Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 11 — Hardy Roses

William Baffin climbing rose bloom

‘William Baffin’ is a climbing rose from the Canadian Explorer series.

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.

charles albanel

‘Charles Albanel’

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.

Sven rose

Northern Accents ‘Sven’ blooms wildly in the MSHS garden at the Minnesota State Fair.

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?




  1. victoria johnson on June 5, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Where can I purchase the Northern Accent roses, I want Lena and Sven?

    • JJ on July 2, 2021 at 11:56 pm

      Schulte’s Greenhouse and Garden Center in St. Michael, MN is the only one I know of carrying the Northern Accent roses. I do hope they continue to do so, as we’re planning on redesigning our foundation garden in a year or two!

  2. Michael Luther on August 26, 2018 at 8:07 am

    I am an amateur gardener in Finland with a special interest in hardy roses. I wonder where I can find Northern Accents roses Lena, Ole, Sven and Sigrid? Is it possible to get them somewhere in Europe?
    Best Regards
    Michael Luther

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 28, 2018 at 6:30 pm

      Michael — These roses have become harder to find here in the states. I’m not sure what European sources there might be. The series goes by the overall name of Northern Accents. Good luck finding them!

  3. Jerald Bell on November 14, 2019 at 10:23 am

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