Roses For Organic Gardens

To reduce rose problems, choose roses that are meant to grow in your climate.

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Many organic gardeners have turned their backs on roses, thinking these classic flowers require an arsenal of toxic chemicals. On the other hand, many rose enthusiasts have turned their backs on organic gardening, committing themselves to a weekly routine of pesticide use. Can there ever be a happy marriage between organic gardening and growing roses? I believe so. It all begins with picking the right rose for your climate.

In the Deep South and other warm climates (such as Florida, parts of Texas and California, and the Gulf Coast), true tea roses are among the easiest to grow. Tea roses are the ancestors of modern-day hybrid teas; their blooms are slightly smaller than those of the hybrids and tend to nod or droop slightly. They can tolerate heat and drought conditions, but not prolonged freezing temperatures. Here are a few I recommend:

  • 'Duchesse de Brabant', which is shell pink, and 'Mme Joseph Schwartz', which is white with a blush center, are both handsome shrubs that continuously bear fragrant, loose-petaled, delicate blooms.
  • 'Mrs. B. R. Cant' tends to create her best blush of tightly packed red-pink blooms in the autumn.
  • 'Mutabilis' is often called the 'Butterfly Rose' because its single-petaled blossoms change from salmon pink to vivid scarlet before falling off the plant, giving the effect of a cluster of butterflies.

 

In colder climates, such as the Northeast or Midwest, you can grow some great cultivars that need little care, such as:

  • 'Lady Diana' is a tall plant with long, elegant stems of peach-pink blossoms.
  • 'Angela Lansbury,' a long-stemmed shell pink variety, performs well even in the hottest days of August.
  • 'Chris Evert' has enough stamina to produce the most amazing roses in blends of orange and yellow from June through December

Some of the most "bulletproof" cultivars—those that remain absolutely free of disease and insect troubles in these cold climates—are wonderful climbing roses. I grow a couple of them in my own garden:

  • 'Compassion' produces apricot-pink blooms every week in full sun and blooms sporadically in lower light levels.
  • 'Polka' produces apricot roses great for cutting, with heavy blooms beginning in the second year.

In the coldest regions, like Maine and Minnesota, the sprawling Rosa rugosa hybrids and old garden roses (for example, gallicas, damasks, centifolias) will prosper, as will the many delightful Explorer roses from Canada. Rugosas cannot tolerate any sprays at all—even horticultural oils—and will drop their foliage if sprayed. Simply prune them to keep them free of clutter, and you should have no trouble growing them.

  • Pink 'Sarah van Fleet' and white 'Mary Manners' are fragrant, tall and wide growers, ideal for hedges.
  • The species R. rugosa and the hybrid 'Scabrosa' produce delicious hips, those colorful seedpods left after the flowers fade.
  • R. arkansana and R. woodsii bear beautiful red hips that shine throughout the winter and provide food for many birds
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