By JOHN A. STARNES JR.
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001
Like many other Floridians, you may have concluded that climbing roses won't grow here.
You'd be right if you were referring to the climbing hybrid teas such as Climbing Peace and Climbing Oklahoma, which many of us have seen in full glory in Seattle or Portland. What gives?
Here in central Florida, climbing hybrid teas are denied that winter rest while they cope with a spring drought, acidic sandy soil teeming with microscopic nematode worms that sting their roots, plus a long, hot, steamy summer far more suited to subtropical plants.
Switch gears mentally and purchase "own-root" plants of the Victorian era, subtropical climbing roses that were bred to climb and bloom reliably in southern climates. Their blossoms boast a broad range of colors. Most are quite fragrant, nearly all repeat bloom, and many are increasingly available from reliable mail-order nurseries and a few Tampa Bay area growers.
They belong mainly to four classes of old roses called teas, Chinas, hybrid musks and noisettes. Unlike the cold-requiring climbing "sports" (mutations) of hybrid teas and cold-climate climbing roses in catalogs that so often disappoint us, these genetic climbers display rapid growth and great vigor and are largely aloof to the bugs, heat, humidity and fungal diseases that plague most modern climbing roses in our climate.
Like all other roses, they prefer full sun, slightly acid soil well-amended with compost, a thick mulch to keep the soil damp and cool and a feeding of a good organic such as fish meal every March, July, September and December.
Most of central Florida has acid soil; give roses a liberal sprinkling of dolomitic limestone every March to neutralize it and supply needed calcium and magnesium.
Oddly, you'll get much faster coverage of a trellis or fence if you train the long new shoots of a climber as horizontally as possible, not up, as is our instinct. Trained horizontally, that long rose cane will send up many new shoots that will climb.
Own-root roses can be planted throughout the year, whereas the more fragile grafted roses are best planted in spring. Remember, these climbers are vigorous, so don't bring home a wimpy trellis.
You can construct a sturdy one out of pressure-treated 2-by-2 lumber or plumber's pipe, or train the climbers on a chain link fence. They rival the magic beanstalk with their growth, so plan accordingly with a strong structure for them to consume.
Like all other repeat-blooming roses, they will bloom more often if you treat yourself to frequent bouquets. In a vase, they will be much closer to your nose, so you can notice the varying qualities of perfume they offer, from spicy cinammon musk to fruity sweet to tea leaves to even baby powder.
Scan your landscape for a sunny spot in need of a touch of class and year-round splendor, then consider the reliable climbers for central Florida listed here.
Hybrid musks and climbing Chinas can tolerate light shade. Notice their dates of commercial introduction to give you an idea of their longevity into the 21st century.
These tough, exquisite beauties will be a joy to live with for many years to come, and chances are your yard deserves a few on a bare fence or on an English-style rose arbor framing your front doorway. Life is short, so fill it with the unmatched charm and fragrance of roses.
Climbing hybrid musks:
Bay area sources:
Personal Touch Rose Services; (813) 659-2995.
Hardin's Nursery, 6011 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813)-839-6151
Roses Unlimited, phone (864) 682-7673; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; offers potted, not bare-root, plants.
Antique Rose Emporium, toll-free 1-800-441-0002; on the Web: www.weareroses.com; offers potted, not bare-root live plants. Note: Does not ship May through September; new catalog available in September.
Chamblee's Roses, toll-free 1-800-256-7673; offers potted, not bare-root plants.
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