A Rose Between Many Thorns

Rugosa Rose

Roses are high maintenance.  I love the perfume and the flower itself but can’t quite see myself having a typical rose garden.  I’ve tried one or two in the past but have never spent the time needed to make them really successful.  They like to be pampered and I’m not one for coddling.  There is one rose though, my rugosa rose in my last garden, that did really well without me having to lift a finger and you could smell its fragrance wafting halfway down the street when it was in full bloom.

Rugosa roses are tough plants, great for seaside locations, slopes and banks, windy areas, hot, dry gardens and they will even tolerate light shade.  They are extremely hardy, disease resistant and easy to grow, single or double flowers with fragrance like no other (most of them), and attractive rose hips in the fall.  To top it all off, they seem to be much less appealing to deer than other roses.  Mine was planted near the end of the driveway in full reach of the deer yet they never seemed to bother with it.

One reason it might be deer resistant is because it is very prickly, more so than regular roses like hybrid teas or floribundas.  I recommend planting a rugosa where you won’t need to go near it, won’t need to whipper-snip or mow around it or walk really close past it along a path.   I did manage to nail myself in the head, arm, knee and hands a few times while weeding underneath and around it.  It wasn’t pleasant.

Even with its spiny downside, the rose between those many thorns is worth a little discomfort.  Most varieties produce an abundance of flowers with a perfume to die for.  You can usually recognize rugosas from their crinkly leaves and spiny branches.

I deadheaded the flowers to encourage more but after awhile, later in the summer, I’d just leave them to produce hips.  I left the red hips on the bush to add winter interest but they can be used to make jams and jellies, similar to crab apples if you are so inclined.

Rugosas rarely see disease or pests and they don’t seem to want much in the way of fussing.  In fact, they’re best left alone, no sprays, no fertilizer, nothing.  In fact, they may defoliate if liquid chemical fertilizers are used.   A top dress of Sea Soil Original every year was all that mine received.

When planting rugosas start with a good, humus rich soil.  It must be well draining as roses can’t stand soggy feet. However, make sure they get ample water through the first year or so until they get established.

Most rugosa roses grow to about 5 feet in height and width and work well as an informal hedge.  Good for keeping nosy neighbours at bay if you have some you’d rather not have popping through the hedge.  A good prune in late winter, early spring will keep the rose bush in check if you like a tidier bush.  Remove a few of the older woody canes right down to the ground and the suckers if you prefer a more open, natural looking bush.  Leave it totally alone if you want but they really do best with some of the old wood pruned out every few years at least.

Rugosa roses remind me of potpourri and English gardens.  That heady fragrance in the warm summer evening makes up for the thorns and makes me want another rugosa in my new garden.  Like someone said before me, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Shirley Eppler

June 2017