150 Tips: Growing Roses in the North

In a 1916 article on roses, Martin Frydholm of Albert Lea promised rose gardeners "work and lots of it," if they wanted to grow tea roses in the North. Over the 150 years that MSHS has been publishing gardening articles, advice on growing roses has changed a lot. But one thing has remained the same: the amount of work you'll need to put into your roses depends on the type you choose. Native smooth wild rose grows easily on fence lines, lake shores and even prairies. Delicate hybrid roses require lots of care. Fortunately, Minnesota rose breeders are testing and developing roses that grow wonderfully with less care.

The Minnesota tip. The Minnesota tip method of keeping delicate roses through winter is said to have been devised by Jerry Olson, Minnesota's Mr. Rose, in the 1950s, but other ways of burying roses were explained in the Minnesota Horticulturist in the 1930s or earlier. The Minnesota tip involves watering a rose well for several days, then pruning them lightly and wrapping them in twine so they don't splay out. The gardener then digs a trench next to the rose, carefully tips up one side of the rose's base and bends the plant (carefully!) into the trench. The trench is then filled with soil and covered with leaves.


drawing showing how to bury a rose 

This illustration appeared in Minnesota Horticulturist in the 1930s, showing how to bury a climbing rose for winter protection.


Grow roses in pots. In 1993, Olson was interviewed by the magazine and recommended growing roses in pots because that gives you the most control over soil, watering and managing diseases. Olson still liked to bury his roses and would bury the roses pot and all in the soil, then cover them with straw and leaves. He fertilized roses with Milorganite, a 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer with iron, and alternated that with fish emulsion every other week.

Roses make a great hedge. In 1925, Mrs. H.B. Tillotson, a regular columnist for the hort society, recommended hardy rogusa roses as a hedge. They are “vigorous, free from disease, a continuous bloomer, and perfectly hardy without covering.” When planting, she added a quarter cup of fine bone meal in the bottom of the hole and mixed it well before placing the bush. “You can give a peony indigestion with too much food, but not a rose.” Interestingly, our Pollinator columnist, Rhonda Fleming Hayes also recommends rugosa roses as a hedge, not only for their beauty and easy care, but because they are very attractive to native bees.


sustainable rose coral 

'Coral' Knock-out rose is among the sustainable roses for the north. Photo courtesy of David Zlesak


Choose hardy, easy-care varieties. In 2020, extension educator Randy Nelson and horticulture professor David Zlesak shared the results of Minnesota-based rose trials in Northern Gardener. Growing roses with the protocols of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability, they tested a variety of northern-hardy roses. The trials require a 3-inch layer of wood mulch, no pesticides or supplemental fertilizers, no deadheading or pruning to alter growth form and no winter protections. Lots of Minnesota roses made the cut and these are great choices for your rose garden.

Looking for more time-tested tips? Check with the blog frequently as we share 150 tips from 150 years of publishing gardening information.

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