer viticella clematis to twine through the roses. This way you should have flowers until September.

Read our guide to creating a beautiful cottage garden

How to prune rambling roses

You prune rambling roses when you train them by simply cutting out some of the old stems at the base. These are replaced by new strong branches. The branches should be fanned out from the base, rather like a fruit tree, if the rose is against a fence, then the stems can be looped along to the top edge of the fence, rather like looper caterpillars.

Ramblers are very disease tolerant as many are close to species roses.

Also once-only roses don't need deadheading and some will produce a crop of hips.

Read our guide to growing rambling roses

Five great rambling roses

'Goldfinch' - shiny, coppery foliage and clusters of small apricot roses that fade to cream.

'Sander's White' - deep-green leaves and loose clusters of late white flowers, particularly good in semi-shade.

'Veilchenblau' - faded purplish flowers that are stunning against grey-tinged stone.

'Paul's Himalayan Musk' - clusters of the palest pink flowers. Too vigorous for fences and better up a large apple tree.

'Phyllis Bide' - a repeat-flowering rambler with small apricot-to-yellow flowers. It’s a restrained grower perfect for a pillar.

How to care for climbing roses

Climbing roses are pruned in winter and they need a more sympathetic regime. Slightly reduce the main leaders and prune back the side shoots to six inches. Most climbers are more highly bred and therefore prone to black spot, a fungal disease of roses. The greenest way of keeping your roses clean is to either mulch under the rose bush or under plant with lavenders, violas, hardy geraniums or campanulas. Both methods will prevent the fungal spores from being washed back on to the rose.

All repeat-flowering roses need to be dead headed to encourage more flowers.

Climbers vary in habit enormously. Some, like 'Lady Hillingdon', hang their heads down while others can only be admired from the roof.

How to train climbing roses

All roses flower better if trained because bending and coiling the stems slows down the flow of sap and promotes more flowering shoots.

The best time to train climbing roses is in the autumn when the shiny new stems can still be bent and turned without breaking.

Choose strong stems and, armed with thick gloves and goggles, curl them round a stake or pillar or loop them along the top of the fence.

You can also buy hooped rose trainers for shrub roses, or simply bend the branches down to the ground and fix them down.

Read our guide to scented roses for your garden

Five star repeat-flowering climbers

'New Dawn' - silver pink flowers set against apple-green foliage - beautiful underplanted with blue catmint.

'Aloha' - a horrible name for an excellent deep-pink pillar rose.

'Madame Alfred Carrière' - a blush-white noisette rose that is unbeatable on a north wall or in shade.

'Madame Gregoire Staechelin' - large glowing-pink flowers with a sweet-pea scent followed by hips.

'Penny Lane' a recently bred, honey-champagne rose with a good scent

These five are drought-resistant and should be pruned back to the lowest buds in early spring

'Etoile Violette' a dark, purple-blue clematis with widely-spaced petals - best with peach and pink rosesl

'Purpurea Plena Elegans' a faded maroon-red pompom - good with paler roses particularly pale-pinks.

'Madame Julia Correvon' single claret flowers good with pale-pinks and apricotsl

'Betty Corning' this frilly lilac-flowered clematis has pink veins and it can be grown close to any pink rose.

'Alba Luxurians' - a green-tinged white clematis - grow near or over any vibrant climbing rose.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.