Ask the Master Gardener: Sharp thorns aside, climbing roses are not hard to grow

Plant a climbing rose in an open, sunny area in moist, well-drained soil. They have an extensive root system and need lots of space to grow.

A John Cabot climbing rose.
John Cabot is a Canadian Explorer climbing rose that is slightly fragrant and a lot of sharp thorns.
Contributed / Jackie Burkey

Dear Master Gardener: Are climbing roses hard to grow? Which ones do you recommend for zone 3b?

A John Cabot climbing rose.
John Cabot climbing roses are hardy and disease resistant, and flower heavily in early summer.
Contributed / Jackie Burkey

Answer: Climbing roses are not hard to grow. They don’t actually climb, but have long canes that are ideal for vertical display. Climbing roses often need to be guided up and tied securely in place with string or twist ties to a structure (fence, trellis, obelisk). If you plant one in front of a trellis next to your house, make sure the trellis is out at least 6 inches from the house for air circulation. Plant a climbing rose in an open, sunny area in moist, well-drained soil. They have an extensive root system and need lots of space to grow. Fertilize a climbing rose with a 10-10-10 granular fertilizer around the base of the plant just as soon as the buds appear in spring. Organic fertilizers such as compost, cow manure, fish emulsion or alfalfa meal are even better. Deadhead with a pruner, snipping to a point just above the set of leaves. Stop deadheading by September.

John Cabot is a Canadian Explorer rose that is slightly fragrant. It flowers heavily in early summer then has strong second flush. It is disease resistant and hardy to zone 3. It does have a lot of very sharp thorns! John Davis is also a Canadian Explorer rose hardy to zone 3. It is often used as a climbing pillar rose. There will be almost continuous bloom under ideal conditions. William Baffin, another Explorer rose, is hardy to zone 2 and quite popular with northern gardeners. It has an excellent first flush of flowers then limited rebloom. Above and Beyond is a new, large-flowered, climbing rose that was hybridized by Professor David Zlesak of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. In 2000, he crossed a non-hardy yellow miniature rose and a Canadian hybrid rose and the result was gorgeous apricot-colored, semi-double flowers with a mild, spice fragrance. Above and Beyond is hardy to zone 3, has vigorous growth, and is very resistant to fungal disease.

Dear Master Gardener: Which trees should be pruned this month? Is it important to prune trees?

Answer: March is a good time to prune many trees because the chance of disease and pests entering the tree through pruning cuts is minimized. Some of the trees that can be pruned in March are maple, oak, elm, crabapple, apple, ash, walnut, birch, beech, ironwood and linden. According to Julie Weisenhorn at the University of Minnesota Extension, trees are pruned for the following reasons:


  • Pruning improves plant form.
  • Pruning allows for the removal of dead or dying branches as well as branch stubs and branches injured by disease, severe insect infestation, animals, storms, or other mechanical damage.
  • Crossing branches tend to rub against each other and develop wounds. These wounds allow for disease and pests to get under bark and into stems, causing issues for the plant down the road. 
  • Pruning opens up tree canopies, increasing airflow and light to stems and branches. More light means more flowers, leaves, and fruits. More light and air reduce moisture and potential disease caused by bacteria and fungal pathogens. 

Dear Master Gardener: My parents love to garden, but my mother is currently in a wheelchair and my dad has knee problems. Is there a recommended height for raised bed gardens for the elderly or wheelchair bound?

Answer: Raised bed gardening, a centuries-old technique, is a simple way to improve the health and productivity of a garden. Raised beds have better soil structure and drainage, allowing the soil to warm up earlier in the season, and giving you a head start on spring. In addition, perennial weeds can be less of a problem in raised beds than in other gardens. Constructing a raised bed to bring the soil up to a more comfortable working height can be done easily. For most wheelchair users, 27 inches is a comfortable working height, but raised beds can be custom built to any height to meet the needs of the gardener. The width should be determined by the arm’s reach of your parents.

To make a planter 27 inches high, place one 2-inch by 4-inch and three 2-inch by 8-inch boards horizontally, using 2-inch by 4-inch boards vertically for reinforcement, especially at the corners. Build the sides first, turning the boards “heartwood in.” Make sure to use untreated, rot resistant lumber, such as cedar. Railroad ties are not a good choice for a raised bed garden because they are treated with creosote, which is toxic to plants. Lumber treated with copper, chromium, and arsenic is also not recommended for vegetable crops because some of the arsenic may leach out of the wood and be taken up by the plants. Use decking screws to attach the vertical reinforcing boards and to join the corners. You can make a sitting ledge by attaching a 1-inch by 4-inch board flat on top of the frame, extending it over the sides.

Fill the planter with a mixture of soil and organic matter (such as compost and/or chopped leaves) and add two to four inches more each year as the soil settles and ages. If you bring in additional soil, be sure that it does not come from an area where it could have been infested by soil borne plant pathogens or contaminants like lead, pesticides, etc. Remember that containers, even large ones, need extra watering.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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