Easy, No-Spray Roses are HOT

Carpet RoseI’ve always rejected the notion of growing roses seriously because I loathe spraying. Even if it were perfectly harmless, it would rival tax preparation as my least favorite thing to do. Maybe that’s why rose gardens are pretty rare in the U.S. compared to countries with more avid gardening cultures, like England — because traditionally they’re usually filled with those big-blossomed hybrid teas that need intensive care. But with the public’s increasing concerns about lower maintenance and eco-friendliness, the rose world is changing.

Old Roses

Even serious rose-growers sing the praises of what are called old roses as an alternative to disease-prone hybrid tea roses, and most are easy to grow, disease-resistant, and graceful in form (far more graceful than those scraggly-looking hybrid teas). For a selection that’s often called awesome, check out the Antique Rose Emporium. Their roses were chosen for the ability to survive with no care, even in tough climates like those in Texas. And unlike most newer roses, they’re fragrant. Some, like floribundas, bloom throughout the season; others bloom just once. It’s a good idea to select a variety that’s winter-hardy to at least one zone colder than where you live (a lower number). They’re only $17 each.

One questionably happy note has been the huge popularity of roses produced by David Austin, a breeder with a cult-like following in the rose world. Despite claims of improved disease-resistance for David Austin roses, their performance in nonEnglish climates is spotty, as evidenced by the persistent presence of blackspot on the two I tried in my own garden. Others in my area are seeing better results, however.

Landscape Roses

Knockout roseSo what roses do I recommend for the average homeowner? Certainly not the leggy hybrid teas, which look to me more like blossom-holders than garden plants. The good news is a hot-hot trend in horticulture today — no-spray landscape roses, also known as shrub roses. They’re fuller, better looking plants and so resistant to disease that they require no spraying at all. What’s more, they bloom their guts out all season, until December in my area. They’ll even bloom without spring fertilizer applications, although less abundantly than with them.

Take ‘Knockout’ roses, for example, (photo on left), the most talked-about rose in the last 100 years. I’ve seen them grown in inhospitable median strips and still blooming and sporting disease-free foliage in mid-November. Their drought-tolerance is so amazing, it’s no wonder they’ve won Texas A&M’s “Earth-Kind” designation. Notice how well they combine with other plants in borders and foundation plantings.

For the names of even more great-looking, easy-care landscape roses, I consulted Angela Treadwell-Palmer, rose expert with the National Arboretum. She’s on a mission is to “free the roses — from the rose garden”. For roses that combine well with the rest of your plants she recommends: The Fairy, Meidilands, Knockouts, Simple Gifts, Polar Ice, Carefree Wonder, and Carefree Delight. On the whole she thinks Knockouts perform better than the Carefree group. But I say let’s not forget the 18-inch-tall Flower Carpet rose (top photo on this page), which sold 12.5 million in its first year and now makes up 10 percent of the rose market. They bloom heavily all season — even with minimal watering — and show no signs of black spot, and they’re now available in six colors. Or if you’re adventurous, try any of the new Drift roses being touted by breeders as the next hot thing in roses.