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GARDENING

Sturdy Rambling Roses Offer Low-Maintenance Beauty

May 24, 1997|From Associated Press

Rambling roses are low-maintenance flowers that offer clever camouflage and old-fashioned romance.

Unlike climbers, whose strong stems in limited quantities generally reach no higher than 18 feet, Rebecca Sawyer-Fay wrote in Country Living, ramblers boast an abundance of long, flexible canes that typically top out at 30, even 40 feet.

Ramblers can scale trees, hide unsightly walls, and turn a cinder-block pump house into a garden centerpiece. Even chain-link fences become lovely when dressed in hearty ramblers.

Many ramblers exhibit an unruly temperament, and with good reason. Their close relatives are the so-called species roses found in nature. Modern hybrid climbers, by contrast, are children of the laboratory, the result of intense breeding that yields ever more beautiful forms and colors, often at the expense of disease resistance and cold hardiness.

While many of the best ramblers are also hybrids, their genetic bond with species roses allows them to share their ancestors' sturdy constitution. Unfortunately, this also means that one of the great achievements of contemporary breeding--repeat bloom--is absent from most ramblers.

To extend the colorful display, some gardeners team their ramblers with later-flowering clematis, particularly the large-flowered hybrids. These purple-, pink- and white-flowering vines treat rose canes as living trellises.

Strictly speaking, roses don't climb. Unlike ivy, which works its way upward with help from hairlike rootlets, nor like sweet peas, which employ tendrils, roses need judicious guidance.

Canes should be secured to supports, such as wood or steel fences, pergolas of rot-resistant timber such as recycled redwood or cedar, iron or steel arches and arcades, gazebos and even small cabins.

The only requirement is that the structure be strong. Flimsy trellises and arches of plastic or plywood may collapse under the weight of a rambler as young as 3 years old.

When training a rambler up the side of a house and over a roof, trellises of pressure-treated pine may be used, as long as the latticework is firmly fixed to the building or wall.

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Rose canes should be tied at 1- or 2-foot intervals to encourage them to grow in the desired direction. Twist ties designed specifically for this task are available at garden centers, but ordinary garden twine works fine. The key is to fasten loosely, preferably forming a figure-8 knot with one loop around the support and the other around the rose cane.

Plants are best positioned about 2 feet from the structure they are to climb, always away from the drip line of a roof or other overhang. Encourage the rose to grow in a preferred direction by inclining the plant toward the desired structure at a 45-degree angle.

While some ramblers will tolerate moderate shade, most appreciate six to eight hours of sun daily. Without direct light, ramblers bloom poorly and grow leggy. Regular watering is essential, especially in the first three years. Roses trained on free-standing arches or pillars will suffer more from the elements than those planted near sheltering walls. Pillar roses may need several seasons to become firmly established.

Ramblers need a little discipline in the early years. Start by pruning all side shoots (called laterals) in the fall to within 3 inches of a main stem, to direct energy toward the principal stems. Excess growth in a plant's base should also be cut back.

After the rose has established itself, pruning can be confined to the removal of dead or diseased wood in the late winter or early spring.

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