Grow a Healthy Rose

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Pink Knockout rose

There are many good reasons to enrich your landscape with a rose. In addition to their beauty and fragrance, petals of all organically-grown roses are edible, and often are used in drinks, baked goods and syrups. Whole rosebuds or blossoms can be dried for use in potpourri, and you can gather and dry green leaves to add to homemade tea mixes.

Begin by finding a promising site. All roses need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil, and good air circulation is important for preventing disease. Thorny roses also need elbow room when planted near walkways, or as part of an entryway garden.

You can start with bare-root plants that are sold while dormant, or set out costlier container-grown roses later in the season. Dig a roomy planting hole about 18 inches (45cm) wide, and amend the soil with a 6 inch (15cm) layer of rich compost. After planting the rose and watering it in, cover the root area with 3 inches (7cm) of pine needles, straw, or other biodegradable mulch.

Select rose varieties bred for robust health

Choosing A Naturally Healthy Rose

Rose cultivars number in the thousands, but not all are likely to do well under organic cultivation. Many roses are seriously weakened by fungal diseases including rose black spot and powdery mildew, but a growing list of roses offer improved disease resistance and abundant blooms. All the roses discussed below have earned recognition from major horticultural groups including the American Rose Society and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Cold-Hardy Rugosa Roses

If you have permaculture on your mind, adding a mound or thicket of rugosa roses is a beautiful way to boost the food value of your landscape. Hardy to -30°F (-34°C) and non-preferred by deer, rugosas produce pollen-rich blossoms much loved by bees followed by seedy, berry-like fruits, or hips, that are rich in vitamin C. Rosehips are easy to gather and dry, and you also can harvest and dry rugosa leaves for use in tea mixes.

Leaves from Rugosa roses can be dried for use in teas

Strong fruit-producers like the fragrant pink ‘Hansa’ cultivar are best handled as thorny mounds that are cut back to the ground every few years, or you can use them in a wildlife hedge. Should you need something more refined for a smaller landscape, try snow-white ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’, a strong repeat-bloomer with a musky, rose-licorice fragrance.

Black spots with fringed edges are evidence of the fungal disease called rose black spot

Adaptable Shrub Roses

Shrub roses came into being about 30 years ago as rose breeders made huge progress in disease resistance and repeat blooming at the same time. Unfazed by rose black spot and other common diseases, shrub roses keep a good supply of foliage to frame the flowers that come in big flushes. Most shrub roses are hardy to -20°F (-29°C), with varying tolerance for heat. Elegant English shrub roses such as ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ make great repeat-bloomers in moderate climates, but may struggle with high heat and humidity. Changing weather cycles are less of a problem for low-maintenance ‘Knock Out’ roses, which are tremendously popular in the US. ‘Knock Outs’ are heavily used in commercial landscapes for color, but at home you might try yellow ‘Sunny Knock Out’, a rare source of citrus rose fragrance.

Flaming Floribunda Roses

The word “floribunda” means “many flowers,” so expect big clusters of small blossoms from this group of reblooming roses. Hardy to -20°F (-29°C), floribunda roses are available in every color, but for flower power, fragrance and disease resistance, peachy apricot ‘Easy Does It’ and rusty lavender ‘Cinco de Mayo’ are sure winners. The plants grow into easy-to-manage 4-foot tall (1.2m) bushes, but the real show is watching the changing hues of the flowers.

A basket of hybrid tea roses and gardenias is a sure nose pleaser

Healthy Hybrid Tea Roses for Cutting

Cut roses from the florist shop are called hybrid tea roses, which are less cold hardy and require more care than other roses, but can be grown without pesticides if your attend to certain details. Start with a vigorous cultivar known for fragrance and repeat blooming such as red, damask-scented ‘Mr. Lincoln’, bicolored ‘Double Delight’, or coral pink ‘Fragrant Cloud’, which features the most complicated perfume found among roses. And then there is ‘Just Joey’, voted the world’s favorite rose in 1994 for its ability to produce a season-long parade of creamy copper blossoms with fruity rose fragrance that last for days in a vase.

But even these tried-and-true hybrid tea roses require a certain level of spoiling. Morning sun is essential to quickly dry off overnight dew, plants must be pruned often to promote good sun and air circulation, and the roots need a constant supply of moisture and nutrients. Fungal diseases are a constant threat with hybrid teas, but it can help to use a mulch with a straw-like texture, for example pine needles or wheat straw, which filter out spores moving on raindrops rather than splashing them back toward the leaves.

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