Gardening Roses

Hardier Climbing Roses for Cold Climates

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.

Hardy climbing rose ‘John Cabot’

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

Hardy climbing rose ‘Polestar’

Here are a few examples of truly hardy climbing roses that gardeners in colder climates might want to try:

  1. ‘Alchymist’ zone 3
  2. ‘Captain Samuel Hollande’ zone 2
  3. ‘Félix Leclerc’
  4. ‘Henry Kelsey’ zone 4
  5. ‘John Cabot’ zone 3
  6. ‘John Davis’ zone 3
  7. ‘Louis Jolliet’ zone 3
  8. ‘Marie-Victorin’ zone 3
  9. ‘New Dawn’ zone 4
  10. ‘Polestar’ zone 2
  11. ‘Quadra’ zone 3
  12. ‘William Baffin’ zone 2

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

18 comments on “Hardier Climbing Roses for Cold Climates

  1. Pingback: Winter Protection for Tender Roses – Laidback Gardener

  2. Dawn Woodward

    Nice info on hardy climbing roses! I wish I knew where to find them for sale!

    • Julia Jones

      Fraser Valley roses has some,also Cornhill nurseries,if you are in the Usa,there are lots more nurseries Rogue Valley etc just google hardy roses

  3. I even found a man in Latvia who grows and sells full range of Canadian Explorer roses. I will say John Cabot rose laughs at -32 cel winters and blooms so well each summer that people are amazed.

  4. Now lost as no one left to sell. Can you say where I can buy Canadian range of hardy roses now as Im in north Europe

    • I saw some of the Explorer roses in Germany at the Europa-Rosarium in Sangerhausen, Germany, a number of years ago: a huge public rose garden. Maybe you could contact them and get their suggestions. They’re probably Europe’s greatest rose experts.

  5. Jill in North Dakota

    i am in zone 3 North Dakota… will the John Cabot grow here?

    • Yes. At worse, there may be some dieback in really bad winters, but if you cut it back, it will regenerate.

      • Hello everyone. I live in Kiev, this is zone 5. I bought John Cabot because of its winter hardiness, but we sometimes have little snow and frosty (-20-25 Celsius) winters, do I need to cover it for the winter in order to preserve the branches? Thanks for the advice.

      • Hi Irina, There’ll be no problem. It grows in a wide range of conditions here in Canada, even on our Prairies (zone 3), much colder than the Ukraine and often with little snow cover.

    • Yes. I’m in central ND and there is a John Cabot and a William Baffin rose planted on our property from a previous owner. They’re doing fine. 🙂

  6. is there any place in or near Montana that sells truly hardy roses? I bought some that purported to be hardy, they didn”t last at all!

  7. Where do I buy winter hardy roses? I live in northern Montana and none of the roses I’ve planted up here have survived the winter.

  8. jenniellenwilliams

    Velvet, try looking up the roses that The Laidback put up here on “Help Me Find” website – if you are willing to buy online.
    I notice New Dawn is one of the roses listed above – just died sadly under my protection in a cold greenhouse – is it possible we’re talking about another “New Dawn?
    I’m gonna try the root cellar method this winter I think…. I guess I’m not that laid back yet. I want to experience some specific roses like Little White Pet and Souvenir du docteur Jemain. Will try keeping in pots, waiting and helping with dormancy and putting away in the root cellar til…May?
    Warmest regards

  9. S.sangaralingham

    Where are you located. Can I order hardy roses now advice
    I live in oshawa ontario

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