When I was a boy, I used to help my father prepare his climbing roses for the winter. We used to dig a 1-foot (30 cm) trench next to them as long as the plant was tall (often 6 feet/2 m or more), carefully detach the branches, bundle them together, then lay them in the bottom of the trench. Then we filled in the trench with soil, adding a good 6 more inches (15 cm) of soil brought in from elsewhere for extra protection. Then we covered the entire mound with a thick layer of spruce branches.
Come spring, we had to undo the whole thing and dig up the branches and attach them back on their trellis for the summer. It was a huge amount of effort, but if you wanted to grow climbing roses in zone 5 (where I lived at the time), that was the only way to go.
Fast forward to today. The frost-tender climbing roses are still around and widely sold, to boot, but there are now much hardier climbing roses, most created by crossing tender climbing varieties with extra-hardy shrub roses. The Explorer series produced by Agriculture Canada comes to mind, with tough-as-nail climbers like ‘John Cabot’ and ‘William Baffin’, but there are others. They require no winter protection whatsoever: really, zilch! Just cut back any dead branches in the spring… and there won’t be many of those!
You’d think I wouldn’t have to point out that hardy climbing roses need no winter protection, that the very term “hardy climbing rose” would say it all, but you’d be wrong. I still receive plenty of questions from gardeners wanting to know how to protect their hardy climbing roses, including people who have been putting theirs in trenches for the winter for decades and are getting a bit tired of doing so!
The point is that, no matter how cold it is where you live, even in zone 2 in some cases, you no longer need to put all that effort into protecting your climbing roses for the winter. Just plant hardy climbing roses, attach their branches to whatever support you’re using and let them grow.
Gardening can be so simple when you choose the right plants!
A Few Extra-Hardy Climbing Roses
Here are a few examples of truly hardy climbing roses that gardeners in colder climates might want to try:
- ‘Alchymist’ zone 3
- ‘Captain Samuel Hollande’ zone 2
- ‘Félix Leclerc’
- ‘Henry Kelsey’ zone 4
- ‘John Cabot’ zone 3
- ‘John Davis’ zone 3
- ‘Louis Jolliet’ zone 3
- ‘Marie-Victorin’ zone 3
- ‘New Dawn’ zone 4
- ‘Polestar’ zone 2
- ‘Quadra’ zone 3
- ‘William Baffin’ zone 2