What is a Native American rose? Is it the beach rose (Rosa rugosa) that grows vigorously on the sand dunes of northeastern America,
or the wreath rose (Rosa multiflora) that rampages all over the eastern half of the United States? Could it be the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), which grows freely in Georgia? The answer is none of the above. All are prolific, tough species roses, but none are native to North America.
True native roses, which are both beautiful and useful for wild and not-so-wild landscapes, are a bit harder to find at local nurseries, but they are worth seeking out. They look great in wild landscapes, offering delicate fragrant flowers and colorful hips. Bees and wildlife love them!
Over 20 rose species are native to various parts of North America, but some are rarer than others. Most bloom only once a year and bear single, pollinator-friendly single flowers in white, pink, or rose. When the petals fade, native roses develop nutritious scarlet hips that are a treat for birds and animals, not to mention the humans who sometimes forage for them. Some natives are armed to the teeth with lots of sharp prickles, making them perfect for boundary or privacy hedges. Species like Rosa blanda, which feature relatively smooth stems, can hold their own in more “civilized” situations.
The following native roses have the widest North American geographic distribution, making them good candidates for wild gardens.
Pasture or Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina): Sometimes called the “pasture rose”, fragrant Rosa carolina roams much farther than the boundaries of its namesake state, surviving in dry open meadows and along forest edges. It is native to the eastern half of North America and succeeds especially well in the southeastern United States. The prickly plants grow 3-feet tall and wide with pink flowers that bloom from May to June, depending on the location. As with many species roses, petal color fades to near-white as the blooms age. The crisp green foliage turns beautiful shades of orange-red in the fall. Though quite shade tolerant, this disease-susceptible rose flowers and performs best in full sun.
Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana): Rosa virginiana is a taller shrub rose (5- to 7-feet tall and 3-feet wide) that is less geographically widespread than Rosa carolina. It sports single, fragrant blooms that may be pink, yellow, or rose-purple and flower from June to August. It requires full to partial sun and is tolerant to a wide range of soil types, from moist soils to dry. Leaves turn fire orange-red in fall alongside deep red hips.
Prairie Rose (Rosa blanda): This sweet thornless rose bears several evocative nicknames, including “prairie rose”, “Hudson’s Bay rose” or “Labrador rose”, for its favored locales. Cold-hardy and tough, it is native across northeastern North America where it survives in open, dry, sunny prairies and open woods. Its nearly thornless stems and mounded habit make it a good candidate for use in “wild” planting schemes. Flower color varies from dark pink to white and blooming may occur from June to August. It only reaches 4-feet tall and wide, but it tends to spread, so it needs elbow room. Native plant lovers can rejoice in the fact that the relatively smooth stems make necessary pruning easier.
Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii): This is one of the better natives for colorful flowers and hips. Pink-flowered Wood’s rose is a westerner by inclination, found in growing wild in the western half of the United States and much of Canada. It also goes by the name “mountain rose” because it succeeds in challenging high-altitude conditions. Small, medium-pink flowers appear annually from May to July on upright shrubs adorned with blue-green foliage and a bumper crop of prickles. Growing up to 5-feet tall, Wood’s rose is extremely cold tolerant. In addition to the flowers, the shrubs produce loads of bright, teardrop-shaped hips and have fiery fall leaf color.
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris): If your wild garden is damp, Rosa palustris may be right for you. Native to the eastern half of North America, swamp rose is a large shrub (8-12-feet tall) that likes to be sited at the water’s edge, where it can commune with moisture-loving sedges, iris, and other, similarly inclined plants. It will tolerate some shade but it blooms and performs best in full sun. The late spring blooms are lightly scented and may be deep rose pink or pale pink. The prickles are hooked, which makes pruning a challenge.
Climbing Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera): This spring-blooming climbing rose offers blooms that range from deep magenta to white. Sometimes known as the “bramble-leafed”, it sends out long, flexible shoots that enable it to scramble up to 15 feet, making it useful as a substitute for non-native climbing roses. If trained on an arch or trellis and provided full sun and good draining soil, climbing prairie rose can be a show-stopper. The fragrant pink blooms appear in clusters that develop into showy red hips in fall. Wise gardeners remove the root suckers that inevitable sprout at the base, enabling the plant to shoot skyward without producing a thicket underneath.
Remember that wild landscapes and gardens can be “wild” without looking completely unruly. They are created using native species and emphasize biodiversity, habitat creation, sustainability, and beauty. Plant placement can be naturalistic while also be civilized and pleasing to the eye.
To use native roses most effectively, provide enough space. Many, but not all varieties grow tall and relatively wide, with a tendency to form dense thickets if left to their own devices. They look great planted alongside bold native Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa), breezy native bunch grasses like Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), and native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
Species roses have gotten by on their own for millennia, but they will respond with more flowers and hips if given a good start with a quality soil amendment like Fafard® Premium Topsoil, alfalfa meal natural fertilizer, and regular of water. All bloom and perform better if given open air and full sun. Prune seasonally to keep plants tidy and to promote good airflow, which will dissuade fungal diseases.
Native roses are not available in big-box stores or even most garden centers. The best way to locate specific species is to seek out mail order nurseries that specialize in species roses. High Country Roses is one such source.
Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases. It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.
This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance. Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers. They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.
In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests. Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers. Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class. Notable sources – and cultivars – include:
The German firm Kordes: Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems. The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers. ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.
The Explorers Hybrids from Canada: This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants. It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers. ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall. Both can grow to 10 feet or more.
The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck: Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.
Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.
Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.
The French rose breeder Meilland: ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems. The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent. Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.
Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil. Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.
Ample air circulation helps too. Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer. Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!). Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.
Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.
Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases. Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels. Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores. Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring. Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects. And remember to water during dry spells!
The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief. It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.
While we have made every effort to ensure the information on this website is reliable, Sun Gro Horticulture is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.