Espalier your roses for a spectacular rose feature

Pruning is always seen as a necessary chore, but what if we saw it as the way to coax more and better blooms from our roses? Isn’t that what we all want?

Climbers intensely beautify this building.

There is an ancient pruning method, still used for fruit trees, that can be applied to climbing roses, Midinettes, Panarosa and even Spire roses with spectacular effect.

‘Isidingo’ espaliered onto a fence.

Espaliering is a method of pruning and training fruit trees, mainly apples and pears, to improve yields in a small space. Whoever saw the possibility for roses is a genius because the basic principle of espalier is the horizontal tying of canes to a support, which encourages the rose to sprout and flower from every node along the branch instead of just producing flowers at the end of the cane.

Horizontal espaliering encourages flower bearing sprouts from every node on the cane.

It also keeps climbers neat and under control, easy to manage for spraying, and exposes all the growth to sunshine and air, unlike unmanaged climbers where inside growth can die off.

Clearly observe the desired outcome.
Flowering sprouts from every eye along the cane.

An espaliered rose (or more if the space is large) can be a focal point on a trellis, cover a wall or palisade fence, act as a screen, and transform a boundary or swimming pool fence.

Espaliering the canes onto horizontal wires is easier than onto vertical supports.

The espalier patterns that suit roses are the fan shape and the horizontal cordon.

Fan pattern

‘Scarlet Midinette’ fan shaped espaliering onto a fairly small steel trellis in a pot.

This pattern works on a trellis, palisade fence or wall support. When tying a rose onto a wall support or trellis make sure there is space between the wall and the trellis so that the stems can be tied up and there is also a free flow of air. Avoid espaliering roses against a west-facing wall as the afternoon sun is too hot.

‘Arctic Ice’ espaliered into a fan shape.

Here is how to do it:

  • Before cutting away any stems, assess the rose and decide which stems are suitable for tying onto the support.
  • Once you have an idea, loosely tie the canes to the support. They need to be tied as horizontally as possible to encourage new shoots along the length of the cane.
  • The ties should not be too tight because the branches will thicken during the season. Looser ties are also easier to remove when pruning the following year.
  • Once the main stems are tied in place, the side shoots on each stem can be reduced to about 5 to 10cm. By leaving a stub with two to three eyes, new growth will develop quickly, and the best flowers will come from these shoots.
  • Clean out twiggy growth and where a stem has forked, cut away one of the tines. In many cases you can see where the sap has bypassed one shoot and favoured the other. Cut out the weaker shoot.
  • Once the main framework of canes is in place it will be easy to identify which canes or side shoots are not necessary and can be cut out at the base. Branches that are two to three years old can be retained if they are important to the framework.
  • Remove the leaves where possible.
In some instances you will need to climb a ladder to access the tall shoots.

This is a time- consuming process but the final result will be a very neat looking climber that will hold its shape throughout summer and need only the most basic care: watering, fertilising, and dead-heading.

Even using cable clips onto a palm tree is a clever way of shaping the climber’s canes.

Horizontal cordon

Climbing GoldBunny
Climbing ‘Gold Bunny’.

This is a simple solution for dressing up low walls and fences and simply entails horizontally training the canes along the wall or fence and tying them in place.

A wall of colour created by planting different climbers 2m apart against a wire fence.

Suitable varieties are generally those that grow into willowy shrubs about 2m high and wide, with long arching canes such as ‘Blossom Time’, ‘Cocktail’, ‘Compassion’, ‘Don Juan’, ‘Edgar Degas’, ‘Rose Celeste’, and ‘Royal Gold’, ‘Crème Caramel’, ‘Iceberg Climber’, ‘Wedding Garland’, ‘Pink Curtain’, ‘Blossom Magic’ or ‘Cherry Garland.

Annie Brune’s magnificent ‘Wedding Garland’s’.

For Fan shaped espaliering, the best varieties are:

A wall of climbers.

‘Isidingo’, ‘Nahéma’, ‘Mellow Yellow’, ‘Casino’, ‘High Hopes’, ‘Golden Spire’, and several of the David Austin varieties i.e. ‘Heritage’, ‘Claire Austin’, ‘James Galway’, ‘Lady of Shalott’, ‘Princess Anne’, ‘The Generous Gardener’ and ‘Jude the Obscure’.

‘Casino’ can become up to 5 metres tall and is ideal for fan shapes espaliering.

Anything goes

Being the home of Bonsai and Ikebana, Japanese gardeners who love roses happily prune, train, and tie the rose bushes to coax out the greatest number of blooms. The Asian version of espaliering is creative and inventive, which inspired a group of South African rosarians who attended the 2006 World Rose Convention in Osaka.

Here are some of the examples, to inspire you as well:

Rose S curve
Rose roundabout
Rose roundabout – different angle.
Red wall of roses.
Pink rose trellis

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