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Ramblin' roses

Contrary to a widely held belief, roses in Florida will climb, but they have to be roses bred for a Southern climate, and they have to be trained.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001

[Times photos: Ken Helle ]
Have you ever drooled over photos of beautiful homes whose entryways or trellises or fences were draped in the luxurious splendor of climbing roses? If so, filled with visions of your own home bedecked with living color and fragrance, you may have ordered climbing roses from a catalog or plunked down hard-earned cash at a nursery. Chances are, a year later you had a tragic-looking bundle of spindly canes.

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?


Both cities enjoy high rainfall and mild winters, which offer essential periods of dormancy. They have far better soil minus our nematode problem. Hybrid teas and their climbing "sports," or mutations, thrive there, even as grafted plants.

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.

Strips of pantyhose make flexible and inconspicuous ties to lash vigorous new shoots to a fence or arbor. Metal twist-ties sometimes strangle plants.
Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut up old pantyhose and nylons into flexible and inconspicuous plant ties to lash those vigorous new shoots to your fence or arbor. They will stretch as the canes thicken and thus will not strangle them as metal twist-ties sometimes do.

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:

  • Prosperity (brought into commerce in 1919): big clusters of snow-white blooms; light, spicy scent.
  • Cornelia (1925): clusters of apricot-pink blooms; rich aroma.
  • Buff Beauty (1939): small clusters of apricot-yellow roses; "tea" scented.
  • Kathleen (1922): simple blooms of palest pink; light, sharp scent.

Climbing Chinas:

  • Climbing Cramoisi Superieur (1885): cherry-red cupped blooms; fruity scent.
  • Climbing Old Blush (date unknown): rose-pink shaded red; fruity perfume.

Climbing noisettes:

  • Blush Noisette (1817): big clusters of pale pink roses; cinnamon musk scent.
  • Crepuscule (1904): apricot-orange blooms; tea scented.
  • Champney's Pink Cluster (1811): monstrous bushy climber, pale pink small blooms; spicy musk scent.
  • Mme. Alfred Carriere (1879): big blooms, palest pink; rich aroma; few thorns.
  • Reve d'Or (1869): big blooms, buff yellow; tea scent.

Climbing teas:

  • Climbing Perle des Jardins (1890): big canary-yellow tea-scented blooms.
  • Sombreuil (1850): huge snow-white petal-packed roses; wonderful fragrance.
  • Climbing White Maman Cochet (1907): big white modern-looking blooms; tea scent.
  • Climbing Lady Hillingdon (1917): big apricot yellow roses; tea scent.


  • Climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison (1893): huge petal-packed Victorian blooms, pale pink; remarkably complex spicy perfume. Stunning.
  • Climbing Clotilde Soupert (1902): cupped pale pink petal-packed blooms; baby powder scent.
  • Westerland (1969): vibrant apricot orange; fruity sweet scent.
  • Cherokee Rose (1759): monstrously vigorous, can consume a tree; big white fragrant roses in early spring, simple five-petaled blooms.
  • Ragged Robin (1825): simple crimson blooms; potent spicy Old Rose fragrance.
  • "Maggie" (unknown): gorgeous old-fashioned deep magenta blooms; richly spicy old rose perfume.
  • Sally Holmes (1976): upright tree-like monster, needs little support; small clusters of simple palest pink blooms; faint scent.

Bay area sources:

Personal Touch Rose Services; (813) 659-2995.

Hardin's Nursery, 6011 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813)-839-6151

Mail order:

Roses Unlimited, phone (864) 682-7673; e-mail:; offers potted, not bare-root, plants.

Antique Rose Emporium, toll-free 1-800-441-0002; on the Web:; 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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