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Using Shrub Roses in Your Landscape

Shrub roses are a diverse group of plants that don’t neatly fit into any of the other rose categories. Shrubs, especially the modern ones, are popular because of their long season of bloom, pest and disease resistance, and versatility in the landscape.

Most shrub roses are easy-to-grow roses that can get by on little care, other than regular watering and occasional fertilizer. Shrub roses can get along fine without much pruning, but you still want to deadhead them to keep them blooming over the entire season. A light shearing in late winter or early spring (earlier in mild climates, later in cold climates) keeps them compact. Otherwise, prune to keep some of the large varieties in bounds.

Many shrub roses are grown on their own roots and are pretty hardy, if not extremely so. But you still want to mound soil over their base in cold winter climates to protect them from freezing and thawing and to ensure that not all the above-ground parts are killed if the temperature gets really cold.

Shrub roses really come into their own as landscape plants. If you’re thinking about planting any flowering shrubs, think hard before you overlook shrub roses. You can use sprawling types as ground covers and upright ones as hedges, and the smaller ones are ideal for pots, perennial borders, and low hedges.

Even though shrub roses are diverse, some that resulted from the same breeding programs have similarities:

  • Hardy shrubs: Several breeding programs have concentrated on creating hardy shrubs for cold climates. These shrubs include Buck hybrids, such as ‘Prairie Princess’ and ‘Applejack’, which were bred by Dr. Griffith J. Buck at Iowa State University, and the Morden and Explorer (which are made up of varieties named after famous explorers) shrub roses from Canada. Most of these hardy shrubs can withstand temperatures down to –15° to –25°F (–26° to –32°C) and lower and have excellent disease resistance.

  • Meidiland roses: These roses originate in France, from the renowned Meilland hybridizers. Most are sprawling plants that are useful as ground covers or hedges. They’re good repeat bloomers, have excellent disease resistance, and are generally hardy to about –10°F (–23°C).

  • David Austin English roses: These shrubs are meant to combine the ever-blooming characteristic and disease-resistance of modern roses with the flower form and fragrance of old roses. They’ve been selected by the famous rose hybridizer, David Austin. The problem is that they don’t always keep that promise. Although many are beautiful roses, some varieties do not rebloom and are prone to disease, especially black spot. Also, many Austin roses are very vigorous plants that get huge, especially in mild-winter climates. So choose carefully. Most varieties are hardy to about 0°F (–18°C).

  • Generosa roses: These are sort of a French version of David Austin’s English roses. Developed by one of France’s oldest nurseries, Roseraie Guillot, plants tend to be smaller than the Austins, have equal or stronger fragrance, and have good disease resistance (although black spot can be a problem where summers are hot and humid). Most varieties are hardy to about 0°F (–18°C).

  • Flower Carpet: These well-behaved, spreading plants make especially good ground covers. They’re easy to care for, very free-blooming, and disease resistant. Flower Carpet roses are generally hardy to –10°F (–23°C).

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