A rambler rose is like an ill-mannered guest who doesn’t respect boundaries, but is so charming in other ways that he’s always welcome to the party. Ramblers are the roses that creep across a castle’s façade, lending vibrant splashes of color to drab stone. They can sprawl upward across a house’s walls, tower through a tree’s branches, and banish the ugliness of a drab building with beautiful and profuse flowers. Rambler roses are adored by gardeners precisely for their habit of rambling, as their name implies, and can grow to 20 feet (6.1 meters) and often more.
Rambler roses are related to climbing roses and, in fact, are the ancestors of today’s climbing roses. But there are important distinctions between them. While climbers may have several periods of bloom in a single season, known as repeat bloom, rambler roses usually will bloom just once. But that single outstanding show each year is enough to make them a favorite flower among gardeners who have the space to grow them. Also, while climbers can drape across structures as ramblers do and they possess long, arching canes, their canes cannot match the length or strength of a rambler’s.
If the spot where a gardener chooses to plant a rambler rose is large enough, but there is no support structure on which it can drape itself, a rambler can still thrive. Some rose lovers simply allow the canes of their ramblers to arc naturally across the ground. With this method, they often are rewarded when the canes put down roots and form another rambler where they touch the ground.
Like climbers, rambler roses will put on a better flowering show if their canes are trained horizontally, for example along a fence. And like other types of roses, they perform better with at least six hours of sunlight each day. Also, they should be protected from harsh winds.
Because rambler roses bloom on old wood, a gardener should never prune a rambler before it has bloomed. If he does, he is cutting off the show that he likely waited for all year. The best time to prune rambler roses, if necessary or desired, is after they have put on their annual show. This will give them time to produce more growth in the current season that will become next year’s old wood. Eventually, some of these canes will become weak, while stronger canes will take their place, and the less hardy or dying among them may have to be pruned and discarded to keep the rambler roses healthy.