How to choose a rose

The Kordes rose, ‘Dark Desire’ – note the clean foliage. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Recently I received an e-mail from a gardening newsletter, recommending remontant roses – and this caused me to grumble. “Remontant” is the French word rosarians use to describe roses that bloom more than once – and it’s a good term to know if you are on the hunt for roses. The author recommended two hybrid tea varieties, ‘Love and Peace’ and ‘Perfume Delight.’

My problem – and I had several, unfortunately – lies in the fact that there are many considerations to mull over before choosing a particular rose. Trying to find a particular rose variety can be like searching for that proverbial needle in the haystack as there are thousands of varieties. Selecting the right rose is not always easy; before doing so, it helps to ask yourself a couple of questions.

The first thing to consider is: Do you want a reblooming rose? Most people say yes, but there are some wonderful roses that bloom only once. At the top of my list is Lady Banks rose, a large rose that makes its breath-taking statement in late March and early April. Tombstone AZ has the largest Lady Banks rose in the world, one that covers 9000 square feet. Rest assured that you can purchase one that is more containable.

I relish my Lady Banks rose and am grateful to the six weeks of bloom time that she gives me. My advice is this: Do not automatically dismiss a particular rose because it only blooms once. Lady Banks remains attractive even when she’s not in flower.

Here in the Triangle, remontant roses tend to take a breather during our hotter months, July and August; many rosarians believe that these roses actually have two separate blooming seasons, spring and fall. You must face the fact that the months of July and August are not great months to show off your roses.

Another consideration is, of course, color. Roses come in a huge variety of colors although the fabled blue rose is precisely that, a myth. Color is such a personal taste, a reason why I am loathe to recommend rose varieties based on color.

For me, one of the most important factors in choosing a particular rose is disease resistance. I have written a lot about the development of disease-resistant varieties so suffice it to say that this is basically a twenty-first century development in the history of roses. Roses became so over-hybridized in the twentieth century that they were powerless to escape the clutches of black spot, a fungus we all have in our soil.

Consequently, spraying to fight this fungus and its ravages every 7-10 days became necessary. If you want to have some of these gorgeous hybrid teas, you must make the commitment to either spray them or have professionals spray them. I, personally, am not willing to do this so I limit myself to roses that carry the “disease resistant” depiction in their descriptions.

Because these over-hybridized hybrid teas are sometimes so weak they cannot survive on their own roots, growers routinely graft them to the root stock of a hardier rose, such as Rosa multiflora or the climbing rose, ‘Dr. Huey’. Neither are desirable roses to have in the garden; be aware that R. multiflora is considered to be horribly invasive. If a rose grower offers roses grown on their own roots, “grown on its own roots” will be in the description. If the rose in question does not carry this modification, you may assume it has a grafted rootstock. Fortunately, there are several wonderful rose nurseries that sell only own root roses. I always look for this depiction – and will not purchase a grafted rose.

Do you want a rose that exudes a delicious aroma? Bear in mind that many hybrid teas had lost their scent during the intense hybridization process. Gradually, hybridizers are now concentrating on scent but remember that many roses have no scent – if this is an attribute you desire, you must do your research to find appropriate roses.

The last consideration is this: Do you really want a hybrid tea? These are the roses that were developed for floral arrangements that were a big deal in the last century. Is yours a picking garden? Mine is not as I work too hard to produce flowers merely to cut them off to bring into the house. This is a personal preference but if you want blooms for the living room, by all means stick with hybrid teas.

There are so many various types of roses available that it behooves you to investigate the various forms. Shrub roses, such as ‘Spice’, produce blooms throughout the growing season – mine is entering its seventh month of continual flowering as I write this – but these roses will not produce the long canes suitable for arrangements. Climbing roses, those roses with long canes, produce flowers more suitable for the outdoors.

The shrub rose ‘Spice’. Photo by Kit Flynn.

There are some excellent nurseries online that specialize in both roses growing on their own roots and disease-resistant roses. Two of the best are Roses Unlimited and The Antique Rose Emporium. A good place to start your research is at Kordes Roses as they have long made an effort to hybridize sustainable roses, including hybrid teas, many of which have a delightful aroma.

One word of warning: popular varieties can sell out quickly. The big box stores offer roses but before you succumb to temptation, be aware that all these roses are grafted and highly fertilized as growers need them to sell quickly. The best way to plan is to order from a reputable nursery, one specializing in roses.

So, in choosing roses, the important thing is to discern exactly what qualities you wish to have in a rose. With some good research involved, you’ll become a true rose aficionado – but, be warned, roses can be addictive.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at
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1 Comment on "How to choose a rose"

  1. The Lady Banks can quickly get out of hand in a small yard, and requires constant trimming, but it is a beautiful climber. And to pick a few new roses, I strongly recommend Witherspoon, both to buy roses and to maintain them if you have a large rose garden.

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