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The Lazyperson's Guide to Growing Roses (while being environmentally responsible)

By Marty Nemko

Rose plants are instant blooming machines. Even if you’ve planted them bare root, within a few months, you have a rose factory cranking out that most romantic of flowers all growing season, year after year.

The problem with growing roses is that most experts recommend spraying them regularly with an arsenal of fungicides and pesticides.

Many of us live stress-filled lives, and we look to our garden for respite. If so, that blackspotted leaf or slightly chewed petal may not be worth worrying about, let alone spraying with toxic chemicals. Leave that to al Qaeda.

Fact is, non-exhibiting rose growers can get most of rose-growing’s pleasure with none the spraying.

  1. Most important, pick disease-resistant yet attractive varieties. Thanks to prodigious efforts by rose breeders, fine varieties are now available that can look pretty darn good without spraying. Here are examples. The list is based on interviews with a dream team of experts on healthy roses (in alphabetical order): Weeks’ Roses (CA) hybridizer Tom Carruth, Chamblee’s Roses’ Mike Chamblee (TX), Heirloom Roses’ John Clements (OR), Teas Nursery’s Paul Downs (TX), breeder of thornless, disease-resistant roses Harvey Davidson (CA), Director of Research for Star Roses Jacques Ferare, (PA & CA), Kedem Roses’ Rachel Kedem (MN), hybridizer for Bailey’s Roses Ping Lim whose prime breeding goal is healthy roses, for example, his Easy Elegance series of hybrid teas (OR& MN), breeder of blackspot-resistant roses including Knock Out Bill Radler (WI), Antique Rose Emporium’s Mike Shoup (SC), Jackson & Perkins hybridizer Keith Zary (OR, CA), Ashdown Roses’ Paul Zimmerman (SC), and on my own experience having grown over 200 varieties over the past 28 years without ever having sprayed, and having evaluated hundreds more in no-spray public and private gardens. Indeed, in Oakland, California, where I live, I can grow many additional wonderful roses without spraying (e.g., Trumpeter, Black Magic, Elveshorn, and my absolute favorite, Red Pixie, which inexplicably is unavailable in North America) but this list is designed to be of value nationwide.

(All plants are approximately 4’ tall with 3” flowers unless otherwise noted. The breeder’s name is in parenthesis.)


Pretty Lady (Scrivens) Like the creamy floribunda French Lace but on a healthy plant. Very good blackspot resistance. A top choice. ARS: NR.

Panda Meidiland (Meilland) A non-stop blooming single on a two-foot mounded, glossy-foliaged shrub. ARS: NR.


Knock Out (Radler). If your area is subject to mildew and rust, forget it. Otherwise, this shrub is a strong choice: top blackspot resistance, profuse blooming, and winter hardy. Even tolerates light shade. Alas, the flower is a ho-hum, single rose red. ARS: 8.4.

Fire Meidiland (Meilland) Prolific producer of small bright red flowers on a prostrate glossy-leafed plant. A real groundcover, perfect for slopes as it is vigorous enough for erosion control. ARS: NR

Traviata (Meilland) Very double, clear red, the most disease resistant of Meilland’s old-fashioned Romantica series. Not reliably hardy. ARS: 7.7


Yellow Submarine (Lim) A rare floribunda with a high-centered flower that’s also healthy. Plus glossy foliage. ARS: NR

Morning Has Broken (Clements) – John Clements says it’s the best rose he’s ever developed, healthy in many parts of the country, verified by Radler and Ferare, and my plant has not had a spot of disease on it, but most of the panelists haven’t grown it. It’s sold on its own roots, so perhaps that’s why mine, after two years is still very small. ARS: NR.

Mutabilis. (Species). Each single flower goes from creamy orangey yellow, fading to pink, and aging to dark pink, almost red. The plant is a chunky 5-foot shrub, except on the West Coast where it can be stringy. Tender at Zone 5 or below. ARS: 8.9.

Smooth Buttercup (Davidson) Thornless. This butter yellow floribunda has 30 petals with slightly frilled edges. It fades less than most yellows. Won 1st place in an Australian International Competition in 2004.


Queen Mother (Kordes) Luminescent, well-formed 10-15-petaled pink 2” flowers cover the glossy-leafed, vigorous yet rounded plant. Always in bloom. My personal favorite. ARS: NR

Flower Carpet (Noack) A groundcover with terrific foliage: dark, green, glossy, dense. Its production of small neon pink flowers shuts down when the thermometer reaches 100. ARS: 7.7

Little Bo Peep (aka Natchez) (Poulsen) A symmetrical, dense 18” shrub absolutely covered with cute little double pink flowers. A top choice. ARS NR.

Sunrise Sunset. (Lim) This massively blooming groundcover is a stunning blend with bright fuchsia pink flowers with apricot/yellow centers.

Bonica (Meilland) Free-flowering pink. It’s blackspot resistant in most locations. In bad blackspot areas, it will lose leaves, but the plant will recover. ARS: 8.5.

Martha’s Vineyard (Poulsen) Panicles of tiny medium pink flowers on an arching plant. ARS: 8.3.

Belinda’s Dream (Bayse) 40-petaled cupped, medium pink flowers. Very vigorous. Highly resistant. Good for the South, but according to Carruth, “God awful on the West Coast.” Hardy to Zone 6. ARS: 8.4

Carefree Beauty (Buck). Medium pink flowers of decent form. Not for the West Coast. ARS: 8.7.

Country Dancer (Buck) Large, very double but floppy deep pink blooms on a mounded plant. Not for the West Coast.Hardy. ARS: 8.5

Electric Blanket (Kordes) Coral pink groundcover. Zary said that he wished he had bred this one. Germany’s Kordes did. ARS: NR.

Where to find them? lists web and mail order sources for these and thousands of other roses.

  1. Give your rose a good home: In a spot that will get at least a half-day’s sun, enrich an 18” cube of soil with 1/3 redwood compost. Plant your rose in that, and it will be happy for years.
  1. Roses like water, but they’re not piggy. If your roses are on a drip system—a lazyperson’s delight--each rose plant just needs one emitter. Use a “Dial-a-Flo” type: it has an adjustable-flow sprinkler head on a built-in 5” stake. They’re widely available for about a buck.
  1. Feed ‘em. If you’re lazy like me, use time-release fertilizer. Select a formulation (3 month, six-month or 9-month) that will last the length of your growing season. Feed just once at the beginning of your growing season and that’s it. If your rose is on a drip watering system, be sure to put the fertilizer where it will get watered.

Dr. Nemko has been enjoying lazyman’s rose growing for 30 years. He also dabbles in rose breeding: crossing healthy guys such as those above with the best pot roses—the ones you buy in 3” pots in the supermarket, in hopes of getting window-box sized roses that don’t need to be sprayed. 400+ of his published writings are free at

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