June is the month we officially welcome summer. It’s also when most roses explode into bloom.
For years I refused to plant roses in my low-maintenance gardens. I considered them to be needy, prima donna plants. Like many, I was discouraged by inconsistent flowering, black spot and other fungal diseases, swarming Japanese beetles and a lack of winter hardiness. Thankfully rose hybridizers have heard our groaning! Now there are a number of outstanding roses that are relatively carefree for northern climates.
Some of the easiest ones to grow are rugosa and shrub roses. Rugosa roses are probably the toughest of the rose gang. They are drought and salt tolerant, as well as disease resistant. Most are also deliciously fragrant. All form colorful rose hips in late summer and fall. In addition to the traditional once-bloomers, there are also repeat flowering varieties like ‘Jens Munk’ (pink), ‘Blanc Double de Corbert’ (white), ‘Darts Dash’ (purple-red), and ‘Hunter’ (deep red). All are hardy to Zone 3 except ‘Hunter’ which is hardy to Zone 4. The only bad habit of Rugosas is their tendency to spread by suckering. To keep them in check, simply use a sharp spade to remove unwanted shoots.
Shrub roses are a popular pick for low-maintenance gardeners and there are oodles of varieties available. Shrub roses are typically grown on their own root (versus being grafted); they don’t sucker like rugosas; they can resemble hybrid teas and grandifloras, but are much less disease prone and are available in a rainbow of colors. Shrub roses are valued for waves of new blooms throughout the summer. Some top-selling lines include Oso Easy, Canadian Explorer, Carpet and Buck roses. Flowers can be single, semi-double or fully double, with masses of petals similar to tea roses. The only drawback to shrub roses is that most lack fragrance. In the breeder’s zest for creating longer blooming periods, fragrance was compromised.
Two particular shrub rose series that have taken the market by storm are Knockout and Easy Elegance. Knockout roses grow between 3’ and 4’ tall and come in shades of pink, red, yellow and white. You can also choose between those with single or double petals. The doubles are showier given their greater mass, an important attribute if you are placing them in gardens primarily viewed from a distance. The doubles also lend a more formal flair, resembling the sensational tea roses (sensational not only in appearance, but also in maintenance demands). Knockouts have a blue-green tone to their leaves and flower continuously June through October. They’re quite drought tolerant and are hardy to Zone 4. There are also some exceptional climbers in this series, including two new ones: ‘Winner’s Circle’ (red, semi-double) and ‘CanCan’ (shades of pink with creamy-yellow centers).
I discovered Easy Elegance roses while talking with William Cullina, noted garden author and director of horticulture at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. Easy Elegance roses have all of the same bragging rights as Knockouts, plus a few additional perks. There is a broader color range in this series, including orangey-coral beauties. Plus Easy Elegance roses come with a two-year guarantee! The growers are so confident in Easy Elegance’s ‘good looks’ and ‘well-behaved nature’, they will put their money on the table. Check them out at www.easyelegancerose.com. You can even type in your zip code and it will come up with a page of roses that are hardy for your area, plus the garden centers that carry them. Print this list and then giddy-up to the closest ‘rose mine’.
No matter how great all of the above roses are, if you don’t put them in the right spot, you will likely be disappointed. How many times have we heard real estate agents say ‘location, location, location’? Well, I will echo their words of wisdom when it comes to locating a spot for your roses in the yard. To start with, roses need full sun to bloom well and be healthy. Six hours or more of direct sun with most, if not all, of these hours being in the afternoon. Early morning sun does not count. Track the light on your garden between 10am and 6pm to see if you get the six-hour minimum, and if so, head for the rose stand.
Japanese beetles are the bane to roses. Rather than using toxic chemicals you can hand-pick and toss the ‘monsters’ into soapy water. Or, simply squish ‘em and drop them in the garden. The scent of squished colleagues dissuades others from visiting. Organic products that contain neem, Spinosad or pyrethrin (a natural derivative of chrysanthemum flowers) can also be effective. Catmint, chives and garlic are also noted for repelling Japanese beetles. Beetle traps get mixed reviews. Many times they attract more Japanese beetles than they kill. If you are going to use these, place them far away from your garden or give them away as gifts to your neighbors.
Finally, there are two spectacular public rose gardens in the Capital Region: Yaddo Gardens in Saratoga Springs and Central Park Rose Garden in Schenectady. Yaddo offers guided tours of the gardens from late June through early September for only $5 per person. You can take a photo tour of the Central Park Rose Garden online before stepping into the actual paradise. Please support these great public spaces by volunteering and/or supporting their fundraisers. To learn more about both gardens, activities and fundraisers, visit their websites at www.schenectadyrose.org and www.yaddo.org/garden/about.
Now grab your ‘rose-colored glasses’ and enjoy looking at your own show-stopping roses.
Kerry Ann Mendez is a garden designer, speaker, teacher and writer and the owner of Perennially Yours in Ballston Spa. Visit her website at www.pyours.com