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  • January 9, 2017
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Rose – Rosa cvs. and hybrids

Wild Rose – Rosa acicularis

Rose cultivation and maintenance is branch of horticulture unto itself, and I do not claim to be a rose expert, especially of the plethora of cultivars that are grown on the Prairies.  That said, basic rose maintenance is pretty straightforward.  For those of you who would like an excellent and very detailed book on advanced rose pruning and maintenance, find the book, Pruning & Training, by Brickell and Joyce, published by the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK, and by the American Horticultural Society in the US.

To keep roses looking their best in Alberta requires a lot of care, attention, and maintenance time.  Many of the varieties, despite being hardy, suffer from winter-kill, which necessitates frequent pruning.  Unless requested, I do not included roses in my landscape designs, and I do not plant them in my own yard, for a number of reasons:

  1. They tend to be a higher-maintenance plant and most people are looking for low-maintenance landscapes;
  2. Neglected specimens can turn into a wild bramble that, despite the pretty flower, becomes unsightly, especially in the dormant season;
  3. Because roses are so bright, showy, and dominant in the landscape, it is challenging to properly integrate them into mixed plantings, without having things look garish.  My analogy is this: they are like a boastful sports star – impossible to deny their abilities, but somewhat annoying to have around.
  4. While the above-ground parts might die-back, the roots of established plants are very tough, thus making it a challenge to get rid of established plants without a great deal of digging, or stump grinding.

So those are my cautionary comments.  Despite all that, I do love rose flowers, their shape, and particularly their scent.  If you don’t mind maintenance, enjoy gardening in general, and can find a spot in the garden where roses work, then give them a try.

My favourite rose is the wild rose, which has a delicate and fleeting pink flower, with an intoxicating fragrance.  They send out underground stems and are difficult to contain, hence their colonization of roadside ditches.  I found I was constantly tearing out roots to keep them in their spot.  Even with domestic varieties, it is tough to kill established plants.  I have one rose in my yard that came with the house when I bought it.  I cut it down to the ground in mid-summer a couple times, hoping that would kill it, but it persists.  I now treat it like a perennial.  I cut it back to the ground during the dormant season, and allow it to put out a few stems so that I have a few nice pink roses in mid-summer.  Maintaining it in this way keeps the plant small, and minimizes the amount of pruning, and prevents the plant from dominating the shrub bed.

There are a myriad of colours available in hardy roses.  From white to pinks, to reds and oranges and yellows.


Full-sun.  Placed in part shade will slow their growth but still produce a decent flower display.

Pruning Time

This depends on your goals for the plant.  You can get away with one pruning per year, in the dormant season (November-early April), but if you want better flower production, less congested plants, and want to keep up with storm damage, deadheading, etc., you might have to prune your roses several times per season.

Basic Pruning

The most basic and effective way to prune roses is as follows:

  1. remove the oldest, thick, thorny stems each year;
  2. encourage the younger, more colourful stems;
  3. thin out the main stems by 1/3 or more so that the crown is well-spaced;
  4. cut back all the remaining stems by 1/2 to an outward facing bud.

Like I said, there are many ways to prune and train roses, but the above method is generally how we treat most roses we encounter in residential and commercial yards, unless otherwise specified by the customer.

Hedging and Shearing

I personally do not like the look of sheared roses as I think it makes them look butchered.  That said, I have seen a couple of interesting hedges of roses.  From a health perspective, they seem to tolerate shearing.  If you decide to plant a hedge of roses, and it turns out, please send me pictures.

(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB