There are loads of articles on roses. How to plant them, prune them, overwinter them, and a host of others. When it came time to pick a rose bush as a gift, though, we hit a brick wall! Let me break down the things to consider when you decide to buy a rose bush. Let’s assume for a moment that they all take the zone, light conditions, and soil type that you have.
First of all, do you want it to meet certain criteria, or do you want it to be cheap and easy? The easy way works for some, but often times, leads to frustrations and dead roses. If you want to try the really easy way, get one free when you order something else, and give it a try. 1 Free Rose with any order, code 1391 The one where you meet the criteria takes a lot longer, and may be more expensive (sometime cheaper, though). Let’s start there.
First, let me say that you will probably not find a single variety that meets all of those criteria that you want, so pick the top 3. Next, if you find a variety that meets those top 3, you may have to special order it. There are some wonderful online rose specialist nurseries, such as Jackson + Perkins and David Austen. Those two companies specialize in the latest types, which often are more expensive. Just because it is new, and one part of it is improved, doesn’t mean the overall plant is superior. Time will tell. The Antique Rose Emporium has the old fashioned varieties, some of which are very time tested.
Many people pick a rose just for the flower color. There is a huge variety to the flower beyond color. There are single petals, and multi-petals (the most recognized type). There can be one large flower at then end of a stem. These are great for cutting and bringing in, but don’t have as many flowers. The flowers can cluster at the end of the stem, which often had more color, although a smaller individual bloom. Then there is bloom frequency. The roses that have blooms covering the whole bush often only bloom once a year. If they bloom at a time when you are frequently in the garden, it’s wonderful. If it blooms at a time you are often on vacation, it’s not for you. There are some great exceptions, though, that will bloom in 2-3 flushes. Some even have a history of sending out awesome flowers, but 1 in 4 won’t fully open. Finally, does the bush drop off the spent flower, or make a rose hip out of it?
These differences in flowers are usually reflected in their class. There are too many differences to get into that in detail, but there are some wonderful articles about the classes of roses, many of which the average person has never heard of (ex. Noisette).
Decisions – color, frequency, hips, single/double petals, cluster or single blooms.
It’s often assumed that all roses smell, and smell the same. Quite a few beautiful roses are scentless. If that criteria is important to you, make sure you check on it. The scents range from fruity such as lemon or apricot scents, to heavy musky perfume fragrances.
Decisions – scented or scentless, scent intensity.
This also tends to confuse people. I know someone who tried to make a rose climb, when it likely wasn’t a climber to begin with. That’s a guaranteed frustration. If the size of the bush is of high priority, pay close attention to the info given about that variety. The most common type, hybrid tea, often make a compact bush. They are also more picky about not having stuff planted near them, dying in winter, and have the single bloom per stem. The roses that cluster have some varieties that get 20 ft tall, although the average is about 6. You might be trimming these often, but some flowers are worth it. These are less picky about being disturbed, having diseases, or winter die-off, though. There are some grafted into a tree form. These keep the blooms at eye level, but require trimming to keep them shaped, and often don’t bloom as often or completely. I’ve rarely seen the miniatures have a long life in the garden.
In the antique roses, you can get almost any class (teas, floribundas, musk) in almost any size, even up to 30 feet!
Decision – available space, climbing or vase-shaped, alternative form.
Yes, they all have thorns, but not all of them have those nice, curved, single direction thorns. Those are the one found on florist shop roses that only hurt if you rub them in a certain direction. I saw an absolutely stunning rose, great shape, fantastic color and blooms, but the thorns were about an inch long and pointing straight out, at least 8 per inch of stem. If I needed to plant this under a window where I didn’t want burglars entering, it would be awesome to have that rose right by a window. For the right location and the right person, those thorns are a minor price to pay. If you have kids and pets around who are prone to trip, this detail becomes important.
Decision – single or uni-direction thorns, thorn intensity.
This criteria isn’t often a high priority for most, but when your rose leaf has a tendency to look hairy, or a dark glossy green, it often makes an impact on how the rose flower stands out, or how the shrub is used as a backdrop when it isn’t in flower.
Decision – how often will you be looking at just leaves, how important is that to you.
The common single big flower type (tea rose) are known for having more trouble with disease and blackspot. That’s why they require more care, and can’t have stuff near them. That’s also why the new craze is knock out roses and oso easy. The species roses are the ones most likely to be hardy and resistant to disease, though. As plants were bred for certain traits, they often lost some of their toughness.
Decision – how much do you want to care for/treat the shrub.
Once you have picked the criteria most important to you, you can either ask your local nursery what they have that fits those needs. This is useful because they often will only have plants that do well in your area, and know more about them than a big box store clerk will. The downside is that they carry only a small selection, and that selection may not match your criteria as well as you would like. On the other end of the spectrum, you may find a variety that is exactly what you want, matching every one of your needs, only to find out that no one has it available for sale that year, not even online. This requires you to choose – hold out for exactly what you want, or get the closest thing available. Places such as Gardenstew and Dave’s Garden let you see if other gardeners have reviewed that variety (is it really as good as advertised?). If you have to have a certain type, try here
Either way, if you spend a bit of time deciding what you want, you will likely be more happy with something that may be around for decades.
Here are a few links I found helpful –
Besides the places mentioned above, these are some good places to buy rose bushes.
English varieties – Carding Mill English Rose Bush Five Gallon Plant
Easy varieties – ROSE ‘OSO EASY PEACHY CREAM’ / 1 gallon Potted
Red Knock Out Rose Bush -Everblooming/Disease Resistant