While many Minnesotans grow hybrid tea roses for their incomparable beauty, hardy shrub roses will grow well in almost any sunny yard and are one of the great plants for northern gardens.
By hardy, we mean roses that grow in USDA Zones 3 or 4 with little or no covering through the winter. They should be disease-resistant enough to require minimal spraying, and, of course, they should bloom like crazy. We’re looking for roses that need fertilizer, water and a spring pruning, but that’s all. Fortunately for northern gardeners, several plant breeders have worked over the years to come up with truly hardy roses for northern climates.
Among the earliest and most popular are the Canadian Explorer series of roses developed in Manitoba and named for the tough men who conquered the Canadian wilderness. These roses require minimal pruning, can stand up to -35 F, and come in a variety of sizes and colors. There’s the petite ‘Charles Albanel’, with its deep pink blooms that come in waves all summer. For a climbing rose, you cannot get any easier or tougher than ‘William Baffin’, which grows 8 feet tall and resists most diseases. ‘Jens Munk’ is another popular explorer roses. Here is a list of each of the explorers and their care requirements.
More recently, the University of Minnesota has introduced the Northern Accents series, largely developed by Kathy Zuzek, a horticulturist and popular garden speaker. The roses include ‘Ole’, ‘Sven’, ‘Lena’ and introduced in 2011, ‘Sigird’. These ever-blooming shrub roses are covered with flowers all summer, and they stand up beautifully to Minnesota winters. As late as mid-October, many of these roses were still blooming.
Other hardy roses are the old garden roses or the rugosa roses. Sir Thomas Lipton is a no-fail rugosa with lovely white blooms that gets very tall. Harrison’s Yellow and Lillian Gibson (a pink) are also highly recommended, as is Therese Bugnet, a fragrant pink rose. Unlike the hardy shrub roses, these plants put out a flush of bloom in early summer, then bloom only sporadically after that.
To grow well, hardy shrub roses need ample water, regular fertilization (once monthly from April to August is recommended) and good air circulation. There’s no need to tip or cover them in winter, but you likely will have some die-back and will want to cut back canes in spring.
What are your favorite hardy roses?