The rose, queen of all flowers, has a rather haughty reputation: difficult to grow, prone to diseases and pests, and dies after a few years. There are still a few divas around, but many rose varieties are not obstinate or impossible to grow.
In the words of Peter Schneider, author of Right Rose, Right Place, “If you can grow a marigold, you can grow a rose.”
The rose is one of the most decorative and adaptable of all flowers. Today’s roses have a wide variety of brilliant colors, repeat bloom cycles, various shapes, luscious fragrances, disease and pest resistance and winter-hardy characteristics. Why waste time humoring and pampering a few rose divas? There are just too many good rose varieties on the market to waste time and money on the frail and demanding.
Busy gardeners with busy lifestyles demand low-maintenance roses. As much as we love our gardens, there is simply less time for spraying, pruning and laboring in the garden. We want the garden to be a beautiful, tranquil place to visit, not a place that enslaves us with work, and ultimately frustration. You can have a beautiful rose garden without the fuss. There are many rose cultivars that require simple, routine garden care. Rose hybridizers, such as Dr. Griffith Buck (in Iowa) and Kordes Söhne (in Germany) had the foresight to recognize the changing times in the rose industry, hybridizing roses with the fabulous low-maintenance characteristics we desire.
The sensational hit, the Knock Out™ rose (R. ‘RADrazz’) (introduced in 2000), and the Knock Out™ family of roses Pink (Rosa ‘RADcon’), Rainbow (R. ‘RADcor’), Sunny (R. ‘RADsunny’) and Blushing (R. ‘RADyod’), hybridized by William Radler (in Wisconsin), have been the most successful family of roses on the market in years. These roses are great, no doubt. Nevertheless, I have grown a little bored with them — small, single blooms (with four to five petals) and no fragrance. Beyond Knock Out™ roses, Bill Radler’s hybridizing program is evolving; he is producing some new fantastic roses with heavier petal counts, strong fragrance and the hardiness of the Knock Out family.
The dark green glossy foliage of Golden Fairy Tale™ (R. ‘KORquelda’) provides a lovely backdrop for the bright yellow sprays of blooms. Supports or cages can be helpful in supporting the canes, keeping the sprays upright and showy.
The Fairy Tale™ family of roses are the new kids in the garden, but splashed on the scene like rock stars. They are hybridized by Kordes Söhne of Germany, and described on their website as “charmingly robust” as well as “new, enchanting varieties with charisma and charm.” Although some retail nurseries could be accused of fiction writing when describing their roses, this description accurately portrays these lovely romantic-looking roses.
There is so much to offer your garden palette: brilliant colors, bi-colors, blends, full and heavy blooms with countless petals, and that “to die for” fragrance. Wonderful heady rose perfume wafting in the air adds that extra delicious dimension to your garden experience.
Growing Roses: Tips for Success
Do your homework. Choose a foolproof rose to start. Select a plant that has the size and shape that works best for your area of the garden. That may seem obvious, but some of my worst mistakes have been choosing a large rose for a small space or vice versa. Choose a great location. Roses like morning sun. Give your roses at least eight hours of sun daily. Although some roses will tolerate light shade or dappled light, most do better in full sun; plants are bigger, stronger, healthier and more floriferous with plentiful sunlight. Six hours of sun may be sufficient in areas of more intense summer heat.
Roses like fresh air. Give your roses enough space to grow to their full potential and to allow good airflow through the foliage. Good air circulation prevents diseases that thrive in moist environments, such as black spot and powdery mildew.
Choose own-root roses. Own-root roses are grown by slips or leaf cuttings of the desired variety. For best selection of varieties, own-root roses may need to be purchased via mail-order, and will arrive in small banded containers or liners. Although they will appear disappointingly small and scrawny to start, own-root roses will catch up quickly with their budded counterparts, and are more winter hardy and vigorous. The aboveground portion of the rose can die back completely in winter; new spring growth from the root will be true to the variety. Besides winter hardiness, the roses tend to be healthier and develop into fuller shapelier bushes. Bud unions of grafted roses can be vulnerable and easily damaged by a cold winter, and often require protection to survive. Suckers are often undesirable growth from the rootstock and should be removed.
Planting own-root roses is similar to planting any other container grown plant. Keep the soil and roots intact, and plant about 1/2 inch deeper than it is in the container. For a banded-size rose, the hole needs to be about 10 inches by 12 inches deep. Use native soil and mix in a little organic matter in the bottom of the hole, such as bonemeal, rock phosphate or bulb booster. Because the surrounding soil has microorganisms and microfauna maintained in a delicate balance, there is no reason to disturb it.
Check the pH. Depending on your soil type, you may need to make some minor pH adjustments. The soil should be slightly acidic. An acceptable pH range is 6.0 to 6.9, with 6.5 being ideal. How do you know the soil pH? Test it with an inexpensive meter, or through your local extension office.
No fertilizer in the first year. During the second and subsequent years, you may mix organic fertilizers into the topsoil surrounding the rose bush. Apply twice yearly, once in the spring and again midsummer. In addition, a general all-purpose fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer, such as 12-12-12 may be applied. No special fertilizer is necessary; buy whatever is on sale at your local nursery or hardware store, and use sparingly.
Hate to spray? Spraying roses is my least favorite job in the garden. Some rose varieties are much more prone to fungal diseases, so start with disease-resistant varieties, and skip the spray routine. Be willing to tolerate a small degree of pests or diseases. Skip the insecticides altogether. Encourage beneficial insects and birds to help maintain a balanced ecosystem. Good horticultural practices (such as plenty of sun, fresh air, applying mulch, stripping lower leaves from the bush, watering in the morning and keeping the garden clean of debris) all prevent diseases.
A mix of roses and perennials in various shades of pink makes a striking border.
Plant companion plants. A monoculture, or concentration of roses, allows pests and diseases to multiple rapidly. A mixed culture of roses and companion plants is beautiful, as well as helpful preventing disease and insect problems.
Prune established roses in the spring. Remove any dead wood. Shape plant as desired.
Deadhead. Removing spent blooms will encourage reblooming. Stop deadheading in late summer or early fall, allowing plants to harden off for winter.
Apply mulch. Organic mulch helps to prevent weeds, conserves moisture, improves the fertility and conditioning of the soil and provides winter protection for the roots. It also helps to inhibit soil-borne diseases by preventing fungal spores from splashing onto the plant during watering. Plus, mulch just looks pretty, adding that finished, elegant look to the garden.
Top 10 Low-Maintenance Roses
There are literally hundreds of great rose cultivars — making a “Top 10 List” is difficult. I will only recommend roses that I have had firsthand, personal experience growing. Every rose grower could create their own “Top 10 List,” with an endless mix of varieties, depending upon the microclimates of your garden, preferences, likes and dislikes. Below are just a few of my favorite low-maintenance roses. All of the roses listed are repeat bloomers, disease resistant, winter hardy and most are fragrant.
- Quietness has lovely blushing-pink blooms, is heavily petaled and has a sweet fragrance.
- Sombreuil has creamy white blooms with many petals and an intoxicating scent.
- Golden Fairy Tale has blooms that are bright yellow with pink edging and is deliciously fragrant.
- Lion’s Fairy Tale has blooms that are light apricot-pinkish in color, fully double and sweetly fragrant.
- Carmella Fairy Tale displays striking apricot-colored blooms with a mild scent.
- Orchid Romance is very heavily petaled (up to 75 petals) with a button eye reminiscent of Old Garden Roses. Blooms are pink with lavender undertones and give off a strong fragrance.
- Dainty Bess is the only hybrid tea to make the list, with four to eight light-pink petals with maroon stamens and a spicy fragrance.
- Carefree Spirit shows off with scarlet single blooms, which have a white throat and vivid yellow stamens. It is a blooming machine.
- Peggy Martin is a large-flowering climber that needs a lot of room to spread; it is best covering a fence or large trellis.
- Colette is an apricot-pink large-flowering climber, with very full double blooms that are quartered and emit a strong tea fragrance.
‘Sombreuil’ was originally hybridized in 1880, and introduced in the U.S. in 1959 as a “climbing tea,” but reclassed by ARS in 2006 as a large-flowering climber. In my garden, ‘Sombreuil’ grows more like a large shrub, reaching a height of 5 to 6 feet. It’s creamy white blooms repeat all summer long, with an intoxicating fragrance.
‘Dainty Bess’ was introduced in 1925, and is still going strong in the rose market. Blooms are unusual and beautiful, typically 4 to 5 inches across. The shrub blooms in prolific sprays, all the while flaunting a mild, yet spicy fragrance. The bush is upright, grows to 3 to 4 feet in height with green leathery foliage.
Carefree Spirit (R. ‘MElzmea’) is a blooming machine, a great landscape shurb that grows about 4 to 5 feet in height and 4 feet wide. Dark green glossy foliage provides a backdrop for large scarlet sprays.
Article from State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos by Linda Kimmel.
Originally appeared in the May/June 2013 midwest editions of State By State Gardening Magazines. Reprinted with permission of State by State Gardening Magazines, which publishes 19 different state and regional magazines in the South and Midwest. (statebystategardening.com)