How to grow rambling roses

Val Bourne / 23 April 2012

Rambling roses are great if you want an attractive, flowering cover for a garden fence

Ramblers tend to be simply bred from species roses and this makes them healthy and disease-free. They rarely succumb to black spot and they are tough and able to survive planted with shrubs, or near a fence. Most will also tolerate poorer soil. However, vigour and thorniness vary greatly so please take expert advice from your rose nursery before ordering your roses. Some ramblers will clothe a large tree, but would be far too strong for a fence for instance.

When to plant

Roses grown in containers can be planted from May until September, but they do need nurturing until autumn because their roots are often restricted by the pot. If you can wait, the best way to establish new roses is to order bare-root plants. They are cheaper to buy, the range of varieties is greater and the roots of field-grown roses are healthy and strong.

Bare-root roses will arrive between November and the end of March - while still dormant. They should be planted as quickly as possible. However if the weather is severe you may have to store them somewhere cool and damp until conditions improve. Always open the packet and water the roots before storing,then soak the bushes for twelve hours just before planting.

How to plant

Avoid planting new roses where roses have already grown. If it’s unavoidable dig out at least two feet square of soil and replace with fresh soil, or John Innes no 3.

Dig a hole roughly twice the width of the plant's roots and the depth of a spade's blade and add some bonemeal to promote roots.

Tease out the roots and shorten any very long roots that are difficult to plant.

Place the rose in the centre of the hole ensuring the graft union (i.e. where the cultivar joins the rootstock and the point from which the branches originate) is at soil level. Back-fill gently with the excavated soil and firm gently.

On bareroot plants, cut back the rose to the lowest, outer buds to prevent wind rock - as recommended by Peter Beales, to promote strong new growth. This leads to a better rose in the end.

Container-grown roses are not cut back, but you must water them regularly during their first summer.

How to prune

It isn’t worth deadheading rambling roses and ornamental hips can appear. Pruning is simple too, the vigorous growers can have some of the older growth removed so that they new growth can be trained in. However, roses scrambling up trees are difficult to prune and will survive perfectly well without any pruning.

How to train

Rambling roses are your best option if you're looking to cover a fence or trellis. These healthy roses tend to produce vigorous new growth from the base, so their stems can be fanned out to cover an entire fence. You will need to set up a line of horizontal supports to tie them to, and I recommend a self-tensioning system called Gripple. This pliable nylon wire comes with tensioners and is much easier to keep taut than galvanized wire.

Training helps enormously with all roses because slowing down the sap, ie stopping it going straight to the top of the rose, promotes more flower buds.

If training roses on a fence, loop them along the top of the fence, like a looper caterpillar.

If training on an arch or a pergola, coil the pliable stems round the upright supports and then tie them to the horizontals.

You can also use ramblers as ground cover roses, where space allows, and allow them to tumble down walls etc.

Once established, cut away some of the darker, older stems at the base in October. Then train the newer, greener growth in when still pliable. Good ramblers for a fence include the apricot ‘Goldfinch’, the virginal ‘Sander’s White and the repeat-flowering, peach-pink ‘Open Arms’.

When to feed

Feed your roses. My preferred fertilser is Vitax Q4 and it's used in April and straight after flowering.

When they bloom

Most rambling roses only flower once in late-May and June. However, they do it much more generously than repeat-flowering roses. They drip with bunches of smaller flowers and the trick is to extend the season with a ‘viticella’ clematis like ‘Etoile Violette’. These happily scramble through, following on from the roses.

Rambling rose varieties

Moderately vigorous for fence, arch or pergola

Glossy foliage and neatly double, clear-pink flowers that fade to paler pink. My favourite pink rambler and it’s very pliable and amenable to handle.

‘Félicité Perpétue’
This blush-pink rose must not be pruned hard. Milk-white flowers emerge from pink buds so this rose shares the same pretty-pink and white colouring of a lawn daisy. Primrose-fragranced and keeps its leaves in warm winters.

A thornless rose with neat glossy leaves, so gardener-friendly, with small clusters of apricot to egg-yolk yellow flowers that fade as they mature. Read more about 'Goldfinch'.

‘Sander’s White Rambler’
Essential because it’s the last rambler to flower so extends the once-and-only rose season into July. The rich-green leaves frame fruitily-fragrant white flowers. It has a gentle growth habit and flowers well, even in shade.

Almost thornless with crimson-tinted flowers that fade to violet-blue, so this is stunning against paler surfaces. Best grown in dappled shade as it fades a lot in full sun. ‘Blue Magenta’ is a stronger purple and more vigorous.

‘Albéric Barbier’
A yellow rose that fades to cream, producing three-inch wide blooms and glossy evergreen foliage. Can produce a second crop of flowers, but loves warmth.

Produces dark, pink to crimson-red clusters of tight pom pom flowers so this vivid rambler stands out. Useful and strong in habit, yet dainty in flower.

Vigorous scramblers for established trees

‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’
A pretty rose with dainty sprays of pale-pink, frilled petals set round golden stamens. Capable of cascading downwards for 30ft (10m), yet often slow to get going. It’s strong, but not smothering, and can grow in some shade or face north.

Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’
This very rampant white rambler needs a huge space and grows very aggressively. In the Gloucestershire garden of the same name it has scaled and killed six beech trees, so this is not for a fence or house unless you have Sleeping Beauty tendencies. There are lots of hips though, and it makes a good rose for a wilder situation.

‘Bobbie James’
Another giant rambler, not as strong as ‘Kiftsgate’ though, with creamy white, semi-double flowers followed by masses of orange hips. Very good at covering unsightly buildings, or scrambling up large trees.

‘Wedding Day’
This is vigorous and upright in habit with clusters of single, lemon-white flowers that often age to pink. Its fruity fragrance makes it is well worth growing. Survives on a north wall too. If the pink tinge offends you go for ‘Rambling Rector’, or its lookalike ‘Seagull’.

Five good clematis to use as partners

‘Etoile Violette’
The best viticella of all, with gappy purple petals surrounding a yellow boss of stamens.

‘Royal Velours’
Rounded single flowers with velvet-textured, deep-red flowers.

‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’
A dusky damson-plum double which flowers through July and August.

‘Prince Charles’
An open azure-blue flower that looks almost silver-blue in full sun.

‘Mary Rose’
A navy-blue double, similar in from to Purpurea Plena Elegans’, with lots of flower.

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.