Sustainable Roses

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden (photo courtesy of NYBG, by Ivo M Vermeulen.)

Sustainable roses. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? If you’re like me, you love roses but don’t grow them because you equate growing roses with spraying lots of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Recently, I saw Peter Kukielsi, the curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden  at New York Botanical Garden talk about his efforts to transition the famous rose garden from a collection highly dependent on chemicals input, to what is now considered one of the most eco-friendly collection of roses in the world.

The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden houses over 4000 individual rose plants from almost 700 different varieties of roses. Obviously, Mr. Kukielski knows ALOT about growing roses. And about growing roses without spraying them with chemicals.

A Rose is a Rose is NOT a Rose

Purple rain was a top performer at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden in 2011 (Photo courtesy of W. Kordes Söhne)

With over 167,000 cultivated roses available today, how on earth is anyone supposed to find the perfect rose to grow in their garden?

The problem with many cultivated roses is that they were bred for fragrance or color, not for cold hardiness or pest or disease resistance, the  primary characteristics eco-friendly gardeners are looking for.

So when it comes to picking the best roses for your garden, remember…a rose is not always a rose.

The Keys to Growing Roses Sustainably

Choose species roses. The oldest rose fossil found is over 34 million years old! That means roses have been around forever, and many roses have strong genes that inherently make them ideal for growing in your garden.

Breeding matters. Kukielski recommends choosing cultivars from German rose breeder Kordes, among others. Apparently the germans have been growing roses for decades without chemicals so their cultivars are known to be disease resistance and consistently good performers at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.

♦ Another aspect of sustainable gardening is conserving water. EarthKind roses, a special designation given to different cultivars based on their performance in field trials throughout the county, do not need any supplemental watering after their first year. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is currently trialing dozens of EarthKind roses.

♦ “We have worms!” Just like growing any other type of plant sustainably, growing roses sustainably starts with healthy soil. Kukielski told a story about how excited he was to see worms return to the soil at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. He uses tons of composted manure and fish emulsion in the Garden.

Karl Ploberger is another top performer. And it's fragrant.

Companion planting is another key to growing roses without chemicals. Kukielski recommended planting 4 o-clock flowers (Mirabilis) around roses. He also recommended checking out the book Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte.

To make choosing a sustainable rose, or two,  for your garden even easier, here’s a list of the top performing roses of 2010 at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.

11 thoughts on “Sustainable Roses

  1. I am one of those people who stays away from roses partly out of fear of high maintenance, (except for knockouts, and I’m not crazy about the look of them), so this information is really welcome. The links to the P Rockefeller info are very helpful. Thanks!

    • Laurrie, I’m glad you found the links helpful. One of the first things I did when we moved into this house was to rip out all the roses because I thought they’d be too difficult to maintain. I definitely don’t have a green thumb where roses are concerned, I even have difficulty with knockout roses. Mine get spots and don’t bloom very well…that’s probably because the deer and rabbits seems to like them.

  2. Debbie, This is great info for the many rose-loving gardeners out there.

    I have a couple of Mediland shrub roses that have struggled for years, mostly due to deer nibbling. I’ve given them a fresh shot in my fenced beds and so far, with good compost additions, they are doing better. I ignore the leaf spot and relish the late season blossoms they produce.

    I just planted a knockout last spring after waiting for a hardy, disease resistant rose for years, and it did quite well …bloomed until we had a really hard frost.
    No spray, except for occasional fish emulsion boosts.

    It makes total eco-sense to grow rose varieties that are hardy and disease resistant. I’ve also read that chives and garlic chives are good rose companions. Just don’t expect chives to keep deer away … it doesn’t work.

    • Joene, I have a client who has a hedge of the blush knockout roses and they were blooming at Thanksgiving. She was planning to use some of the flowers in her table decorations.

  3. I have a climber, R. Eden, which I just planted last year. It has been worry free. It may be another year or two before it produces rosebuds, but it will be beautiful once it makes its way up the tree against which I planted it. Great rose primer!

  4. Bayer All in One is the answer to roses..One liquid application in April and one in June and they grow like a charm. This not organic but the answer to a rose lovers drean

  5. Pingback: Two Climbing Roses for Shade | A Garden of Possibilities

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