Give roses a second look for your landscape

By Mary Fran McClure
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Rose bush.
Tracy Jo, a 2-year old shrub rose, is covered with a blend of orange and pink blossoms in this June 2022 photo. If you plan on planting roses this year, make sure you first do a little homework. – Provided photo/Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

We have a wide range of rose choices these days — from easy-care landscape roses covered with masses of blooms to the elegant, old hybrid teas sporting those show-stopping single blossoms.

Our dry climate is perfect for avoiding mildew, black spot and other general problems. Roses need good air circulation, a sunny spot and deadheading. Some June cool nights and evening humidity can cause minor spring mildew challenges, but we usually get to warmer weather quickly and that takes care of the problem.

Hardiness is important, as this winter illustrates. Time to wait and see whether your roses have been damaged; perhaps those less-hardy ones have been killed if they didn’t have some protective mulching.

Grafted roses and ones recently planted are more vulnerable to very cold weather. Wait until spring to see where to cut back dark and damaged canes. A grafted rose may die down below the graft, and you’ll start seeing vigorous new growth with very different leaves and disappointing flowers. Your beautiful, grafted rose is now gone; time to dig out the ugly rootstock.

For gardeners on restricted irrigation, roses are not in the drought-tolerant category, although you may value a colorful, beautiful bush or two where you’re able to provide a little more water to them. For instance, how about a large container with an impressive rose where it can make a bold statement?

Landscape or groundcover roses are a newer category of prolific, hardy and disease-resistant shrubs. Their casual style with loads of smaller blooms have gained well-earned popularity. Each individual blossom lacks the elegant look of a hybrid tea, but their profusion and easy care makes up for it.

When we moved to our present home several years ago, a lineup of seven roses bordered the driveway. Many of them were a challenge due to their suckering characteristics. This happens when a less vigorous but beautiful rose is grafted onto hardier and stronger rootstock for better growth. The problem is the vigorous root pushes for more growth than the above-ground beauty can provide, so it keeps sending up suckers just below the graft. If these aren’t trimmed as close to the root as possible, they’ll eventually take over the weaker plant and leave you with a disappointing shrub.

I replaced most of those seven rose plants, keeping a clear red Ingrid Berman that doesn’t sucker. It probably has its own rootstock, or this vigorous plant matches its grafted rootstock.

The other one I kept is the elegant white Honor, a 1980 AARS (All-American Rose Society) winner. Yes, it does sucker, and I cut them back as close to the rootstock as I can. It’s a matter of choice, whether to keep competing with the suckers or just go the easy route and replace the bush.

My other roses are very hardy, growing on their own rootstocks. They were purchased from Rosarium Garden Center near Spokane, an interesting tour destination for gardeners.

Most of my newer roses are color-packed floribundas, multifloras and shrub roses, meaning more blossom production but without those elegant dazzling blossoms of hybrid teas. Floribundas provide clusters of flowers on a bushy, smaller plant. Grandifloras are crosses between hybrid teas and floribundas, with clusters of large flowers on larger shrubs.

Another favorite of mine is a floribunda named Julia Child. The late chef chose her namesake, and it fits her well: flamboyant and vigorous with a bright personality. Buttery yellow blooms literally cover the shrub all summer. This 2006 AARS winner is heat tolerant, disease resistant and offers a mild fragrance and glossy green leaves.

The rose evolution has produced so many practical yet beautiful choices. They’re worth a look for your landscape or patio.