If you think that growing healthy roses takes a storehouse of chemical sprays and a ton of time, think again. Low-maintenance shrub roses are some of the easiest, and most rewarding, flowering plants you can grow. Shrub roses remain popular because they offer gardeners an easy choice over fussier plants, such as Hybrid Tea roses. Shrub roses give you:
Use them as specimens, mixed-border plants, hedges, container plants, and companions with other garden favorites.
Many are hardy in much of the continent, and offer excellent resistance to black spot and other fungal diseases.
Plant the right shrub rose in the right place, and it will need no special feeding, spraying, or pruning.
Beauty and scent
Most shrubs are repeat bloomers that provide lots of color. Many are quite fragrant, too.
Most Rugosa roses, Species roses, and many others, including ‘Ballerina', ‘Carefree Beauty', and ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp', produce colorful rose hips that birds love.
Top Choices for Various Conditions
To successfully grow shrub roses, match the rose's habits with your garden's conditions. "Many varieties do exceptionally well in a given climate, only to perform pathetically in another," says Steve Hutton, president of Conard-Pyle, a major breeder and supplier of roses and other perennials.
As tough as shrub roses are, I've learned that one rose may thrive in a hot, arid spot, but will struggle with black spot in more humid areas. Or, another one that does well in colder climates will fry in southern heat. So, in addition to my choices for warm and humid conditions below, I've gathered the top choices of six other shrub rose growers who garden under differing degrees of heat, humidity, soil quality, and other conditions. Where cold-hardiness is a factor, USDA Hardiness Zone ratings are included.
Moist and cool
This type of climate, prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and many coastal regions, often includes variable rain and sunshine, drying winds, occasional late spring frosts, and likelihood of fungal diseases. For these conditions, Kym Pokorny, staff garden writer for The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, recommends ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp' (often called "Fru Dagmar Hastrup"). "Its delicate, shimmering-pink flowers contrast with its Hybrid Rugosa toughness," Pokorny says. "It has nice big rose hips in fall that birds like, and the rose hips are an ornamental feature." Some of her other favorites are ‘Erfurt', ‘Jude the Obscure' ‘Lyda Rose', ‘Mutabilis', ‘Sally Holmes', and ‘Westerland'.
Typical of high-altitude locations, high deserts, or foothills of the West, arid-climate roses may fight drought, alkaline soils, variable sun and heat, and cold winters.
"Rosa glauca (also called R. rubrifolia or red-leafed rose) should be more widely used as a landscape shrub," says Heather Campbell of High Country Roses in Jensen, Utah. "With its starry single pink flowers, it's a wonderful shrub for the back of a border or along a fence," she says. Hardy to Zone 2, this rose has year-round interest in the garden, with red canes and orange hips lasting through the winter. It is shade tolerant and drought resistant. "My other top performers include ‘Adelaide Hoodless', ‘Baronne Prévost', ‘Golden Wings', ‘Sea Foam', Thérèse Bugnet', and "Victorian Memory," a ‘found' variety of great worth," Campbell says.
Warm and humid
The Heartland and many other interior areas endure warm-to-hot summers, high humidity, cold winters, high winds, variable rainfall, fungal diseases, and (often) heavy soils.
When I grew hundreds of roses in Kansas City, Missouri, ‘Mme. Hardy' (Zone 4) became my favorite rose. This "Green-eyed Enchantress" has double white petals that frame a deep-green button eye. Plus, it has an old-fashioned, grandma's-perfume type of fragrance, and is adaptable to many climates. My other top performers include ‘Belle de Crécy', ‘Betty Prior', ‘Bonica', ‘Flower Carpet Pink', ‘Hansa', ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire', ‘Peace', ‘Scarlet Meidiland', ‘The Fairy', and ‘Thérèse Bugnet' (the first to bloom in spring). All of my choices are hardy to at least Zone 6.
Through most of Canada and the northern U.S., roses face extreme climates with long, cold winters, drying winds, short (but intense) growing seasons, summer droughts, and variable soils-from rocky to pure sand to pure clay.
"All of my choices thrive in our nursery near Ottawa," says Rob Lunan of Simon's Field Nursery in Kemptville, Ontario (USDA Zone 4). "In particular, 'Hansa' is a nice old rose. It was a favorite early in the last century and is still seen growing around old farmhouses. ‘Hansa' is as tough as nails and is certain to give a vibrant and fragrant show every summer," Lunan says. "My other top performers include ‘A. MacKenzie' (often called "Alexander MacKenzie"), ‘Blanc Double de Coubert', ‘Hansa', ‘Henry Hudson', ‘Morden Blush', ‘Morden Ruby', ‘Pink Grootendorst', ‘Rotes Meer' (often called "Purple Pavement"), ‘Thérèse Bugnet', and ‘William Baffin', which can also be trained as a climber."
Hot and humid
Much of the lower midcontinent and the South battle heat, humidity, intense sunlight, variable soils, fungal diseases, and occasional late spring frosts during their long growing season.
Barbara Pleasant, garden writer and rosarian in Huntsville, Alabama, says, "The exuberant nature of ‘The Fairy' is ideal for a fence or boundary, but in more disciplined sites I love the gentle elegance of ‘Heritage'. In late spring, when the biggest flush of ‘Heritage' blossoms begins to shatter and fall to the ground, all those pink petals create an enchanting scene that I find irresistible." Her other favorites include ‘Betty Prior', ‘Carefree Wonder', ‘Dortmund' ("so vigorous it's often used as a climber"), ‘Sally Holmes', and ‘Tamora'.
Deep South and subtropical areas encounter intense heat and sunlight, summer drought, rainy winters, and fungal diseases. Most roses need midday shade.
"First, it's crucial that Florida rose growers choose plants that have been grafted onto ‘Fortuniana' rootstock. Otherwise, they just won't grow here," says Helen Bevier, horticulture manager at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida. "A top performer here is ‘Carefree Wonder', a compact, disease-resistant shrub with bold-pink and creamy-white blooms." Bevier's other choices include ‘Brilliant Pink Iceberg', ‘Carefree Wonder', ‘Fairy Queen' (a new sport of ‘The Fairy'), ‘First Light', ‘Lemon Zest', and ‘Palmengarten Frankfurt,' a terrific pink rose.