Hardy Roses To Grow: Types Of Roses That Are Hard To Kill

By: Stan V. Griep, American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian, Rocky Mountain District

Are you looking for rose bushes that need minimal care for your garden? There are actually many hard to kill roses that can be easily grown with little to no effort. Learn about such rose bushes in this article.

Roses That are Hard to Kill

Whenever the topic of hardy roses to grow comes up, there are a few that come instantly to mind. They include the Home Run roses, the Knock Out rose bushes and the Morden/Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) roses. All of these are bred to be hardy rose bushes and have proven themselves in some tough climatic conditions, not to mention pretty bad soil and care conditions, making them ideal roses for beginner gardeners.

Most of the hardy types are considered shrub or climbing rose bushes. The best choices for easy care roses that are hard to kill are those that are grown on their own roots, otherwise known as own root roses. These roses can die back all the way to the ground and whatever comes back up is true to that desired rose, whereas grafted rose bushes that suffer severe dieback can have the top part die off and the hardier rootstock take over.

Hardy Roses to Grow

A strong focus has become roses that are truly low maintenance, easy to grow and hard to kill, even disease resistant. Here are some to look for, keeping in mind that some of these may be marginal in the harshest of climates but stand a better chance of being successful in difficult conditions than other rose bushes:

  • Dr. Griffith Buck series of roses, aka Buck roses
  • Home Run series (by Weeks Roses)
  • Knock Out series of roses (by Star Roses & Plants)
  • Canadian Explorer and Parkland series of roses (by Morden Roses/Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, or AAFC)
  • Meilland series roses (by The House of Meilland, France)
  • Easy Elegance series (by Bailey Nursery)
  • Drift series (by Star Roses & Plants)
  • Earth Kind roses (which have had extensive research done by Texas A & M University)

Some of Old Garden roses (OGR) can be very hardy as well. Types to look for include:

  • Alba
  • Bourbon
  • Hybrid Perpetual
  • Polyantha
  • Portland
  • Rugosa roses

The history of these roses is rich and long and they typically require much less extensive care than the more recently developed hybrid varieties. There are also the Flower Carpet ground cover series of roses from our Australian friends at Tessalaar Roses (Anthony & Sheryl Tessalaar), which are highly acclaimed for being easy to grow with limited care and disease resistance.

Enjoy the beauty of roses in your garden with groupings of those mentioned in this article. The reasons not to grow and enjoy roses have pretty much been eliminated. Even if you have a deck or patio, simply grow them in containers.

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Wildflower Gardening

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Have you secretly considered turning your high-maintenance mixed border into a wildflower garden? It can be hard to resist when seed companies are out there promoting their instant wildflower gardens in a can, sack, or roll.

Many gardeners naively believe you can simply scatter some seeds, ignore the gardening basics, and wind up with a self-sowing meadow of bluebells and lace caps. In truth, starting a wildflower garden is often more work than putting in a perennial border and it is not necessarily self-perpetuating.

If these plants are truly wild (weeds, to most highway maintenance crews), why must they be coddled and coaxed out of the ground? Well, let's start with what growing a wildflower garden actually means.

How to Dig Out Old Roses

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Roses are among the most popular flowers in the world. Still, rose bushes that have been attacked by pests or disease and have ceased to flower can be an eyesore in an otherwise well-tended garden plan. When it's time to dig out old roses, simply grasping and pulling at the dried-out stalk, while hoping for the best will not do. Carefully digging about and extracting the plant from the ground completely is the best course of action.

Trace a circle in the soil at about 12 inches from the plant's base. Alternatively, you can mark the one-foot circumference with a piece of string.

Follow the marked circle as you dig to a depth of about 1 to 2 feet. You want to dig a trench that is deep enough to access the rose plant's root system.

Grab the plant where it typically meets the soil, and jiggle it gently to loosen the root ball. Sudden, harsh jerks are not recommended. To remove the root system in its entirety, you must carefully free it from the surrounding soil. If you yank too hard and hear what sounds like tearing, you might end up leaving feeder roots behind.

Remove the plant from the soil.

  • If your rose plant is very old, the central root may extend to a depth of more than 2 feet.
  • Where soils are sandier, as in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, you may have an easier time uprooting your rose plant. Clay soils are viscous and tend to cling more tightly to plant roots.
  • If the rose plant is diseased or pest-ridden, do not compost it or leave it lying around the property. Dispose of it as garbage.

D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.

Pull on your gardening gloves and make sure that your shears are clean and sharp.

Look the rose bush over to find any blooms that have faded and begun to turn brown.

Cut the stem back about eight to ten inches from the faded bloom. Make the cut at about a 45-degree angle at about one-fourth inch above a side shoot, a cluster of leaves growing from a bud. This will produce a flush of healthy new growth.

  • Canes grow upward from the bud union, and it is from the canes that leaves and roses are produced.
  • The budeyes are the sites that will produce new canes.

Collect cut stems and toss them on the compost heap. Discarded plant material lying around the garden can attract unwanted fungus and insect pests.

10 Beautiful, Easy-to-Grow Climbing Roses for Your Garden

Plus, tips on growing and training these disease-resistant climbers to adorn a trellis or wall with spectacular color all season long.

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'Highwire Flyer'

If you love vibrant color, 'Highwire Flyer' deserves a spot in your garden. This climbing rose, introduced in 2018, bears hot-pink blooms almost nonstop. The flowers are lush and full, and the dark-green foliage is highly resistant to black spot, rust and mildew. Suitable for USDA Zones 9-11, the plants will top out around 6' tall.

Tip: Most roses need full sun and well-drained soil. For best results and abundant blooms, choose varieties recommended for your hardiness zone.

Adorn arches and pergolas with climbing roses, wisteria and clematis : The Best Vines to Grow on Arches and Pergolas

'Tangerine Skies'

Think of the sky at sunset. 'Tangerine Skies' bears big, 4" blooms in that brilliant orange shade. This climber flowers early in the season and again, more lightly, until frost. It's disease-resistant, growing to 8' tall in Zones 5-9.

Tip: Use your climbing roses as a backdrop for shorter annuals and perennials in your garden or landscape.

'Zephirine Drouhin'

Bourbon roses are very fragrant varieties that bloom for a long period of time, and 'Zephirine Drouhin' is one of the most popular. Its raspberry-scented flowers are cerise pink, held on nearly thornless canes. Hardy in Zones 5-9, the plants can climb 10'-15' tall. They grow best in full sun but will flower in open shade.

Tip: Train your climbing roses on a trellis or fence, or on a freestanding support at least 3" away from a wall. They need good air circulation to help prevent diseases.

'Lady of Shalott'

Gorgeous 'Lady of Shalott' is one of the most reliable climbing roses it's offered by English rose breeder David Austin. Suitable for Zones 5-10, it bears handfuls of apricot-yellow flowers, each of which can have up to 60 petals. This variety tolerates poor soil and climbs to 8' tall.

Tip: Deadhead (remove faded flowers) regularly to encourage more blooms. Stop deadheading in the fall and let rose hips form, so the rose will go dormant for the winter.

'Cecile Brunner'

Also known as the Sweetheart Rose, 'Cecile Brunner' was a favorite of Victorian gentlemen, who would snip its small buds to wear in their lapels. Today, this lovely climbing rose is often grown on arches and trellises. Use it in full sun to part shade it's hardy in Zones 4-9. It's a disease-resistant beauty that climbs to 10' tall and 3'-6' wide.

Tip: Fertilize your climbing roses in early spring, about a month before new growth appears. Stop feeding them about six weeks before you expect the first frost.

'Don Juan'

'Don Juan' is one of our favorite red roses. Its highly fragrant, semi-double flowers look velvety-soft, and they're backed by glossy, dark green leaves. This variety climbs to 12' tall and grows up to 5' wide in Zones 6-9. It tolerates humid conditions as well as cool, dry weather.

Tip: Most climbers need pruning only once a year after they're established, but you can snip them to shape them throughout the growing season.

'Gertrude Jekyll'

'Gertrude Jekyll' is another English rose from breeder David Austin. It has a rich, old rose perfume and pink, rosette-shaped blooms that can have up to 80 petals each. The plants have good disease resistance. Recommended for Zones 4-8, it climbs to 8' tall.

Tip: As long as the ground isn't frozen, you can plant dormant, bare root roses from winter to early spring. That will help them get established before the hot summer temperatures arrive.

Hardy in Zones 5-9, 'Eden' was once voted the "World's Best Rose" by the World Federation of Rose Societies. Its very full blooms are pink and creamy white and delicately scented. This climber has glossy, dark green foliage and tops out at 6'-12' tall.

Tip: If pests show up on your climbing roses, treat them first with insecticidal soap. Pesticides can kill helpful bees, butterflies and other creatures. If organics don't work, ask your extension service agent or check with your local nursery or garden center for advice.

'Florentina' Arborose

'Florentina' is a good choice for small spaces. This climbing rose reaches 7' tall and 3' wide. It's easy to grow, forming clusters of bright red, unscented flowers all season. Use it to add color to an area or to help screen an unwanted view. It's hardy in Zones 5-9.

Tip: Roses can adapt to many kinds of soil, but give them a boost by planting them in rich, loamy soil amended with compost, peat moss or other organic matter.

'Quicksilver' Arborose

You can fill your vases with the double, lavender blooms from 'Quicksilver'. This vigorous climber is compact, growing to 7' tall and 4' wide, and has a light perfume. It reblooms throughout the growing season, with leathery, dark leaves that show good resistance to diseases. The plants are hardy in Zones 5-9.

Tip: Climbing roses don't twine and they can't attach themselves to anything. You'll need to weave them through openings in a fence, trellis or other support or loosely tie them.

Climbing Roses, Rambler Roses, Rambling Roses

Climbing Roses are superb for clothing walls, draping porches or adding romance to pergolas with their foliage and colorful blossoms. What to pick? A Climbing Rose or a Rambling rose? While these roses produce long stems and attractive blooms, they differ in several ways.

Here is a summary of the main differences between Climbing and Rambling Roses:

  • Rambling roses are vigorous shrubs with long, flexiblestems which emerge from the base of the plants and are easy to train on trellises, over archways and pergolas. They are useful for scrambling through bushes and into trees, covering unsightly objects or large expanses of wall. Very strong-growing, they grow bigger than Climbing Roses and need space. Many Ramblers grow up to 20 ft. high (6 m) and 8-15 ft. wide (2-5 m). Less vigorous, and more controllable, Climbing Roses are shrubs with long, arching, stiff stems that are well adapted to training on arches, arbors, obelisks, pillars, fences, trellis and walls. Most Climbing Rose varieties grow from 6-12 ft. long (180-360 cm) and will spread about 3-4 ft. wide (90-120 cm). They are well adapted to small gardens.
  • Rambler Roses usually produce an abundance of small flowers held in large sprays, sometimes up to 20 blooms per stem. Climbing Roses produce a profusion of large, single or clustered, flowers.
  • Most Rambler Roses bloom once in late spring or early summer for several weeks. They may not repeat flower, but they make up for it with the massive quantities of blooms they produce in their main flush. Their long canes are literally smothered in roses, forming impressive cascades of colorful blooms. Most Climbing Roses usually repeat flower throughout summer and fall. Most bloom two or more times every season: first on old canes, and then on the current season’s growth. A few cultivars bloom continuously from early summer to fall.
  • Many Rambler varieties produce crops of decorative hips in the fall, which persist in winter and glitter in the sun.
  • Tough and reliable, Rambling Roses are generally very healthy and disease resistant, tolerant of partial shade and poor soils.
  • Rambler Roses require less care than Climbing Roses. They can thrive on neglect, although they may look unkempt and become unmanageable after a few years. Climbing Roses require more attention and an annual routine of pruning and training.

Climbing or Rambler Roses for my Garden?

Pretty Climbing Roses for your Garden

Climbing Roses produce an abundance of large, single or clustered, often fragrant flowers. Unlike Rambling Roses, most Climbing Roses usually repeat flower throughout summer and fall. Most bloom two or more times every season: first on old canes, and then on the current season’s growth. However, few cultivars bloom continuously throughout the growing season.

Other hard-to-kill plants we love

All of these plants could have made our Black Thumb Top 10:

  • Bronze fennel (bees, butterflies, beauty)
  • Sage (the plain garden perennial – give it sun and watch it go!)
  • Thyme (no kitchen should be without it)
  • Italian parsley (makes great pesto with walnuts or sunflower seeds)
  • Garlic chives (aggressively self-seeds, but bees love it)
  • Lavender (because we all have stress)

  • Arugula (leaves, flowers, seed pods are edible bees love it high in Vitamin C self-seeds)
  • Straight Eight cucumber (given enough water, yields bushels)
  • Broccoli raab (aka rapini, broccoli rabe nutritious Italian green raw or cooked)
  • Swiss chard (substitute this easier, prettier, more heat-tolerant veggie for spinach)

  • Zinnia (easy, cheerful)
  • Cosmos (beautiful, airy, self-seeds enough to be considered perennial)
  • Portulaca (takes our blistering heat and sun)
  • Daffodils (more reliable here than tulips, not to mention some are fragrant)

    Foliage and shrubs

  • Pygmy barberry (tough, colorful, doesn’t mind clay pygmy variety stays small)
  • Manzanita (needs drainage, but evergreen, tough and long-lived)
  • Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry (super tough, super drought tolerant, super fall color)
  • Currants (native, fruit-bearing, bird-enticing)
  • Serviceberries and chokecherries (see above)

  • Tatarian “Hot Wings” Maple (fuchsia “helicopters” in fall)
  • Western Catalpa (big, fast-growing, provides deep shade)
  • Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (blooms super early in spring delicate form)

    What grows great for you? Share with us at [email protected] We’ve got some catching up to do!

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