No-Fuss Roses for Cold Zones

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Posted by @Cottage_Rose on
After many years of growing mainly fussy and tender hybrid tea roses in rural zone 5, I became discouraged with their failure to do well beyond a season or two. Some seemed to never do well, no matter how well I cared for them. Some would just sit there and not grow or would quickly become naked and ugly from black spot. Reluctant to give up on growing my favorite flower, I did some online research and found information on hardy and easy-to-grow roses.

Over the last 12 years, I've experimented with about 300 roses, but I've gradually eliminated the ones that didn't thrive or were disease magnets.  After finding out that there were roses beyond the wax-coated varieties you buy locally, I went on a 10-year rose buying frenzy, annually purchasing many varieties of roses, mainly from Pickering, Great Lakes Roses (no longer in business), and Roses Unlimited, and started growing them to see which ones would do well for me.

I haven't grown many landscape roses because they don't appeal to me.  I've only grown two Knock Out roses and a few OSO Easy roses, so I don't have much experience with the landscape rose category.  I prefer roses with full blossoms and have leaned more toward that type of rose, although I have grown many semi-doubles and some singles and I appreciate them as well.

Because of my busy lifestyle, I needed roses that didn't require a lot of attention.  My rose-growing conditions are quite spartan here on our 5 acres, with many roses growing up through sod, in open unsheltered areas, and often under conditions of drought.  Our Michigan summers and winters can be very harsh on roses, so I needed some tough ones.

In recent years my roses have been lucky to get one feeding in June, but remember that your roses will produce more blossoms and be much healthier with monthly feedings during the growing season.  I like to use a natural slow-release rose food, such as the Espoma Company's Rose-Tone, and compost.

After a process of elimination, the roses that survived and consistently did well without a lot of babysitting have been mainly rugosas, ramblers, Old Garden Roses, and a select few Dave Austin English roses. Here's a rundown of the rose varieties I've mentioned.

Rosa Rugosa:

I know. I can hear you now. Many people think rugosas are boring, but they actually are divinely fragrant and very disease resistant, and they come in a variety of bush sizes, from ground cover to massive shrubs. Their blossoms range from single to double and some even have lovely fringed edges.  In addition, they bloom regularly from spring through late fall without fail.  Aside from the standard rugosa varieties,  the Canadian Explorer roses and Morden roses, which are shrubs and rugosa cultivars bred specifically for cold zones, are also worth growing.

Modern Shrub Rose Honorable Mention:

Applejack, a fabulously hardy rose hybridized by Dr. Griffith Buck, grows into a very large shrub with delightful large single pink blossoms that bloom throughout the growing season.

Old Garden Roses:

These are indeed the most romantic roses, rich in history, and although some may bloom only once a year, such as my beloved Albas, everyone should explore antique roses. I wouldn't be without my intensely fragrant Alba roses any more than I would be without my once-blooming lilacs or peonies.  A wise gardener once compared once-blooming roses to unicorns, saying that even a fleeting glimpse of them would be a sight you'd never forget.  That is so true.  The OGR category is a rose lover's fantasy, offering a choice of so many different once-blooming roses and repeat bloomers.

I don't like to recommend varieties of roses to grow because I feel it is a highly subjective choice, based on your personal preferences and your unique growing conditions, but I do love Queen of Denmark, Pompon Blanc Parfait, and Felicite Parmentier, which are a few of my favorite Albas.  I haven't met one I didn't like yet, although I have heard some bad reports about Alba crosses, so I would stick to the old standard cultivars. I've found Louise Odier, a Bourbon rose, to be cane hardy, and it is the only reblooming large-flowered climber that has done well for me. For sheer breathtaking color and beauty, Charles de Mills and Belle de Crecy, both Gallica roses, are must-haves.

There are so many worthy roses in the OGR category, including species crosses, Moss roses, and Centifolias, so you should experiment with the ones that appeal to you.  In my opinion, however, Albas are your best bet for reliable hardiness and intense fragrance.

Tip on once bloomers:

I plant morning glories, which self-sow annually, and clematises next to my once-blooming roses for added interest during the growing season when the roses have finished blooming.

David Austin English Roses:

This category of shrub roses is definitely worth exploring for romantic and deliciously fragrant blooms. For reliable hardiness, I prefer many of the older varieties, some of which may no longer be available in commerce, such as Constance Spry, Heritage, Mary Rose, Winchester Cathedral, Cressida, The Dark Lady, and Redoute.  I've found James Galway, Rose-Marie (a white sport of Heritage), William Shakespeare 2000, Geoff Hamilton, and St. Cecilia to be strong growers as well. If I could grow only one David Austin rose, it would have to be Constance Spry, a huge rambler (once-blooming) with the most magnificent, huge, cabbage blooms and a mouth-watering, unique fragrance.



This wonderful category of once-blooming roses is worth trying if you have room for them to grow on a fence or arbor.  There are many easy-to-grow ramblers out there, so try some that appeal to you. Most of them put on a spectacular show and are very disease resistant.  Lillian Gibson is one I recommend highly.  It produces masses of clear, pink blossoms that last at least 4-6 weeks.  The rose grows quickly and gets huge, so plant it where it has room to grow.  It is thornless or almost thornless and its blood-red canes add winter interest.  I had no idea Lillian Gibson would get this big when I planted it by my back door! Needless to say, it gets trimmed severely every year.

So here's my advice:  Don't give up on roses, even if you haven't had good luck with them so far.  Do your online homework and try some hardy varieties this growing season.

Happy rose growing from Cottage_Rose!

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Cold hardy at zone 4? by ttkc4704 May 1, 2022 6:49 PM 0
Your perseverance is so admirable! by zuzu Oct 10, 2016 10:45 AM 13
Great advice for everyone growing roses! by Trish Oct 10, 2016 10:24 AM 2

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