Hang in there: Plants can struggle when they’re young

I’m stumped. I have a house in Whitewater. I looked up recommended climbing roses for this area and CSU Extension indicated Altissimo and Don Juan. Excellent, two of my favorites. So I bought one of each. Both died back to the ground over the winter a couple years ago and now both have sprouted from the roots. Looks like the varietals survived, but I am not thrilled with climbers that start from scratch every year. The roses are root-watered with drip irrigation on the west/southwest of the house, relatively sheltered (the rest of the property is a windswept field).

Can you recommend a climbing rose for a wood pillar (part of an entryway) that is cane hardy through our winters? I can mulch the crown, but I will not burlap the canes. It’s too much trouble. I am looking for red if possible. Fragrant would be a nice bonus. One that’s a repeat bloomer and hardy with only a toss of mulch after first frost. Does such a creature exist?

— Cynthia

I don’t think the advice you were given was altogether wrong, Altissimo is on most lists of hardy climbers.

As you know, the plants simply froze back. I think this is mainly because of their newness. Plants always struggle a bit when they’re young. The first winter or two is always the hardest, and if you can get them through those, I’d expect the plants will be fine.

Of course, they can always freeze back if the weather is cold enough, but that doesn’t happen all that often like it did a couple years ago.

If these were my plants, I’d hang in with them. They have a larger, more established root system than a new one would and should grow back quickly for you. If you want to replace them or are looking to add to the row, here’s a list of some of the hardier climbing roses (of all colors) that have some reblooming characteristics:

All Ablaze, Altissimo, America, Blaze Improved, Candy Land, Fourth Of July, Jacob’s Robe, Lemon Meringue, New Dawn, Night Owl, Pearly Gates, Sally Holmes and Sky’s The Limit.

You also could consider some of the Canadian introductions from the “Explorer Series” such as John Cabot and William Baffin. These usually only bloom once a year for us (occasionally more), but they’re bred to be especially cold hardy.

How far down do I cut my rose bush?

— Carmela from Las Vegas

We usually cut roses 12–30 inches from the ground. The rule of thumb is the milder the winter weather, the longer you leave the canes.

In Las Vegas, I’d probably be cutting roses to 18–24 inches. Either way, you want to cut it back by at least half.

While you’re at this, be sure to remove any dead or damaged canes and any canes that cross through the middle of the plant. You want the center of the plant to be open with the canes spreading outward so there is good air flow through the plant, which will help with disease problems next year.

You’re too early to do this pruning. Here in western Colorado, roses should be pruned the very end of March to the first part of April but in Las Vegas, I’d wait until January to do it.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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