|Frequently Asked Questions about Roses|
"We must be.... what we want our garden to make us seem.
Come into the Garden - Grace Tabor (1873-1973)
Q. Why should I bother to grow roses...... Aren't they just too much hassle?
A. When deciding what is worth the time, money, and effort to include in your garden - please keep in mind that there is no plant which offers more to the gardener than a well-chosen rose. Discover on The Rose Collection and La Vie en Rose all the charms & unmatched virtues of the genus Rosa.
Any plant in your garden - everything from annuals to perennials, trees to low-maintenance ground covers - will require something on your part..... and will provide some kind of outdoor "upholstery" in return. But roses are more than mere coverage or even special garden features...... it is the usefulness of many classic types which recommends them so highly to every gardener. The colors and perfumes of their petals are wonderful for decoration, potpourri, scented oils, healing waters, and delightful jams. The high-quality nutrition of their rosehips makes them valuable as an essential fruiting plant. Roses are the premier PERMACULTURE landscape shrub - the perfect combination of loveliness and sustenance - a plant that earns its keep in so many ways.
As for 'hassle' - this term usually refers to a complex of assumed difficulties (pruning, disease, tenderness, water & food requirements etc.) A blanket dismissal which ain't necessarily so........ particularly of the genuine Old Roses: These tough plants come in mind-boggling variety. Many are exceptionally hardy, surprisingly drought-tolerant, and basically self-reliant when established on their own roots. A number of the older varieties can be grown as specimen shrubs that require no pruning other than annual tidying. The Species roses are by definition able to thrive in wild conditions (i.e. untouched by human hands) and are especially carefree. Roses can make an impenetrable hedge, create a fragrant shady arbor, and supply your home with flowers, fragrance, and fruit. Their beauty & benefits are incomparable.
Like many other flowering shrubs, certain old rose types offer only a single - but massively spectacular - bloomtime. It's difficult to understand why this is often cited as a reason not to grow some of these exceptional roses....... We do not begrudge the lilac or forsythia, flowering cherry or magnolia their one moment of annual glory. Moreover - it's important to realize that a number of the old rose classes will repeat bloom. They are also remarkably healthy and self-reliant.... often surviving and flowering even in abandoned gardens or neglected landscapes across the country. After all, the vast majority of the old-fashioned roses were born when the current horticultural industry wasn't even a gleam in any marketer's eye.
A little research (check our links Rose Literature, Rose Showcase & Rose Resources) - plus the detailed answers below on various topics of cultivation - will help in selecting a type of rose which works in your own garden. Allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying this ancient garden plant ..... it's easy.
Q. There are now hundreds of the new 'Reproduction Roses' .... don't these adequately replace the true old roses?
A. In a word, NO. Indeed, it would be a pity if the newest lines eclipsed their more distinguished elders. While some recent creations can offer good qualities in the garden - and certainly the finest of them do - there is also the simple fact of what they cannot offer. Furniture in the Queen Anne style - even when done very well - is inherently different from an authentic 18th-century antique..... The intrinsic aesthetic distinction matters.
The true old roses have the intangible quality known as soul - which develops only through the passage of time and experience. With origins rooted in less calculated times, they weren't developed as commercial concepts. The older rose types have real romantic associations with places and people in the past; their age represents real years of survival through the passing centuries. Their resonant names come from being an actual part of the artistry of bygone eras .... these living connections bestow distinct charm on a garden.
The history of the genuine old roses naturally imbues them with a striking individuality that is never boring - their unusual traits or little foibles can be as endearing as an old friend's. Their amazing perfumes are still unsurpassed in purity and intensity. They are all simply unique - and thus will make your garden so. For a view of the development of the family Rosa over milennia, see our link The Age of the Rose......
Q. How are roses propagated?
A. Roses are most commonly reproduced through two different techniques:
Q. What are the advantages & disadvantages of "Budded" roses?
A. This type of propagation is easy, quick, cost-effective - and not that durable......
A. Roses on their Own Roots have numerous excellent qualities, and a few drawbacks to take into account:
Q. What is Rose Mosaic Virus - and how serious a problem is it?
A. Rose Mosaic Virus is a systemic infection of rose plants spread by a complex of viruses almost entirely through propagation by "bud-grafting". If a bud-eye of a "clean" variety is inserted into a rootstock that is virus-infected, the resulting plant will be afflicted with Rose Mosaic. Own Root roses have a tremendous advantage in that they avoid this possibility of viral infection being transmitted through an understock.... However, it is important to remember that an INFECTED rose reproduced by ANY propagation technique will carry the virus - whether by budding, cuttings, layers, root runners etc. Only the process of growing rose seeds into young plants can short-circuit the transmission of viruses - but then you merely have a new seedling, not the desired variety.
The physical manifestations of Rose Mosaic Virus can vary widely: Some varieties might show only minor faint markings (like a pale watermark, zigzag, or oakleaf pattern) mostly on a plant's lower leaflets during late summer heat - without any noticeable effect on the plant's health, vigor, or bloom quality. Or the virus might - in a highly susceptible variety - cause vivid yellow mottling of most of the foliage, misshapen leaves or flowers, and rapid decline of the whole plant. Rose Mosaic Virus is not curable with home remedies - though it's possible that excellent nutrition may mitigate the damage the virus can do. Since some of the signs of nutritional deficiencies can look very similar to the cosmetic effects of RMV, it's a good idea to make sure roses are well-nourished - especially with the full range of trace elements - before judging any suspicious foliage markings.
During the middle decades of the twentieth century many of the huge rose rootstock operations in the West became infected with this unsightly and incurable disease - and therefore passed it along to the innumerable rose varieties which were being produced on them. Eventually, a great deal of this country's rose nursery stock was seriously affected. Concerned rosarians - particularly those enthralled by the heritage roses - began to try to remedy this unfortunate situation:
Absolutely every possible effort must be made by the collector or nursery to obtain un-infected roses -as well as keep them that way. And yet, it is probably impossible to know positively whether each and every rose is infected or not - unless professional indexing has been performed. Currently, such virus-indexing plus virus-cleansing is increasingly expensive or simply unavailable. Academic and governmental programs are being scaled back or eliminated, and this economic funding trend may be irreversible in the future.
THEN, the fundamental question arises: should all roses which show any virus be eliminated? What about an old and desirable rose which may - or at times may not - show what could be fleeting marks on a few leaves, but otherwise is quite hale and hearty? Or what about some exquisite rarity like Grey Pearl - which is now virused from all its years in the budding fields of the California Central Valley - and whose extremely tricky nature may well be owed to that fact? What exactly is worth dealing with, and where should we draw the line....
The idea of "virus tolerance" really has a dual meaning: On the one hand, it's the ability of a rose to co-exist with Rose Mosaic Virus without being much marred or damaged; On the other, it's the willingness of the gardener to perhaps tolerate such a plant without fretting too much about nearly undetectable or fleeting signs of RMV in a cherished variety obtainable in no other condition ......... And this is a highly individual question for every gardener to figure out personally.
A. These three diseases are fungal infections which flourish under warm wet conditions. Therefore - Always keep rose foliage as dry as possible - unless rinsing/rubbing off aphids or mildew or dust. Propensity to mildew can be somewhat controlled by avoiding dryness at the root and dampness on the leaves for long periods. Especially in humid summer regions, good air circulation and adequate sun are essential. Dry summer climates are less conducive to disease, though overhead irrigation late in the day can cancel this climatic advantage. If blackspot or rust appears on lower leaves, remove them - then feed and water the rose to help produce fresh foliage. Rust is by far the most serious of the three maladies if it becomes entrenched....... strip any infected leaves immediately and make sure the autumn clean-up is thorough. Above all, it is essential to feed roses well; excellent nutrition is the foundation of plant health.
In our experience, the old roses are easily cultivated and cared for. They are shrubs - and they benefit from their robust vigor, which stems from their origin in less technological times. The Species Roses especially show a high degree of "wild abandon" in their ability to grow strongly without much attention. However, they must be given appropriate conditions and above all - room to grow. As always, there is an exception: Rosa foetida 'Bicolor' - the famous old 'Austrian Copper' is infamous for marked blackspot susceptibility -as is its descendant, the sublime Soleil d'Or.
The Rugosas are in a class by themselves for vigor, outstandingly clean foliage, repeat bloom, fragrance, and hips. Sweetbriers also rate very high for strength, health, and scented foliage ( which seems to make them less palatable to deer). Gallicas and Damasks are somewhat liable to the common leaf problems, but usually show an ability to grow well and flower freely without being terribly bothered. These are roses that have been around a long time - and know how to shrug off a spot of illness and live. The Albas are exceptional for clean blue-gray-green foliage, and this class ranks among the most healthy and long-lived of roses: these varieties are great for easy-care hedges and backdrops.
Centifolias and Mosses produce magnificent scented flowers, but in very wet springs can be prone to mildew and rust. The large furrowed Centifolia leaves and the "furred" buds & stems of the Mosses give them their vulnerability. Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals are a mixed bag genetically and show a lot of individual variation. Some such as Roger Lambelin require quite a bit of attention to manifest their finest blooms and clean foliage, while others like Mme. Isaac Pereire are wonderfully hearty growers despite a slight tendency to black spot. The mauve Reine de Violettes has always been a favorite for its all-round superlative performance; it is simply one of the great classics.
For very warm summer climates, the Chinas, Teas, and Noisettes will be particularly useful - though their thinner leaves may occasionally show a little liability to blackspot. The Hybrid Musks are a really useful class - healthy everblooming shrubs in a variety of colors and sizes, frequently possessing delicious fragrance. Likewise, the Modern Shrubs are mostly vigorous, larger-growing plants which can serve as single specimens or can be used to anchor a mixed border of roses and perennials. Among the Ramblers and Climbers, the Luciae group stand out for their glossy disease-resistant nearly evergreen foliage. Alberic Barbier, May Queen, New Dawn, Silver Moon, Mermaid, Dream Girl and Morgengrüss are all remarkable for the quality of their glowingly healthy leaf.
The Bedding Roses are not usually notable for disease resistance, but since they bring together so many genetic threads it all depends on the individual variety. A few might be singled out: The Fairy and Radiance are markedly healthy. My Choice, an exceptionally scented pink and cream bicolor bred by E. B. LeGrice in rainy England won the Royal National Rose Society Gold Medal for garden value, & also the Clay Challenge Vase for most fragrant rose introduced in 1958. Please realize you may have to experiment to discover which types and varieties will perform most easily in your bio-region. You must decide what - if anything - you're willing to pamper so it can thrive....
"It is not enough for the genius of the place to be consulted as (Alexander) Pope advised;
Private Gardens of England - Penelope Hobhouse (1929- )
Q. What should I feed my roses?
A. Good soil of excellent tilth.... if you don' t begin with it - work to produce it. Roses enjoy eating and love to be indulged; their performance improves dramatically in proportion to the attention they're given. Nevertheless - many stalwart roses will stay alive and bloom under rugged conditions. Our own land is basically weathered shale, originally overlaid with fir and oak forest duff - or else the meager sod of poor pasture. It is definitely acid, and high summer heat plus high winter rainfall leach nutrients on an annual basis. Every tree and rose must be placed in amended soil, and then maintained with whatever food and water can be extended to them. Garden care is an ongoing process - which is blessedly helped along by our devotion to full-size trees and to old roses which have the ability to "go native". In the nursery, of course, coddling baby roses is the order of the day, every day.....
When planting, do prepare a rather large hole well, mixing your own soil with compost and whatever amendments you can provide. A little peat moss will help retain moisture; a little perlite will help drainage and friability. NO fresh manures of any kind in a new planting hole. A few handfuls of rock powders are a nice extra touch. Make sure that your roses are situated in a well-drained site - with extremely few exceptions roses really resent standing water. Young own root roses should be fed lightly- until they show you they're settled in and ready to really push growth.
Ideally, established roses should be top-dressed with compost in spring at budbreak, then mulched with something nourishing in the summer to preserve soil moisture. For liquid fertilizer we prefer Fish Emulsion, which supplies a balance of nitrogen, potash, and phosphorus plus a range of trace minerals. Real seaweed solutions make excellent foliar sprays; they are easily absorbed by foliage and help strengthen it against disease organisms. Potash in the natural form of wood ash can be sprinkled around in autumn to help hardening off for winter. Please check out our Rose Collection Link about Organic Rose Culture for a full discussion of this topic...
A. Roses are pruned to achieve various aims at different times - here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. All rose plants can have dead, diseased, or damaged wood taken off any time - the sooner the better. Relieving the rose of such wood unburdens it of pathogens and allows it to support only viable wood; no nutrients will be wasted on branches that aren't really contributing to the rose's overall health. Leaving any moribund material on the plant saps it of vigor, spreads fungus, causes extra cane rubbing, and will diminish flower and fruit display........ This is a counsel of perfection - but if possible REMOVE it when you notice it.
2. The older rose classes which have one bloom season ( ranging from early spring to early summer) are the Species, Sweetbriers, Gallicas, Albas, Centifolias, Mosses, the summer-blooming Damasks, Ramblers, and certain Climbers.... These roses produce all their flowers in one huge display per annual cycle - and carry that bloom on their older wood. Therefore, they must be pruned for size-control and/or shaping soon after they have finished flowering. Then they can grow new wood during the summer and autumn which will carry the following year's blooms. Once-bloomers make the best display if allowed to grow into a natural shape; these old types should be enjoyed during their peak as one does flowering cherries or colorful Autumn foliage......"To everything a season." If these plants are drastically cut back in winter - MOST, IF NOT ALL, of their flowering wood will be removed. If a once-blooming plant is much too large or requires dramatic renewal, it is usually advisable to do half of the rose one year and finish up the next.......... Cut such a plant to the ground in winter, and you can probably forget about any bloom until a two year-old superstructure has re-grown.
3. The older rose classes which offer repeat-bloom (from a scattered bit to perpetually) are the Rugosas, Portland Damasks, Bourbons, Hybrid Perpetuals, Chinas, Teas & Cl.Teas, Noisettes, & Hybrid Musks; plus most of the Modern Shrubs and Climbers, the old and new Hybrid Teas and other Bedding Roses & Sweetheart types. All of these are able to produce flower on new wood from the current growth cycle. After their initial display, the new shoots they grow will also carry bloom..... in varying degrees of quantity and duration depending on the variety. The better fed and watered the rose - the more new canes and blooms.
The appropriate time for major annual pruning of repeat-bloomers is towards the end of winter dormancy. In mild winter climates - prune after the period of greatest cold when plants are in their deepest resting phase; in fierce winter areas, try to time the pruning for the moment the plants are "waking up".....And hope that erratic "back & forth" weather doesn't throw off the plants' internal clocks.
4. Dead-heading (the removal of the spent flower and twig after a bloom is over) will help the plant produce more flower by re-directing its energy into new shoots - and not into sustaining a kaput branchlet or growing a rose hip. However, if you wish to have a particular rose put on a splendid autumn display of rose hips for you and the birds - the faded flowers must be left to metamorphosize into this valuable fruit.
5. About the pruning of individual rose classes, here are a few very general guidelines for handling:
6. Make all pruning cuts of any type (casual dead-heading, basic tidying, strong shaping, or severe renewal) to just above a desirable bud eye facing in the direction new growth should head. Outward-bound buds will keep the center of the rose uncongested, and less prone to disease and damage from cane rubbing. Use a sharp, double-bladed secateur and/or a small pruning saw.......... Japanese bonsai tools are the state of the art.
7. ABOVE ALL: Save yourself and the plant the endless stress of fighting nature - by selecting roses which fit the space they're going to occupy. A rose annually hacked to stay in line will probably not look good or attain its best. In each case - look at the plant as a living whole and always try to insure that only healthy wood is maintained. Aim for the desired optimum shape in your garden - without deforming the rose's natural habit. Keep in mind that a plant is a living creature - not just a green object.
A. Roses are remarkably flexible and adaptable plants. The genus Rosa is native to the entire Northern Hemisphere; it contains 200+ species ranging in the wild from Europe (including mountain areas of high altitude and snow) to the beaches of Japan & river valleys of North America, as well as the dry Middle East & Central Asian plateaus. The Mediterranean basin cradled several of the most important species which produced the primal Western types, while cold/temperate western China and rainy subtropical Southeast Asia were the home of roses which carried strong repeat-blooming genes. Obviously, some Rose (& its descendants) can thrive in almost every bio-region.
The 400 roses of our collection have all grown graciously in our usual climate range of 20 degrees F to 105 degrees F - with very high winter rainfall and extreme dryness in the summer - and they've also taken our records: 9 degrees low and 114 degrees high. We must note that the weather everywhere is more erratic and dramatic recently, & it seems there will be no telling in the future just what to expect weather-wise.......
Flexibility and Tenacity will be essential for all of us in The Garden.
In our area of Northwestern California the most challenging aspect of gardening is obviously not cold - but rather intense dry heat and summer drought. While roses are lovers of the elixir of life, a.k.a. water ..... it should be more widely realized that the old rose classes - and even the larger and more vigorous growers among modern types - can get by with much less water than many less durable garden plants. They may never be included in xeriscape plant lists (though some certainly could be) - yet after new roses have been safely seen through their first summer or two...... they become impressively tough.
Here the once-bloomers will produce their display in spring - then grow slowly through the heat on a very few deep soakings. Repeat-blooming classes will produce lovely flowers in the spring/early summer, rest through the worst heat, and revive with even more spectacular waves of bloom through the coolness and (hopefully) rains of autumn - only finishing off with the first frosts. Viewed as large flowering shrubs, these roses give great value for the water they're allowed.... and few other plants offer as many different moments of beauty as a well-established old rose. The pefume of petals and the intense nutrition of hips give these roses much deeper importance & value than most other garden plants.
The old rose classes descended from the roses of ancient Western Civilization (i.e. Gallicas, Summer Damasks & Portland Damasks, Albas, Centifolias and Mosses) should be COLD hardy to at least Zones 4 and 5, with the Albas and the Gallicas being possible into Zone 3. Sweetbriers and Rugosas will survive under conditions that many plants could not stand: heat and drought, as well as salt spray and extreme cold. Both classes are appropriate into Zones 3, or posssibly 2 - though the more hybridized varieties are probably best to Zone 4. All of these classes are capable of standing extremes of wind & cold.
The classes of Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals are usually good to Zone 5. Hybrid Teas and most Climbers usually prefer to grow where it doesn't fall much below zero, i.e. Zone 6 -7 ..... though cold tolerance varies with variety. Certain Ramblers, particularly those hybrids of such species as R. multiflora and R. wichuriana, are quite robust and very cold hardy. Of course, in every cold-winter area of the country, a protected garden site out of prevailing winds - with a house wall or solid fence facing south - will allow roses to survive beyond their usual comfort zone.
Species Roses of many types will often thrive in challenging situations of cold and snow, extreme summer dryness or poor soils. Because of their wildness and essential self-sufficiency in nature, they can be among the most satisfying, carefree, and beautiful of flowering shrubs. All of them offer exquisite flower and many offer fruit or colorful autumn foliage as well. Once established on their own roots - most wild roses should dazzle with just deep mulching to carry them through the toughest months of the year (tender exceptions being the Banksias, R. gigantea, R. laevigata types etc.). The class of Modern Shrubs is a mixed bag - but the varieties created by Griffith Buck, the Brownells, and Wilhelm Kordes can be trusted to offer loveliness along with excellent degrees of hardiness - in every sense of that word.
Since the above summary is necessarily just an overview, we recommend consulting the Heritage Rose Group for your area in order to obtain more detailed and specific information on Hardiness. One of the most complete works on this whole extremely complex topic is Hardy Roses by Robert Osborne, Garden Way Publishing, 1991. This book is described in its subtitle as "An Organic Guide to Growing Frost and Disease-resistant Roses"........ and it delivers.
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As far as HOT climates are concerned, virtually all roses will at least grow in them with the benefit of some water - whether from rain in the humid South or irrigation in the dry West. However, some potential problems should be considered when choosing rose varieties or managing their care in either of these bio-regions:
The above discussion is necessarily general - and everything hinges on your individual micro-climate. A range of factors determines whether a rose will flourish for a gardener - So informed experiment is the only way to discover which ones will be satisfying under the demands of your garden.
A. The glib answer to this all-too-frequently asked question is: "The 400 we have selected for our collection" - It's also the truth... Over the decades any number of roses in every class were grown; the ones we offer now were chosen - for their history, rarity, beauty, & individuality. In that respect, they are all our very own favorites...
Probably what is really meant by this query is: What if your garden was only 30 feet square, who'd be allotted space? Right there, all the magnificent large Species are not possible - even if they make flowering months in the spring seem like the morning of the world. And there go the Gallicas ...... great perfumed patches of them in all their bejeweled glory. Not to mention the gorgeous - but shy.
Or else it means - What are the most fragrant varieties, or What colors do you like best? How to decide whether apricot and pomegranate, lilac and plum, butter and cream are more appealing than each other? And then ..... Is one in the mood for the austerely herbal and meditative scent of the refined Tea roses - or the voluptuous richness of a sensual Portland Damask? Or perhaps the stunning green apple leaf scent of the Eglantines in spring rain....... Feeling more more like Penelope or a Tipsy Imperial Concubine?
Or what's being sought by the question is - Which do you usually pick to put in a vase? But is it the broad glass bowl or the glazed bud vase? The canning jar on the drainboard or the bamboo culm on the dash? Is it a celebratory sunday afternoon? Or a quietly relaxed evening? With enough time to inspect every possible bloom, or only time to grab what's quick?
In an increasingly anxious age.... maybe the favorite is any rose offering a poignantly lovely flower when our spirit makes time to notice. And sometimes the most evocative rose is the one forgotten in its little vessel...... until color has faded, substance has dried, and scent is quite dusky - but still so beautifully profound.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 C.E.)
Roses: Master List
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