Gardeners often say they don’t plant climbing roses or large shrub roses because they’re difficult to keep under control and they take up too much space, especially if the garden is small. This may be true, but the problem is easily solved. Simply arching a rambler’s long canes confines and controls them and produces more blooms at the same time. The technique is called self-pegging.
To understand this technique and why it works, it is helpful first to know a little bit about a climbing rose’s physiology. Even though they are commonly called climbing roses, climbers are really just large shrubs. Truly climbing plants have runners or viny structures that reach out to latch onto anything around them. Unlike wisteria, which winds itself around a support, sweet peas, which grasp with tendrils, or ivy, which has specialized root structures for attachment to surrounding supports, roses do not attach themselves to anything on their own. To clamber upwards and reach sunlight, roses that climb simply take advantage of their thorns’ natural propensity to hook onto anything around them. Furthermore, large shrub roses tend to produce flowers only at the growing tips of their long canes. Each new rose that forms at the apical tips of the canes produces growth inhibitors that prevent competing flowers from being produced lower down their canes. Fewer flowers means less competition for scarce resources of energy and nutrients, which allows a shrub to produce enough seed for next year as well as energy for the next season’s growth.
One way to subvert this physiological fact is to arch the long canes of climbing roses over and secure, or peg, them at the base of the plant. This bending uses gravity to trap the flower-inhibiting hormones at the tips and forces more flower production along the canes. By employing this gardening trick, every bud eye at every leaf node along an arched cane can produce a stem and a flower cluster. Instead of one or two clusters of roses at the end of a single 10-foot cane, a gardener in the know can have upwards of 20 or 30 clusters on that same cane once it is arched over. Just imagine a large shrub rose trained to have 8 to 10 such long arches.
Once you get into the swing of things, self-pegging is a simple procedure. In fact, many gardeners have used this technique in modified ways without realizing it when training climbing roses. Self-pegging controls shrubs that would otherwise overpower your garden, and you get better flower production to boot. What more can a gardener ask?