Today, well over 30,000 varieties of roses are available to gardeners, with hundreds of new varieties developed every year. With this vast array, deciding which rose is best for your home garden can be overwhelming. Missouri Botanical Garden Rosarian Matthew Norman suggests asking yourself these questions to help you find the perfect rose.
Where do you begin?
It ultimately comes down to finding the right plant for the right place. Before you even begin looking for roses, observe your anticipated planting site. What direction does the sunlight come from? Is it north, south, east, or west facing? What is your climate zone? What are your region’s seasonal weather conditions? What USDA hardiness zone is your garden in? St. Louis is affected by two climate zones: humid continental and humid subtropical, meaning that summers are hot and humid and winters are cold. The hardiness zone for St. Louis is zone 6b.
Another good question to ask yourself is what is the quality of your soil—does it have a lot of clay, loam, silt, or is it sandy? The soil type can affect how often your roses need to be watered or given fertilizer. The Garden’s William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening can assist gardeners with getting a soil sample tested.
Where should I look?
First, check your online sources. Many nurseries will list their stock or their major distributors. Look for reputable rose growers or nurseries. Research the commercial history of the rose grower and nursery. Check the online reviews or forums to see what other gardeners have said about a particular grower. See how long they have been in business. The most popular rose growers and nurseries have usually been in business for generations. You will also want to look for growers and nurseries close to your location. The closer the rose distributor is to you and your garden, the more likely the roses sold by that distributor will perform better instead of selecting roses from a different region.
What do I look for?
Once you have found a vendor, look for a rose with traits suited to your garden. Roses can be susceptible to many different diseases and pests. Look for varieties that are resistant to your region’s most common issues.
For St. Louis gardeners, look for roses that are winter hardy, vigorous, and resistant to fungal diseases such as blackspot, powdery mildew, rust, and rose rosette disease. St. Louis summers are often hot and humid, the perfect conditions for spreading fungal disease. There are many other pests and diseases to watch for, so the more resistance you can find in your rose the better off you will be.
Although traits like flower color, shape, and fragrance are important, you will be better off selecting more notable rose varieties that share qualities of varying degrees in each category. Notable roses have cultural or historical significance and typically an “Award of Merit” in recognition of their overall performance. There are no perfect roses, but you can get as close to perfect by selecting your rose with the above qualities in mind.
Ordering and Purchasing
Once you have reviewed your online rose sources, find the one that best suits your needs and wants. Review the online catalog of the rose grower or nursery that stands out to you. Contact the grower or nursery if you have questions about your garden, its needs, or the grower’s roses. Review the options for receiving the rose plant, which may include bare-root, potted, bud-grafted, and own-root potted. The time of year that you shop can affect the options available to you. Early in the season, most roses are sold bare-root. Bare-root plants are dormant and are not planted in soil. Later in the growing season, potted roses increase in availability.
Grafted roses have a rootstock that is a different type than the top part, the scion, of the rose. Grafting can produce a plant that has a more vigorous root system. However, if budded scion dies back to the ground during the winter, the rootstock rose type might grow back instead. Own-root plants are not grafted. They tend to live longer but can be harder to find. Many grafted plants are labeled, but if not, look for a little lump or ring at the base of the stems for signs of where the rose was grafted. Place your orders from November to March to have the greatest selection of roses.
For inspiration, walk through the Garden’s Gladney Rose Garden and the Anne and John Lehmann Rose Garden. Over 1,500 individual plants encompassing 250 varieties are displayed between these two spaces. Each year new varieties are trialed as well.
Need more rose help?
Check out these resources available from the Kemper Center for Home Gardening:
Plant Doctor Desk
(Ask your plant questions in person!)
Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.
Location: Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Horticulture Answer Service (Phone and E-mail)
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – noon
Matthew Norman, Rosarian
David Evans, Plant Science Interpretation Supervisor