The quest for roses for poor soils all started quite innocently. I posted a David Austin Roses article about roses for poor soils on my #groundchat FaceBook page, and the initial response was less than positive.
“Don’t you believe it,” said Geri Laufer, horticulturist, and #herbchat host, an Atlanta, Alabama resident. That statement piqued my interest. Yes, most roses we grow today require fertile soil but what about the species roses? The wild roses that flourish alongside roads and scrambling over chain link fences close to train tracks?
I vividly remember seeing my first wild roses growing along the rural roads in Pemberton, British Columbia. Bald-hip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa), I later found out. Then I noticed more wild roses in my travels in Ontario (Wood’s rose, Rosa woodsii), in Alberta (Prairie Rose, Rosa acicularis), and in southern Europe (Gallic rose, Rosa gallica). All in all, there’re over a hundred of species roses, many of which grow well in poor soil.
If wild roses can tolerate poor soils, surely there must be SOME rose cultivars out of thousands of varieties available that can do the same? Surely some roses retain the carefree nature of their wild rose parentage. I have a particular interest in finding these happy-go-lucky roses. In the past, I had shied away from growing roses in my gardens. My special kind of gardener hell involves dealing with needy, demanding plants with a propensity to disease.
The David Austin article on Roses Ideal for Poor Soils begins by saying, and I quote.
“The Old Roses are great survivors, and are, unsurprisingly, extremely tough and hardy, particularly the Gallicas, which will even grow in poor gravelly soil if required. The Rugosas are another group of roses that will grow in soil that other roses might be unable to thrive in.”
I’ve already mentioned the Gallica roses, which hail from the poor rocky soils of the Mediterranean. The Rugosas’ (aka Rosa rugosa) parentage is native to eastern Asia, in northeastern China, Japan, Korea and southeastern Siberia, where it thrives on the sandy coastal dunes. I’ve seen many robust rugosa cultivars thriving in the cold and severe environments in Calgary, Alberta.
Although the David Austin article suggested some of their cultivars, Irish rose expert, Dermot O’Neill, let me know that
“It is very difficult to get a good Rose to do well in poor soil. ‘Wild Edric’ is a DAVID AUSTIN rose which has Rosa rugosa in parentage, and I believe it is worth a try. Wonderfully scented flowers incredibly thorny stems.”
Roses for poor soils
In his book, Roses Revealed, O’Neill suggests a few roses suitable for the poorest soil quality:
Maigold, a climber with golden-yellow scented flowers
Henri Martin, a Moss rose with light crimson flowers
Complicata, a shrub rose, with lightly scented pink flowers
Mrs. John Laing, shrub rose with richly scented pink flowers
Bourbon Queen/Reine de I’Île be Bourbon, shrub rose with sweetly fragrant pink flowers
Since these roses are recommended for Irish gardens, I would double check to see if they are hardy in our northern gardens. Usually, the coldest regions in Ireland dip to -7 degree Celsius (19 degree Fahrenheit). Record temperatures in the winter of 2010 only got down to -17 degree Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit).
Poor alkaline soils
Edith Isidora-Mills generously shared her experiences in growing roses in her poor alkaline soils in the northern Nevada desert, along with its extreme winter cold and intense summer heat.
“The roses that do the best for me are minis, but I have had a few David Austins survive,” says Edith. “The latter never achieve the glory you see in the catalogs, but the minis do look as nice as the catalog pictures. Minis do the best with regard to flowering and leaf and stem production in my climate. It might be the small leaves (losing less moisture).
I have a Rosa woodsii planted, and it thrives in my yard. I also have a wild Russian rose that thrives as well (small leaves and flowers again).”
The advice that ALL roses need fertile soil is a misconception. Some roses can thrive in poorer soils. These roses don’t need the extra fertilizer or pesticides, they just need the addition of compost to the soil in spring if that. IMHO, this makes these tough roses a sustainable, practical choice for gardeners.
Thank you, Geri, for your comment. It was the push I needed to delve into the uncelebrated world of resilient roses for suboptimal soil conditions.
David Austin website. Roses Ideal for Poor Soils.
Dermott O’Neill, Roses Revealed (London:Kyle Cathie Limited, 2006)