University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
SPECIES ROSES FOR COLD CLIMATES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont
Roses in northern New England face many challenges, including long, cold
winters that often kill hybrid roses. Old-fashioned or heirloom species
roses offer an excellent alternative to hybrid teas, grandifloras and
floribundas. But which ones of these species and their cultivars (cultivated
varieties) are reliably hardy? The following species are a good place
to start when choosing hardy roses, and are based in part on several years
of trials at the universities of Vermont and Maine.
Make sure when buying a species rose, particularly one other than these
listed, that it is hardy in your area. You can find the most recent
USDA hardiness zone map online (www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov).
A few species roses will tolerate part shade, but most require full sun (6
or more hours of direct sun daily) to grow and bloom best.
Albas are cultivars selected from an ancient species (alba) that may
predate the Roman Empire. They are generally tall and upright, the
thorny canes arching with age. Most are large but graceful, so allow enough
room and prune only as needed. Leaves are soft and downy with gray,
scentless leaflets. The quite fragrant white or pale pink flowers
bloom once, early in the season, and are followed by orange fruit
Perhaps the most common alba rose is ‘Maxima’, the white cottage or Jacobite
rose, having double white flowers in June. Other hardy choices that
have good disease resistance are the light pink double ‘Felicite Parmentier’
(being under 5-feet tall, a good one for smaller spaces), the pink double
‘Koenigen von Daenemark’, and the light pink double ‘Maiden’s Blush’.
The white double ‘Pompom Blanc Parfait’ is taller, so good as a
Not quite as hardy (to zone 5a, or -15 to -20 degrees F) are the Provence or
Cabbage roses (centifolia). ‘Fantin Latour’ has light pink,
very large double flowers in June that are very fragrant. Leaves are quite
disease resistant. ‘Spong’ has pink, double flowers with some
fragrance. Being rather large plants, upright 6 to 8 feet tall, they
are good in borders or as climbers.
‘Kazanlik’ is a hardy cultivar of the Damask rose, or Rose of Castile (x
damascena). It is another large rose, similar to the
centifolias. The deep pink, double, and very fragrant flowers of this
rose are used in rose oil and pot-pourri. It has attractive rose hips,
and good disease resistance. Many of the other damask roses are not
reliably hardy, a couple that may grow in zone 5a being the white, double
‘Mme. Hardy’ and the light pink ‘Celsiana’. Both are very fragrant.
The Sweet Briar rose (eglanteria) is quite hardy, growing only 5 to 6
feet high and wide. It has rosy-pink flowers in June, followed by
orange-red hips. The leaves are sweetly scented.
The Gallic or French rose (gallica) is centuries old. Perhaps
the most known is the Mundi Rose, a variety (versicolor). Hardy
into warmer areas of the north (zone 5a), it has fragrant, semi-double
flowers in June with white and red stripes on pink petals. It is good
for smaller spaces, only growing 3 to 4 feet high and slightly wider.
There are several other gallica rose cultivars that may be more hardy.
‘Agathe Incarnata’ has pink, double flowers; ‘Alain Blanchard’ has dark
crimson, semi-double flowers; ‘Alika’ flowers are deep pink and single, and
plants have an arching habit. ‘Charles de Mills’ is another with dark
crimson and double flowers, and is good planted in masses or in
hedges. ‘Cramoisi Picotte’ also has crimson, double flowers and
tolerates both diseases and shade. ‘Surpasse Tout’ has large, red and double
flowers. All these are fragrant.
The Red-leaf rose (glauca or rubrifolia) has reddish purple
leaves which provide a backdrop for the fragrant, cherry-pink flowers in
June. The purple-red hips that follow last into winter. Stems
may die back some winters, but usually regrow in spring. Plants have
an oval to
round shape, growing 5 to 7 feet tall and a bit less wide.
Harison’s Yellow Rose (foetida) is also called Pioneer rose.
These arose from a seedling of this species in the 1820’s garden of attorney
George Harison in New York City, and were planted westward along the Oregon
trail, hence the names. It makes a dense shrub 4 to 6 feet high and
wide. The many double yellow flowers begin in June and last for
Roses that you often find listed or for sale, and are hardy, are the
Multiflora and Rugosa roses. These are not discussed here, as
they have been found to be invasive (seeds spread by birds) in pastures and
open areas for the former, and beaches or shorelines for the latter. The
multiflora has been used as an understock in grafting, and the thornless
species (inermis) has often been used for hedges and windbreaks in
Canada. A variety of multiflora rose (platyphylla) that is
attractive and you may find is the Seven Sisters rose, named for the various
shades of pink and red one often sees in the flowers.
The Swamp rose (palustris) is a hardy native to the eastern
U.S. As it tolerates seasonal or periodic flooding, it is good in rain
gardens and marginal wet areas. The pink flowers have some fragrance,
and are followed by red hips, then red leaves in fall. Stems are
thorny. It grows 3 to 6 feet high and wide.
The Scotch or Burnet rose (spinosissima) is a low, dense, spreading
shrub 2 to 3 feet high and twice that wide, forming thickets. It often
is massed as a groundcover. As the species name indicates, stems are
covered with prickles. White flowers are relatively large. The
cultivar ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ has double, very fragrant, light pink flowers
and the plants have good disease resistance.
The quite hardy Virginia rose (virginiana) is native in
Vermont. It too spreads by suckers to form dense colonies, plants 4 to
6 feet high. It begins with pink to purplish flowers in June, followed
by red fruit in summer and fall, then finishing with red-orange fall
The Memorial or Sunshine rose (wichuraiana) grows in the warmer parts
of the north (zone 5a). This makes a very low groundcover, only
growing a foot or so high, and the trailing canes rooting as they grow along
the ground to form a mat. It is not dense, so weeds can grow among the
canes. It has shiny green leaves, small white flowers, and reddish
The Manchu rose (xanthina) has red stems that lack spines. The
yellow, semi-double flowers in June are followed by red hips, then orange
fall color. It grows large, reaching 6 to 9 feet high and 7 to 10 feet
wide. It is quite hardy in warmer areas of the north (zone 5a).
The Manchu rose, as you might guess, is from northern China. It was
first found there by Frank Meyer in 1907, and first bloomed in the U.S. at
the Arnold Arboretum in Boston in 1915. A form of the Manchu rose with
single yellow flowers, Father Hugo’s rose (xanthina f. hugonis), has
fine-textured foliage and arching canes.
There also are quite a few series of roses such as the Explorer and less
hardy Knockout ones, usually hybrids and often with some of these species
roses as parents. You can learn more about these “shrub roses” in
another online article (pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/hardyroses.html).
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