Choosing Polyantha and Floribunda Roses - dummies

Choosing Polyantha and Floribunda Roses

By The National Gardening Association, Bob Beckstrom, Karan Davis Cutler, Kathleen Fisher, Phillip Giroux, Judy Glattstein, Michael MacCaskey, Bill Marken, Charlie Nardozzi, Sally Roth, Marcia Tatroe, Lance Walheim, Ann Whitman

Polyanthas and floribundas are the workhorses of the rose garden. Of all the different kinds of roses, Polyanthas and floribundas are the most prolific bloomers, plus they’re useful in the landscape, in perennial borders, and in large group or mass plantings. Most varieties need winter protection in areas where temperatures fall below 10°F (–12°C), but the springtime bloom makes it all worth it.

  • Pretty polyanthas: Polyanthas originated in France in the late 1800s, and only a few varieties are still widely grown. But polyanthas are important, not only as excellent roses, but also as the forerunners to the very popular and useful floribundas. Polyanthas are compact plants that usually grow about 2 to 3 feet high. And do they ever bloom! They virtually cover themselves in large, flat clusters of small flowers (usually about an inch wide) in shades of white, pink, red, orange, and yellow. Plus, they bloom and bloom again, all season long.


    Polyantha leaves are small and narrow, and the plants are fairly hardy, at least more so than hybrid teas. The most common polyantha, ‘The Fairy’, is one of the hardiest and most reliable, thriving without winter protection even to –25°F (–31°C).

  • Fancy floribundas: Early in the twentieth century, someone got the bright idea to cross the generous-blooming polyanthas with the larger-flowering hybrid teas. Floribundas, which, as their name suggests, offer flowers in abundance. The flowers emerge in large clusters like polyanthas, but the individual blooms are bigger, often with that beautiful hybrid tea form, and most are great cutting flowers. They really shine in the landscape, where they can brighten a dreary corner of the yard, highlight a garden ornament, or keep a perennial border wonderfully colorful all season long.

    Floribundas come in all the hybrid tea colors, which is probably almost any flower color you can think of except blue and true green. The plants grow from 3 to 5 feet high and may be upright or low and spreading — or anything in between. Their range in plant shape makes them versatile landscape plants. Some floribunda varieties have compact growth habits and are easy to tuck into small areas of the garden. Others grow tall and wide and exhibit many of the characteristics of modern shrubs. “Grow as shrub” is a common description in rose catalogs. Choose varieties that suit the area in which you want to plant them.

Floribundas and polyanthas are among the easiest roses to grow. Most have good disease resistance and need little care other than water and fertilizer. Removing spent flowers during the growing season is important if you want a bush to keep producing flowers. You can just get out your hedge shears to cut off faded flowers. In warm climates, you may need to whack off a cane or two during the season to keep the plant within bounds, and then cut back the whole plant 25 to 50 percent in winter. But in cold climates, floribundas need pruning only in early spring. Cut off any part of the plant that was damaged over the winter.

Today’s rose hybridizers are working very hard to breed disease resistance into new varieties of roses. Therefore, many of the newer floribunda varieties are naturally resistant to the diseases that attack roses. Rose culture, especially for the new floribundas, is getting simpler every year. If a floribunda variety excels in the disease resistance department, you can bet that the rose catalogs will say so. So if you don’t care much for spraying for black spot and powdery mildew, choose disease-resistant varieties.

Even though these plants tend to be slightly hardier than hybrid teas, you may still need to provide winter protection if you live where winter temperatures fall to 10°F (–12°C) or lower.