Choosing a rose bush

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.

Criteria

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.

Flower

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.

Fragrance

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.

Bush style

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.

Thorns

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.

Leaves

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.

Disease resistance

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 –
http://www.plant-care.com/roses-for-beginners.html
www.antiqueroseemporium.com/index.html
http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2252/

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

Forsythia bush

Forsythia Bush

Forsythias are know as harbingers of spring. Even before some crocus or daffodils are blooming, the bright yellow flowers appear all along the stems of the forsythia.

forsythia flowers
Common forsythia flowers

Forsythias have several outstanding details. They can be very fast growing, so you see their effects quickly, and they can fill an area quickly. They take well to being trimmed, though, and one variety that I know of stays more compact. If they are completely ignored, they can form an attractive mound shape about 5-7 ft tall, depending on variety. When left in this shape, they often form “pet tunnels” – cleared area’s underneath that animals enjoy resting in.

The spring color is very desirable, and the actual tone of yellow, and size of flower, can vary. The stems can be used in cut flower arrangements, even in winter. If the stems are brought indoors in winter, they will often flower. They are very easy to grow, can be neglected and still look attractive, take an assortment of soil and light conditions, and don’t attract bugs/diseases.

Now for the con’s. The less expensive species types have been known to get out of hand, as they can root anyplace their arching stem touches the ground. Some may have just two season interest, the flowers in spring and the attractive green foliage in the summer. These bushes need a certain amount of cold temperatures each year in order to bloom. If they are trimmed too late in the year, they can loose their spring flowers.

Some of these varieties can be bought here –DirectGardening.com – Offers quality plants at great prices, come see what we mean!

Some of my favorites are –

Common forsythia – easy to get, nice yellow tone, fills the area well.

common forsythia and beatrix ferrand forsythia
Common (front) and Beatrix Ferrand flowers (back)

Lynwood Gold – a smaller forsythia, said to have more flowers than the common one, many people’s favorite.FORSYTHIA ‘LYNNWOOD GOLD’ / 3 gallon Potted

Beatrix Ferrand – a larger forsythia, with larger, darker flowers.

Fiesta – yellow and green variegation to the leaves brightens up the plant. The one I usually see stays more compact and less bushy than the others.

kumson forsythia leaves
The lacy leaves of the Kumson forsythia

Kumson – my favorite! Not only the wonderful flowers in spring, but the leaves have one of the most unusual variegation I have seen. The veins of the leaf turn either silver or gold, depending on how much sun it gets, looking like lace against the blue-green leaves.
Korean Kumson Forsythia Bush -Variegated Leaves- Yellow

Forest Farms Nursery is another place to get some of the rarer varieties. See link page.

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Vanhoutte spirea and Pink Ice

If you have visited an old homestead in the north, chances are good that you have seen a Vanhoutte spirea. These were a staple of gardens decades ago, but fell out of fashion for a while. They are raising in popularity once again, as people want reminders of their grandparents garden. Called everything from Vanhouttei, Vanhoute, or bridal wreath spirea, these spring blooming bushes show a cascade of snow white clusters arcing down from the top of the bush.

vanhoutte spirea flowers
Arching branches of Vanhoutte spirea in bloom

These bushes also form pet tunnels – bare sections under the arcs that pets enjoy lounging in – when left untrimmed. They form mounds about 6 ft tall in the shade, higher in the sun. It’s amazing the amount of flowers it can produce in the shade, or on the north side of a house. The shade does keep it a bit more sparse, though. It would be a more lush mound with more sun. It makes an awesome privacy hedge if left in this large mound shape.

The small, lobed leaves give it a somewhat lacy look, in a soft fern-green in spring to a blue-green shade as summer comes. The leaves are very soft to the touch. The lily of the valley underneath ours blooms at the same time, and the leaf contrast stands out. Since it has been around for so long, you know it is very hardy, and will put up with a variety of abuse and still look good.

As with any plant, it has it’s disadvantages. As lovely as the flowers are, they don’t do well as a cut flower. Too much agitation has them loosing their petals. And while it can be used as a trimmed hedge, I find it is not the most attractive in that shape. It looks more twiggy that way, and there is little spring bloom. When not in bloom, it can look very average from a distance. The tips do seem to attract aphids in spring, but you don’t see much actual damage from the aphids.

The regular Vanhoutte can be bought here –  DirectGardening.com – Offers quality plants at great prices, come see what we mean!

pink ice vanhoutte spirea flowers, leaves
The variegated leaves of Pink Ice Vanhoutte spirea

A new variety that I really enjoy is called Pink Ice. It has the typical wonderful traits of the white flowers and scalloped leaves, but the shape seems to be a bit smaller overall. Best of all, the leaves turn pink, cream, and bright green in spring. Absolutely stunning! That color can repeat in fall, if trimmed at the right time, since it appears on new growth. The new stems also have a pink tint to them. I miss the height of the regular vanhoutte, but this will work better in more gardens.

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Goldmound spirea

Goldmound spirea is a short little butterball of a shrub. The leaf shape is completely different than the Vanhoutte spirea. These are either small and round, or a larger pointy oval, depending on the age of the stem it’s coming from. Some sources say this is a child of Goldflame spirea, so it shares some traits similar to that.

goldmound spirea
Untrimmed Goldmound spirea in early summer

It has an enormous amount of advantages. It has 3 season interest, with reddish-tipped spouts in the spring, giving way to a bright lemon green shade all summer. While in that almost neon green stage, it flowers – pink clusters in mid-summer. The flowers are more of a bonus than a reason to get this bush, though. The summer color is the main draw, as it really brightens up an area, and gives an unusual backdrop to annuals.

Goldmound spirea can be bought here – DirectGardening.com – Offers quality plants at great prices, come see what we mean!
or here – SPIREA ‘GOLDMOUND’ / 2 gallon Potted

The growth speed is medium for this bush, stopping at around 3.5 ft under ideal conditions. Fortunately, this bush doesn’t demand ideal conditions to look great. It will take a variety of light levels, soil types, and conditions. It is said to be mostly allergy free. Like many of the spireas, it is rarely nibbled on by deer and rabbits, although during a hard winter, all bets are off.

If  you don’t like trimming, this is a good bush to get, as it rarely needs to be trimmed to look tidy. The seed pods do not need to be deadheaded as much as some other Japanese spireas, as they are less noticeable, with new growth covering them soon.

I’ve seen  very few disadvantages, but there are a few. When young, you may get some new shoots growing at a faster pace than the rest of the bush, requiring them to be trimmed to keep the ball shape. That only has to be done once or twice a year, for the first couple of years, so not a big problem.

If you like variation in your garden, this may not be the best spirea, as that bright color stays fairly constant all summer. There are other spireas that have a similar color at one point, but then change.

Some people want a spirea that is even smaller than this size.

This has been such a popular shrub that it has spawned several kids. These look a great deal like Goldmound, but have slightly different traits such as 1 ft smaller, darker blooms, etc. These do not have the long track record of Goldmound, however. The latest variety isn’t always the best choice – it’s disadvantages aren’t known yet.

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Goldflame spirea

Goldflame is an outstanding spirea, and the ancestor of many of the popular Japanese spirea varieties. Once you know it’s main traits, you can see how it has passed these on. It’s been around long enough so it’s traits are well known, and landscapers regularly use it, despite the newer varieties.

goldflame spirea
Goldflame spirea in late summer, starting to rebloom after a trim

As with Goldmound, it has a similar pointy oblong leave, a bit more rough textured, but Goldflame has them all over, not just on newer growth. Completely different from the soft, ferny Vanhoutte leaves. It’s what these leaves can do that is the outstanding part. They emerge in spring in shades of copper, rust, and yellow, turning to a medium green during summer, and returning to that flame color in the fall. The changing color adds variety at a time when not much else may be blooming in the garden. The summer green adds a nice contrast to it’s pink clusters of blooms.

The advantages of Goldflame are similar to the other Japanese spireas. It can take most soil types and light levels, grows in a broad range of zones, and animals mostly leave it alone.  It’s mostly allergy free, with little problem from bugs and disease. With a size of 3 ft, it won’t get out of hand even if ignored, and grows at a medium pace. It trims into a hedge nicely, or can be left in it’s mostly vase shape. It has a touch of the globe shape that Goldmound gets, but seems to be a bit more upright. The flower clusters are wide, about 3 inches, and really stand out.

Goldflame spirea can be bought here – SPIREA ‘GOLDFLAME / 3 gallon Potted

Those same flower clusters are one of it’s disadvantages. After the flowering is done, they can give the shrub a messy look. Trimming them off improves the look of the bush, and increases the fall color. It can even bring a second flush of blooms. Some cleaning out of dead internal branches is needed, also, but that can be true of almost any bush. If you are looking for something to provide a lot of shade quickly, at about 6 ft, this isn’t your best choice. Some people don’t like the changing leaf tone, as it might be harder to make annuals stand out next to it. It could steal the show.

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Dwarf Korean Lilac

Before I start comparing the Dwarf Korean Lilac to other lilacs, it might be helpful to take a look at common lilac.

Common lilac flowers
Common lilac flower and leaves

Common Lilac

Common lilac is a mid-spring blooming shrub, growing to about 7 ft tall, with almost heart shaped leaves about 2 inches long. About the size of a silver dollar, maybe a bit more. The leaves have a nice blue-green tone and smooth texture. It is a classic used in many heritage gardens, as it can take a variety of soils, light conditions, and neglect and still triumph. It’s outstanding characteristic has always been it’s blooms, though.

Lilac blooms, a popular sachet ingredient, are a pale purple loose cone-shaped cluster, with a strong scent. One cluster, brought indoors, can fragrance a room. Unlike some other strongly scented flowers, it doesn’t seem to cause headaches, and is almost universally appreciated. Butterflies love it.

It’s shape is 1/2 vase, 1/2 mound, with some arching to the branches. It provides a great tall privacy hedge or windbreak. That slight arch allows for pet tunnels – spots where animals or kids like to hide out and rest. If completely ignored, and in the right conditions, these can take up more of the surrounding space in a couple decades, though suckers. Mine has stayed in the same spot without wandering for 30+ years, though. It gets only dappled shade. It doesn’t have much fall color, so is a 2 season shrub.

The common lilac is somewhat susceptible to powdery mildew, and has been known to be juglone sensitive. That being said, ours is living nicely under a black walnut tree (juglone producing tree). It is slightly uphill from the trunk, but definitely within the canopy of the tree. The powdery mildew doesn’t really bother me, as I don’t have any other susceptible plants nearby.

Common Lilac can be bought here – DirectGardening.com – Offers quality plants at great prices, come see what we mean!

The Dwarf Korean Lilac

butterfly on Dwarf Korean Lilac flower
Butterfly on Dwarf Korean Lilac blooms

The Dwarf Korean Lilac has the wonderful flowers, shape, and general leaf style of the common lilac, but everything is smaller. The leaves are more round, and about the size of a dime or nickel. The bloom clusters are smaller, but there are more of them, covering the tree top to bottom. Ours is in dappled shade, getting maybe 2 hrs of direct sun, and still covered in blooms. The color is a touch lighter, and the blooms appear about 2 weeks after the common lilac is finished.

As with many dwarfs, this is a very slow growing shrub. After about 10 years (bought as a tiny twig), it maxed out at about 6 ft. It doesn’t arch like the common one, having more of a globe shape, but the bottom part stays clear and open. That makes it excellent for planting annuals/perennials underneath. It can be ignored without getting out of hand, or needing pruning.

The butterflies seem to like this one more than the common lilac. One of the rare times I saw a hummingbird moth was at this lilac. That alone was almost worth having this bush, once I realized that the mutant sized thing was an insect and wasn’t harmful.

The dwarf lilac resists the powdery mildew much better than the common lilac, despite being right next to each other. Animals leave it alone, and I rarely see any insect damage. In fact, it has gone for years without being trimmed or fertilized and still gets compliments.

This is more of a 3 season shrub, as it also has some fall color. The leave turn from the blue-green, to a reddish tint.

Like the common lilac, it is also said to be sensitive to juglone. Ours has spent 20 years in the dappled shade under a black walnut. It is also slightly uphill, but no special treatment has been given to it. Other than the slow growth taking quite a while to see results, I see few disadvantages.
Dwarf Korean Lilac can be bought here – LILAC ‘DWARF KOREAN’ / 3 gallon Potted
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