Many North Country gardeners and would be gardeners love the idea of growing garden roses. Unfortunately, they often find that our cold winters make growing beautiful roses markedly more difficult than they'd expected. Many varieties need a significant amount of care. And most require winter protection. Fortunately, there is one rose species that is among the toughest and most versatile of garden roses, is especially easy to care for in cold climates, is disease resistant, and displays an abundance of flowers.
The rose I'm talking about is rugosa, a wide-ranging species that evolved along the ocean shorelines and sand dunes of northern China, Siberia and Japan. Many varieties of this extremely hearty species are able to withstand both hot, dry summers and extremely cold winters. And they tolerate poor soils, stand up to strong winds, and will even endure salt spray, which makes them a good candidate for areas where road salt spray is a problem.
The word, rugosa comes from the same Latin word as rugged and, loosely translated, means rough. Plants are dense, robust and often upright in form, with extremely thorny canes, thick foliage and heavily veined leaves. They are easily grown in the landscape, either individually or in perennial borders, and make great windbreaks and flowering hedges that can easily be pruned and/or shaped.
Rugosa roses are often attractive throughout the year. They are one of very few rose species that blooms recurrently until frost. Fall foliage can vary widely among members of the species; from maroon or burgundy to yellow and orange-red.
The blooms are often followed by lots of large, colorful, orange or red rosehips, which remain on the plant, adding color to the landscape long after the leaves and the snow have fallen, and providing food for wildlife.
Once established, the only care that they require is an annual renewal pruning (removing the oldest canes at ground level in early spring before growth begins). What's more, rugosa roses frequently send out suckers that can easily be dug up and replanted or given away.
Adaptability, beauty and relative ease of care - could anyone possibly ask for anything more from a rose? It's no wonder they remain popular in gardens across North America.
The most commonly planted rugosa is the 'wild' species with deep pink flowers. But, there are scores of hybrid rugosas, presenting a wide variety of flowering and growing characteristics, available to gardeners. All are either direct or indirect descendants of the Asian, rosa rugosa, which was first brought to Europe - England to be exact -?in 1796.
Rugosa roses were widely hybridized throughout the nineteenth century, but the offspring of resultant seedlings were often sterile. Although it is now understood that rosa rugosa has only two sets of chromosomes, while most garden roses have four, gardeners and scientists of that time had no way of knowing that the problem was genetic. In fact, it wasn't until 1941 that German rose breeder Wilhelm Kordes, found a way to get around that problem, opening the door for breeders in the 1970s and 1980s to actively create many new and select hybrid varieties that combine the natural strength and hardiness of the wild rugosa, with the fragile, more delicate beauty of the blooms borne of cultivated garden roses.
Rugosa roses are usually, but not always, resistant to powdery mildew and blackspot. And they can be temporarily disfigured by Japanese beetles, or seriously damaged by aphids or cane borers. When dealing with these problems, gardeners should always bear in mind that rugosas do not like to be sprayed with harsh chemical pesticides or fungicides. Doing so will almost certainly do more harm than good. You can check to see just how tolerant your plant is by spraying just a few leaves first and observing what happens.
Generally, rugosa roses will not tolerate the use of liquid chemical fertilizers, either. Using them may cause defoliation. In fact, rugosa roses may be sensitive to any sudden dose of nitrogen. Even the use of organic liquid fertilizers may cause problems. So, exercise caution when fertilizing. Always water first to be sure that the soil is not dry. Then apply your fertilizer. Actually, this is a good practice for all garden, landscape and houseplants.
Rugosas put on fresh flowers daily. They carry their blossoms in clusters with extremely short individual stems. The blossoms open one at a time, each lasting only a day. Although they remain remarkably beautiful in the landscape and the garden, because of this, their beauty passes all too quickly in a vase. Even in clusters, they do not work well as cut flowers.