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Low Maintenance Roses for the Non-Rosarian

My roses are blooming!

All of my roses are worker roses. That means they give back more than I put into them. The high maintenance prima donnas, though wondrously beautiful, long ago lost my affections in the heat and humidity of my climate, and I never replaced them when black fungus or other diseases took them down.

I rarely spray my roses, usually just once a year with a sulfur-rotenone solution, and I fertilize them two, maybe three times through all of spring and summer. It's not quite neglect, but close. Good roses deserve better. My plebeian roses won't win prizes, but they do contribute long-lasting color and delicate scent to the garden. 

My favorites?

Rosa rugosa var. alba is a species rose that actually does better when somewhat neglected. It has shiny, healthy leaves and single white blossoms that are delicate as tissue paper. I have read that the scent varies from rose to rose, because they grow from seed and you never know exactly what you'll get. Mine has a wonderful smell that carries in the air. I also love that it produces attractive rose hips. The hips are edible and are high in vitamin C. One warning: This heirloom shrub, nicknamed the hedgehog rose, has fierce thorns and shouldn't be planted close to a path. 

Zephirine Drouhin is a thornless climber planted on the rose arch by my patio. It has fluffy pink flowers and a sweet smell. It also is an old-fashioned rose that needs little attention, though it does get more black spot than my other roses.Knockout roses grow in the foreground and zephirine drouhin on the rose arch in this view near the patio. The tree in the background is japanese maple.

I have a number of knockout roses, both pink and red ones. Last year these landscape shrubs bloomed continuously for ten months and were disease free. What more do I need to say? They have become the staple rose of big box stores and many nurseries for a reason. This is definitely the rose for the non-rosarian.Knockout roses grow next to the patio.

Rosa mutabilis is a china rose that performs reliably year after year, blooming from spring to frost. The single blooms open to a honey yellow, then change to shades of pink and copper as they age. In full bloom, all of these colors are present at the same time for a spectacular effect. This old shrub rose is also called the butterfly rose, as the blooms resemble butterflies.

Another rose that does well in my garden is the Penelope rose. It's an old hybrid musk rose with creamy, romantic blossoms blushed with pink. It's a shrub with a bit of a sprawling habit and blooms all summer. It also produces rose hips in the fall.Top to bottom on left: Zephirine Druhin; Rosa rugosa var. alba; Red knockout; Penelope. Top to bottom on right: Penelope; Rosa mutabilis buds; Pink knockout; Rosa mutabilis

I admire the fabulous roses that grow in the gardens of those with more passion and time to devote than I have. But my worker roses do a good job for me, and I thank them.

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Reader Comments (25)

Roses must be tough to survive in my garden, too. I don't spray. I saw a dark swallowtail butterfly visit an open rose yesterday. He is safe here.

Loved the pic of the mutabilis buds in front of George Tabor azaleas. Isn't it wonderful how the roses come on to take over the show, just at the right time?

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

I have no roses here. However, my last garden was brimming with them. To prevent maintaining the rose garden becoming a full time job, I too opted for more care-free varieties. I had good luck with SOME English roses (others were rust magnets), but the star performers in regards to very low maintenance for me, were the Rugosas. Heat tolerant, mildew resistant, beautiful in bloom or not. I think if I ever plant another rose, it will no doubt be a Rugosa.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I'm with you. I don't have the patience to fuss with roses that swoon at the first sign of heat and humidity. I have a tough-as-nails rose vine that I grew from three cuttings on a walk more than ten years ago. I think it's a "Seven Sisters" rose, and I know it must be an old rose. I'm just trying a knockout rose this year, and your other roses are so pretty, I might try some of them :-)

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

What beautiful roses! Your garden easily proves that you do not have to coddle roses as long as you select the right ones :-)

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoelle / azplantlady

Deborah, I wish I could have more roses in my garden, but have no sun. Too many (very tall) trees really limit what I can plant. But I do love them, and as a June baby, I had better, lol.

I've been too timid to try anything more than knock out roses... which I love for their trouble free constitution and constant blooms, but I do not care for the colors. This post gives me some other ideas to think about to move beyond the knock outs.. several of your worker roses are just lovely!

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

These roses look pretty special to me!

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Hi Deb, i thought this is Deborah's site, and realized there are two of you with same name. But i am glad i wandered here, as you have very beautiful photos, and i love the arrangement seemingly looking like a collage. Did you upload them individually there, i have the problem doing that! By the way it took a long time to download your post, maybe it is too heavy. I'm sorry to say that, but that is for the readers too. thank you so much.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea in this Lifetime

Deb, your roses look wonderful! Easy care is the way to go with roses. So many of them only look delicate. They are like us gardeners! Workers!

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloria

Thanks what a helpful post. I have recently fallen in love with roses against my will but I definitely need those that can take care of themselves.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I had no trouble downloading your post....Can someone explain what knock out roses are? Is this a familiar term (I am from Australia). Lovley garden by the way. Your plants look very happy.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkathryn

I love very much roses. They are so elegant.
I have 5 different roses but the one I prefer it's "Leonard de Vinci".

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterellada

The rosa rugosas are one of my favorites too. They are always prolific and hardy. Your rose collection is gorgeous.

Worker roses?! Sheer beauties to my eye!
I would like to replace some of my 'prima donnas' with rugosas and other old roses, but I'm lacking something for them to sprawl over just yet.

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

I LOVE that arbor with teh ZD roses! You have quite an amazing collection there :)

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKyna

My roses are finally beginning to leaf... so nice to know that somewhere in the world there are roses blooming! Thanks for sharing!

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeredehuit

Your rose arch is BEAUTIFUL! All of the pretty colors of the roses and the background colors are so pretty. I only have knockout roses. They work for me, too! :)

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

As one non-rosarian (?) to another, I agree whole-heartedly about not cuddling roses. I treat my roses like any other shrub. I've learned to live with Japanese Beetles (although I hate them and perhaps need chickens) and my only real fear for my roses is RRD.

Your roses look gorgeous.

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSweet Bay

Deb, Your roses are beautiful. I hope my mutabilis does as well as yours does. Your mix of colors puts on quite a show. More and more I am being lured away from the "prima donnas" and into the old garden roses, and the newer shrub varieties that don't require much care.

Thanks for sharing these with us.

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Did you say "Low Maintenance Roses"? I'm in!!! :) Your garden is gorgeous!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

I've thought many times about growing the knock out roses, I'm glad to hear you have had great success with them. They just moved higher on my 'someday' list. One of my best roses is a David Austin rose, 'Mary Rose'. The scent is so heavenly, and like yours, needs very little care.

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

You have so many pretty roses in your garden. I wish I had room for some rugosas or a Zephrine. I'm very low maintenance with my roses too, but have a few that probably really need a bit more care than they get. The roses on you arbor are just beautiful!

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Your garden have really beautiful roses. I also love low maintenance roses especially that I'm the type who's always on the go which means that the roses I need to plant are those that does not need to much attention...

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkatpark098

Thanks for the tips on low-maintenance roses. Is your arch home-made? If so, what is it made of?

December 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Hello, Greg, thank you for your comment! The arch was a tubular metal purchase from the internet. A couple years ago it fell apart, so we replaced it with a heavy, solid cast iron model that was made for us by a local iron fabrication company. it will last longer than me! Deb

January 2, 2017 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

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