This is 'Albertine', a Hybrid Wichurana rambler introduced in France by Barbier & Company in 1921. She will be our demonstration rose for this lesson.
Ramblers are once-blooming roses, which bloom profusely in the late spring on canes produced during the previous year. New canes, which are long and flexible, grow from the base of the rose each year (called 'basal canes'). If left unpruned, a Rambler will grow into a large mound and spread across the ground. Pruning them is very straight-forward, and can be accomplished on a large rose in about an hour.
I find it best to do this in winter, when the canes are leafless and it's easy to see what I'm doing. It feels good to get outside on a mild winter day and accomplish something in the garden. (Temperatures here in Virginia have been in the upper 50's for the past two days ... perfect pruning weather!)
The older canes on 'Albertine' are those that are already attached to the fence. The new canes produced during the growing season are the ones arching away from the fence.
The goal is to prune out old, excess canes and spindly, unproductive growth, keeping ten or twelve canes, and attaching them to the fence in a fan-shaped pattern.
My ramblers each grow with a clematis in them, so I have the quick extra step of cutting off and removing the tangled, dead clematis stems.
This is what 'Albertine' looks like from the back of the fence. Throughout the season, she sends shoots through the fence, seemingly heading for the neighbor's house. Most of this growth will be removed. Sometimes I will retain a particularly nice cane from the back of the fence, if I can maneuver it through the fence to the front side.
It is important to remove any canes that are dead or broken.
I cut out old, woody, unproductive canes, stepping back from time to time to get a good overview of my progress. While I'm working, I keep my goal in mind ... retaining the long younger, flexible canes that will flower best in the spring.
Don't be afraid to cut! 'Albertine' lost about half of herself while I was sorting canes and cutting. Alberic Barbier, another rambler I pruned today, lost at least 3/4 of his canes. He was REALLY overgrown, because I hadn't pruned him at all last year, and I only pruned lightly the year before.
When in doubt, cut it out, is my motto. If you cut a cane that you regret, arrange those that remain and you can cover up your mistake. Ramblers are vigorous growers, and they recover quickly from hard pruning.
The old canes are gone, leaving the flexible new canes in the front.
The back of the fence is all tidy ...
... and the canes that remain are ready to be arranged and attached to the fence.
At this stage, I look at what I have left to see which canes will naturally go right or left, high or low.
I fine-tune my selections, and I sometimes discover that a cane is too stiff or pointing the wrong direction to go where I want it to go. The cane marked below is healthy and I would love to have kept it, but there was no way I could have bent it enough to attach it to the fence without breaking it.
One by one, I attach the canes to the fence in a fan shape, as horizontally as I can get them without bending or breaking them.
When rose canes are trained to at least a 45 degree angle, they produce more flowering laterals, which means that you will get more flowers. (Canes that are trained vertically will only bloom on the ends.) The photo below shows one cane last spring, with its flowering laterals. Look how many buds there are!
When we planted these roses, we stapled a single strand of fence wire between the boards of our fence to make it easier to attach the roses to the fence. That's why it looks like the canes are floating between the fence boards.
Want to see the result? I left 'Albertine' with ten healthy, flexible canes (five per side), attached to the wire.
Here is the pay off ... a well-tended rambler that produces maximum flowers on a healthy plant ... and, the way I do it, it only takes an hour or so per year to achieve. (I'm using Leontine Gervais for this example, since these are such a good photos to show how many flowers ramblers produce.)
I make no secret of the fact that Ramblers are one of my favorite classes of roses. Their flowers are beautiful and fragrant, their leaves are resistant to disease, they grow despite drought and neglect, and they are a powerful presence in the garden.
This is the upper part of the Rambler Fence in 2009. The roses, left to right, are Alberic Barbier, Paul Transon, and Aviateur Bleriot.
If you have any questions about Ramblers (or anything about roses, for that matter), send me an email or leave a comment.
'Albertine' wants to thank you for coming, and she hopes you will consider adding a Rambler or two to your garden.