Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wichuranas in Florida

This article ran in my St. Pete Times column in 2007. But drought has been a new norm since then, so I'd add to grow new plantings in Water Wise Container Gardens, and to obsessively save rain water and kitchen graywater (don't use 'Dawn' as it fries plants) to indulge established plants in for the best growth. John


Sure I love central Florida, but like many northern transplants I had long wished for the grace and fragrant charm of old fashioned rambling roses. Generations ago they covered cottages and garden arbors with sweet swirls of pinks and white and reds, and here we Floridians are cursed with countless ugly chain link fences just waiting to be used as trellises But every time we buy a “climbing rose” it struggles to reach the top of our mailbox then often dies. So we conclude that climbing and rambling roses “won’t grow in Florida”. WRONG

But you’d be right IF you were referring to the Climbing Hybrid Teas like ‘Climbing Peace’ or ‘Climbing Oklahoma’ many of us have seen in full glory in Oregon or Tennessee, and that what is generally sold to the public here as “climbing roses”. Those areas offer roses high rainfall, clayey soil, and winters that offer essential periods of dormancy. But here, climbing Hybrid Teas are denied that winter rest while they cope with a long spring drought, funky acidic sandy soil teeming with microscopic nematode worms that sting their roots, plus a long hot steamy summer far more suited to subtropical plants. But we don’t have to endure blizzards and icy sidewalks to have rambling roses thrive here.

Years ago I experimented in my yard and my clients’ yards, and found that if we just switch gears mentally and instead purchase “own root” plants of a certain class of Old Roses called “Wichurana Roses”, also long called “Wichuriana Ramblers”, we WILL enjoy raging success Their blooms boast a pleasing palette of colors, most are quite fragrant (often of rose and ripe apples ), and their growth is RAMPANT in Florida Bred mostly in the late 1800's and early 1900's, these genetic climbers display rapid growth, great vigor and are largely aloof to the bugs, heat, humidity and fungal diseases that plague most wimpy modern climbing roses in our climate. All were bred from a wild Japanese species called Rosa wichurana noted for its toughness, beautiful glossy leaves, and rampant flexible canes.

Like all roses they prefer full sun, slightly acid soil well-amended with compost, a thick mulch (my favorite is the chipped limbs and leaves from a tree trimming company) to keep the soil damp and cool, and a feeding of a good organic like menhaden fish meal, Calf Manna (from a feed store) or Mills Magic Rose Mix or every March, July, September and December. Most of inland central Florida has quite acid soil, so most rose folks give their roses a light sprinkling of dolomitic limestone every March to neutralize that acid and to supply needed calcium and magnesium.

Oddly, you’ll get much faster coverage of a trellis or fence if you train the long new shoots of a climber as HORIZONTALLY as possible, not UP as is our instinct. Why? Trained horizontally that long rose cane will send up many vertical new shoots that will then eagerly climb UP. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut up old pantyhose and nylons into flexible and inconspicuous plant ties to lash those vigorous new shoots to your fence or arbor….they will stretch as the canes thicken and so not strangle them as can a metal twisty. And remember, these climbers are VIGOROUS, so don’t bring home a wimpy little trellis but instead make a sturdy one out of pressure treated 2” x 2” lumber, construction rebar, or plumber’s pipe, or train them on that long-hated chain link fence. They rival Jack’s magic beanstalk with their growth so plan accordingly with a strong structure for them to consume. These are Climbing Roses on steroids

The upcoming cooler autumn and winter months are ideal for mail ordering and planting these lovely toughies, so scan your landscape for a sunny spot in need of a touch of class and year round splendor, then choose from the Wichurana Ramblers listed here, keeping in mind that they can tolerate light shade. Notice their dates of commercial introduction to give you an idea of their longevity into the 21st century These tough but exquisite beauties may well outlive you, so your yard deserves a few on a funky fence or on an English style rose arbor framing your front doorway. Life is short and has prickles of its own; why not invite in the soft, sweet but reliable beauties our great-grandmothers knew and cherished?


Albertine (1921) pastel salmon pink

Leontine Gervais (1903) warm apricot, gold and tangerine

Cl. American Beauty (1909) deep rose pink and magenta

C. Red Fountain (1975) rich red

Aviateur Bleriot (1910) pastel apricot and yellow

Alberic Barbier (1900) pale lemon and cream

Dr. Van Fleet (1910) baby blanket pink

Francois Juranville (1906) clear pink and salmon

Gardenia (1899) pastel yellow and white

Jersey Beauty (1899) 5 petals creamy yellow

                                           Francois Juranville

                                            Leontive Gervais

                                          Leontine Gervais training on rebar

                                          Aviateur Bleriot on rebar in north Tampa

                                           Aviateur Bleriot bloom

Francois Juranville


Roses Unlimited (864) 682-7673 e-mail:

Antique Rose Emporium 1-800-441-0002

Chamblee’s Roses 1-800-256-7673

Mill’s Magic Rose Mix 1-800-845-2325

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