Roses Made Easy
Anyone can grow roses
Roses used to be synonymous with high maintenance. But while Midwesterners still need to coddle some types of roses, recent advances in shrub roses (also called landscape roses) have changed everything. Now anyone can grow roses.
They're as easy to grow as other common shrubs, says Peggy Anne Montgomery, a horticulturist with Bailey Nurseries near Saint Paul, one of the country's leading developers of new roses. "And they bloom all summer long," she says.
Pictured: Double Knock Out
Why shrub roses?
Shrub roses are disease-resistant, winter-hardy and generally less fussy than traditional roses. New varieties are more compact and better suited to landscaping than older varieties, which typically grow 6 feet tall or higher.
"Shrub roses fit into a trend of how we're using roses in a perennial garden," says Steve Hutton, president of Conard-Pyle, the company that introduced Knock Out, one of the world's best-selling shrub roses. "They're plants that flower a lot and are low-maintenance."
Pictured, clockwise from left starting with dark red rose: Last Tango (red), Pink Knock Out, Tahitian Moon (yellow), Fiesta (bicolor), Last Tango (red), Kiss Me (large peach-pink) and Snowdrift (white)
The best easy-care roses
As you're shopping for roses, watch for independent designations that indicate the rose is low-maintenance.
One designation is from EarthKind. The EarthKind rose program started in 1996 at Texas A&M University and now stretches to testing grounds in Iowa and Nebraska. Roses with the EarthKind designation, which includes Knock Out, are evaluated for good performance without the use of chemicals.
Another good source of information is All-America Rose Selections, a nonprofit association of rose growers and introducers. The group recently began including the Midwest in its Region's Choice program to identify the best roses for different parts of the United States. It also recognizes outstanding roses as AARS Winners; shrub roses that have won this award include Rainbow Knock Out and Lady Elsie May.
Pictured: Carefree Beauty, an EarthKind shrub rose
Tips for starting shrub roses
Buy a large plant. Begin with the largest bush you can find. Remember, it takes three years for the plant to reach maturity.
Plant in full sun if possible. Roses grow best in full sun, but some, like the Knock Out series, tolerate partial shade. Plant deeply; the point where the plant starts branching should be 1 to 2 inches below ground to add more winter protection.
Pictured: Yellow Submarine
Keep your roses healthy
Water regularly. Roses love water. They need 1 inch of rain per week. If it hasn't rained, water about a gallon per plant to keep the roots moist but not in standing water. Water the base of the plant, as wet leaves encourage disease. Mulch well to conserve moisture.
Watch for pests. The biggest threat to roses from pests is Japanese beetles. "When they are hungry, almost anything will do," rose breeder Ping Lim says.
If your plants do get beetles, use a small pail of soapy water to knock off the insects and then flush the plant with water from a hose. "Don't step on Japanese beetles and leave them on the ground," Knock Out creator Bill Radler says, because the pheromones will attract more. He also notes that Blushing, Pink or original Knock Out roses are especially resistant to beetles.
Pictured: Earth Song
Caring for your shrub roses
Fertilize early. Although shrub roses aren't as fertilizer-needy as their traditional cousins, they still benefit from an application each spring. When a rose begins actively growing, scratch a balanced time-release fertilizer into the soil, or use a water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a week during the growing season. You don't need a rose-specific fertilizer; any general-purpose garden fertilizer is fine. Stop all fertilizing by mid- to late summer to prevent tender new growth from forming and getting killed by frost.
Prune in spring. At the start of each growing season, remove any dead wood and trim your plant back to 10 inches to prevent them from getting overgrown. Overgrown plants bloom less and are more apt to show disease symptoms, such as black-spotted leaves, wilt, distorted growth or rust-color spots.
Pictured: Little Mischief
Roses in winter
Protect your plants. Roses survive winter easier if protection (in the form of a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch, leaves or evergreens at the base) is applied as soon as the ground freezes. You don't need rose cones. If there's little snow cover and frigid conditions, roses may die back to the ground but should regrow in spring. If mulched, Knock Out roses and some Easy Elegance roses are hardy to Zone 4.
Pictured: Blushing Knock Out
Bouquets of roses are beautiful, but shrub roses grow new flowers from the ends of each stem. So when you cut longer stems to make bouquets, it will take longer for your landscape roses to regrow and rebloom.
The best way to use a shrub rose as a cut flower is to simply cut a single flower close to the base of the bloom and float it in a bowl.
Pictured: Double Knock Out
Our Test Garden recommends
Low-maintenance roses star in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden® in Des Moines, a plot Midwest Living® shares with our sister magazine. Manager Sandra Gerdes likes these three roses:
-- Lady Elsie May has clean green foliage and a long bloom season. It's a Zone 5 coral-pink shrub rose that reaches 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
-- 'Earth Song' (Zone 5) is among the roses bred by the late Iowa State University professor Griffith Buck. Deep-pink, 4-inch multipetal flowers dot the 5-foot-tall shrub. "It's still pushing out blooms in mid-October," Sandra says.
-- Carefree Sunshine, a 4-foot yellow shrub rose bred by Bill Radler, has "super clean" foliage, Sandra says. Hardy to Zone 4 with winter protection, it has semidouble petals that fade only when ready to drop off the plant.
Pictured: Carefree Sunshine
Rose breeders' suggestions
We asked some of the country's top breeders for three choices specifically for the Midwest. All are shrub or groundcover roses.
Keith Zary, vice president of research at Jackson & Perkins' Somis, California, facility, suggests these three, all hardy to Zone 5 (Zone 4 with winter cover):
-- Snowcone grows in clusters of 50 white blooms (each the size of popped popcorn). The blooms make people wonder if it's really a rose or another type of perennial.
-- Good 'n Plenty, a miniature mounding shrub, grows 2 feet tall and 2 1/2 feet wide. A white center with bright yellow stamens punctuates the raspberry-pink, five-petal blooms.
-- Roseberry Blanket reaches 12 to 18 inches tall but spreads about 30 inches wide, performing well as a groundcover or in containers. Masses of hot-pink blooms cover the plant. The rose is cold-hardy and disease-resistant.
Pictured: Good 'n Plenty
More rose recommendations
Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses, headquartered in Wasco, California, bred these three roses, all hardy to Zone 4 with winter protection:
-- Home Run gets its black spot resistance from its father, Knock Out, and Tom says it has better powdery mildew resistance. It's also smaller, growing in a 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-foot-tall ball. Bright red, single-petal flowers grow mainly at the top of the plant. It reblooms about every 30 days.
-- Be-Bop, at 3 feet tall and 3 1/2 feet wide with 15 to 30 flowers per cluster, may lose 15 to 20 percent of its foliage to disease, but Tom says it's worth it for the cherry-red single petals and bright yellow centers.
-- Valentine's Day, a hot-red miniature climber, reaches 5 to 6 feet, perfect for trellises or containers. Two-inch double-petal flowers grow in large clusters.
Pictured: Home Run
Ping Lim, rose breeder for Bailey Nurseries, does much of his work in Oregon for the Saint Paul-based company but tests his roses in Minnesota so they earn their Zone 4 ratings:
-- Mystic Fairy reaches 3 feet tall in clusters of red blooms with pink tones. Mystic Fairy is sterile, meaning the plant sends no signal to set seeds and stop flowering. The result: No deadheading is needed.
-- Little Mischief is gaining a reputation as a deer-resistant rose, thanks to thorns that curve backward instead of upward. Its 2-foot size fits well in containers as well as in the ground. Small hot-pink flowers rebloom continuously, and disease-resistant foliage stays clean.
-- Sunrise Sunset wins high marks not only in the Midwest, but nationwide. Growing with a loose habit 3 feet tall and wide, it looks best planted in groups of three. The range of pink colors in the petals provides the name.
Pictured: Sunrise Sunset
Suggestions from Knock Out's creator
Bill Radler of Milwaukee was specifically seeking a rose that needed less care when he created the Knock Out. Since its introduction in 2000, it has become the best-selling rose in the world.
Bill, the retired director of Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee, has continued to develop roses. He especially recommends Brite Eyes for its citrusy fragrance and Rainbow Knock Out for its prolific blooms.
He's also still a fan of his original creation. Knock Out is low-maintenance and Japanese beetle-resistant, Bill says.
Knock Out and Brite Eyes don't need deadheading. All three of Bill's recommended shrub roses resist black spot and leafhoppers.
Pictured: Rainbow Knock Out
Roses by mail
Many of the roses recommended in this slideshow are available at local garden centers. Or order by mail from suppliers such as Spring Valley Roses, Edmunds Roses, Wayside Gardens or White Flower Farm.
Pictured, clockwise from top left: Pink Double Knock Out, Knock Out, Rainbow Knock Out, Pink Knock Out, Double Knock Out, Blushing Knock Out
Visit public rose gardens
Public rose gardens are abundant in the Midwest. To see wide-ranging displays, visit:
-- Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa, known for its collection of roses created by the late Iowa State University hybridizer Griffith Buck (an important pioneer of hardy, easy-care shrub roses)
-- The rose garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois
-- The rose garden at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin