Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pruning a Climbing Rose ... starring Zephirine Drouhin

As I mentioned yesterday, the weather was perfect for spending the whole day outside pruning.  I concentrated most of my efforts on the climbers on the arches in the center of the Rose Field.  These were the most neglected last year, and they need a LOT of work to get the canes back onto the arches in any sort of pleasing arrangement.

As I worked, I realized that what I was doing could make a very helpful post for the blog.  Keep in mind, this is much easier to show you in person, but I will do the best I can with photos and diagrams. 

My victim for this little lesson is Zephirine Drouhin, a very popular climbing Bourbon rose.

This is what Zephirine Drouhin looked like before I did anything to her.

It's hard to see in this harsh sunlight, but there are WAY too many canes in here and they're going every which way.  Here's a marked-up version of the above photo to show you what a mess I had on my hands.

When pruning climbers, the object is to remove canes that are dead, old and bloomed out, or cannot logically be encouraged to attach to your support structure ... in my case, this arch.  I always start at the bottom of the rose, cutting out anything that is dead or damaged.

My next step is to assess each cane and remove the older ones.  Zephirine Drouhin tends to produce plenty of new canes every year, and she can quickly become a haystack.  I cut them off right at the base.  By removing canes that are 3-or-more years old, you keep her young and flexible, and she produces more flowers.  After all, the object of all of this is to create a lovely display of flowers.

You can see in this photo that I have removed quite a few canes.

At this point, I step back and assess where I am in the process, and where I need to go.  There are still WAY too many canes here for what I want to accomplish, so I remove a few more ... concentrating on keeping the canes that are younger and will attach easily to the arch.  There's no point in keeping a lovely young cane that I can't get onto my structure.

I think I'm ready to begin to tie Ms. Zeffy to her arch now.

It is important to note that I haven't shortened any of the remaining main canes.  I want them to be as long as possible to cover this arch.  What I have done, to control the girth of the rose and to encourage better blooming, is to shorten the little lateral canes that branch off of the main canes ... in this case, I trimmed each lateral to about 6 inches or less.  You can see how this (sort of) in this 'enhanced' version of the photo.

All that's left to do at this point is to take each cane and attach it to the structure.  Here is my finished product.

I took more off of this rose this year than I normally would.  Many of my climbers are incredibly overgrown, and I want to have a nice, orderly starting point for (hopefully) easier maintenance in the years to come.  I also want garden visitors, and wedding guests, to be able to easily walk underneath the arches ... without having to dodge wayward, aggressive, thorny rose canes.

In a few weeks, we shall see if I succeeded.


  1. Yesterday was wonderful for working outside.

    I know it's not the subject of this post, but what are the arches made of? Not that I need any arches, I just really like those!

  2. The arches are made from 3/4" rolled steel, left to rust. Sounds like I should do a post about the arches themselves and how we installed them ... soon, I promise. :)

  3. Thank you for this helpful post. I doesn't look like you bend your canes for horizontal growth...do you?

  4. I had the same question, as J has been looking for some. I would love a post on how you make your arches!
    Looking forward to seeing how she does!
    xo, misha

  5. This was most helpful, thanks for the lesson!

  6. Thank you for making a seemingly difficult task so easy...I can't wait to get started...

  7. How do you know when a cane is "bloomed out"?

  8. Hey,I have a couple of Noisettes on arbors and Miss Zeffy on a trellis,I think I may need some in person advice on pruning.Do you do house calls?

  9. Darla, I normally try to get the canes at least a bit horizontal before I attach them, but it would have been weird with this rose. The laterals on the main canes are horizontal, and this does the same thing. If you have a cane without laterals, the horizontal rule is more important.

    Alan, this is one of those things that is incredibly obvious if I could show you in person, and really difficult to explain. For me, a bloomed out cane is one that is a few years old and has been putting new growth out of the old new growth, and it ends up looking like a rats nest. Because ZD puts out new canes with good regularity, I don't have to try to salvage these old canes. I cut them out to make room for the new ones.

    Anonymous, dear, the answer to your question depends on where you are. If you're local to me, we'll set a date ... I am a consulting rosarian, and that's part of what we do. If you're not local, I'll see what I can do to put you in touch with a CR in your area.

    For those of you with your emails hidden, if you don't know how to make it visible, let me know and I'll walk you through it. I would have loved to go into better detail in a personal reply, but I don't have an address to reply to.

  10. I am considering doing just this to a rose soon. I have been afraid to cut so much off, but you have given me courage. Thanks so much for the helpful post.

  11. Thanks for the tutorial - very informative. I'm looking forward to hearing about your steel arbors. I recently read about someone soldering copper plumbing pipe. I'm guessing your approach is probably a lot easier.

  12. I wish I had an ounce of your energy and your green thumbs!

  13. This was very informative! Thank you! I have lots more to learn with roses and this was great!

  14. Great post. I don't even grow any climbing roses, but I read it from beginning to end. I will use your advice when my nursery customers ask me how to prune their roses.

  15. Nice post! Though I don't really care much for roses themselves, I enjoy pruning roses every spring.

  16. Great information on pruning. I'm in zone 6 (NJ) and have an awful problem with blackspot on my ZD's. Any advice PLEASE! I love the blooms so much, but then they drop their leaves and its a horrible mess for the rest of the season. I am almost ready to rip them out!

  17. It's sure frustrating when someone asks a direct question, and I don't have any way to contact them to answer it.

    Lisa, if you see this, the only way to grow Zephirine Drouhin around here (including NJ) is to begin spraying it with fungicide as soon as the leaves sprout, and continue according to label directions on your fungicide for the rest of the growing season. If you don't, it will be practically leafless from blackspot by the end of July. If you need recommendations on fungicides, email me.

  18. I just moved to a new house and a rosé bush here looks wild, not many blooms and mess over all. I am not sure what kind of rosé it is and I am anxious to bring it to look better, but not sure if now is a good time. I am in TX. Could you email me?

    Thanks in advance!

  19. OHHHH! This was just the most perfect post for my pruning angst .... THANK YOU!! Very helpful. I've bookmarked it for "haircut" time ;>]]


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