Shrub roses and species roses are perfect for gardens with plenty of space, and are well suited to natural-looking, cottage gardens, especially if you want a traditional ‘romantic’ garden look. They’re larger than other types of rose and are often used as part of a mixed hedge. The shrub and species rose group is diverse, with some varieties flowering once, and others repeat flowering.
Shrub roses have an open shape, usually with prickly stems that bear flowers along their length. Shrub rose flowers can be single, semi-double or fully double in a range of different colours and shades. Species roses are also called wild roses. They include the dog rose, Rosa canina, and the rugosa rose, Rosa rugosa. Shrub roses are usually hybrids of wild roses. They have similar growing requirements and should therefore be grown, and pruned, in the same way.
How to grow shrub and species roses
Grow shrub and species roses in moist but well-drained, fertile soil in full sun to partial shade. Feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser in spring and summer, and mulch with well-rotted manure or compost in autumn. Shrub and species roses require very little pruning, but it’s a good idea to remove dead and damaged stems and maintain an open structure (see video, below).
More on growing roses:
- How to look after roses in autumn
- How to deadhead roses
- What to grow with roses
- How to grow climbing roses
- Best rambling roses to grow
- Top roses for scent
- Growing roses in pots
- How to prune roses
- Five ways to grow better roses
Fine more detailed advice on growing shrub and species roses, below.
Where to plant shrub roses and species roses
Most shrub and species roses do best in a sunny spot but some, such as Rosa rugosa roses, will thrive in shade.
All shrub roses will grow in almost any soil as long as it’s well drained and fertile – they do best in soil rich in organic matter. As they are vigorous growers with strong roots, shrub and species roses need plenty of space – they’re not suited to container gardening.
How to to plant shrub roses and species roses
Potted shrub and species roses can be planted at any time of the year but must be kept well-watered if planted in summer.
In autumn and winter, a huge variety of roses are available as bare-root plants. Plant them as soon as you can after they have arrived. Dig a hole at least twice the depth and width of the root ball and add in some well-rotted organic matter. Tease out the roots and drop the plant into the hole ensuring that the graft union is at soil level (you should see a soil ‘tide mark’ along the stem). Backfill and firm in place with your heel, and then water in well.
How to prune shrub roses and species roses
Shrub and species roses require very little, if any, pruning. However, it’s a good idea to remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood and prune back to size just above a healthy bud in February or March, once you’ve enjoyed its show of rose hips. Remove very old wood at the centre of the plant to let in light, and if growth is slow rejuvenate the plant by cutting old stems to the ground to encourage a new flush of growth.
Those that only flower once in summer and don’t offer impressive hips can be pruned after flowering by shortening side shoots by a third if required.
In this Gardeners’ World programme clip, Monty Don shows you how to prune species roses like Rosa rugosa and Rosa gallica with shears. It’s a quick and easy job. He also explains the differences between shrub roses and a hybrid tea roses, so you can be sure you know what type of rose you have:
How to propagate shrub roses and species roses
Shrub and species roses are most successfully propagated by taking hardwood cuttings in autumn. Remove a pencil-thick piece of stem from the current season’s growth, about 30cm long. Remove the soft tip cutting just above a healthy bud at an angle that is cut away from the bud as this will prevent water from settling around the bud and causing rotting (this will also help you identify the top of the cutting).
Dig a shallow trench in the garden in a sunny sheltered spot and place a layer of horticultural sand in the base. Insert the cuttings so that two-thirds of each cutting is below the surface, and backfill. You should see sign of growth the following spring. Pot on the following autumn.
Growing shrub and species roses: problem solving
Avoid planting roses in the same place as an old roses. Rose replant disease is a little understood problem but plants often struggle to thrive.
The most common rose disease is rose black spot. The spores are air borne and can be spread by using secateurs on infected plants and by the leaves fallen on the ground. Clear up fallen leaves and burn them to prevent the spread. Roses can also be affected by viruses, rose powdery mildew and aphids but the risk is lessened with good care. Rabbits and deer can also be an issue.
Great shrub roses and species roses to grow
- Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ – a vigorous species rose that enjoys a sunny spot and produces a mix of soft yellow and pink flower for months
- Rosa ‘Helen Knight’ – a modern shrub rose with bright yellow single flower set against attractive serrated foliage. Can cope in semi shade. Thorny.
- Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ – blood red single flowers followed by impressive red autumn hips
- Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ (pictured) – a beautiful rose with double flowers and a myrrh scent. It has an arching habit and can be trained as a climber
- Rosa canina – soft pink, single flowers followed by red hips. Ideal in a mixed hedge
- Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ – clusters of apricot-yellow flowers. Repeat flowers. Strong fragrance