The Japanese rose, Easter rose, or Kerria japonica is a deciduous shrub recognizable by its sunny golden-yellow flowers. Although not exactly a rose as we may know them, this beautiful plant is a member of the Rosaceae family.
Japanese roses are native to East Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China but grow exceptionally well worldwide as they are hardy and disease resistant. They are graceful growers with scrambling canes and attractive green foliage that produce their yellow blooms in spring and summer.
This article covers everything you need to know about Japanese roses, including how to identify, grow, care for, and decorate with them.
History of Japanese Roses
Not much is known about the history of this gorgeous plant, except that it is native to East Asia and grows there in the wild. William Kerr collected Japanese roses in China and introduced the double-layered Pleniflora cultivar to England in 1805. They were named Kerria japonica in his honor.
Characteristics of Japanese Roses
Japanese roses fare well in shaded areas, setting them apart from standard roses, which prefer full sun. There are different varieties of Kerria japonica, but the most commonly known are the old-fashioned five-petal variety and the multi-petaled Pleniflora cultivar that looks a bit like a marigold.
Their canes are delicate and willowy, while their leaves are bright green and birch-like against their gorgeous golden-yellow flowers. Mature plants can reach heights of 5 to 10 feet and spread between 6 and 10 feet.
In the wild, Japanese roses grow over rocks and other vegetation, but they work best as informal screens and shrub borders in gardens. They bloom profusely, making them wonderful feature plants during the warmer months of the year.
The Symbolism of Kerria Japonica
The Japanese rose symbolizes wealth and prosperity, royalty, and luck with money. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, a rich man dropped gold coins into a valley that turned into these yellow flowers.
How to Grow and Care for Japanese Rose Bushes
Whereas most roses love full sun, Japanese roses prefer partial shade. In dappled light and shade conditions, they bloom their best. They will grow in the sunny spots if it’s impossible to provide them with cover, but in bright light they produce fewer flowers and the blooms tend to fade faster.
They should receive morning or late afternoon sun and shade during the day.
Although they look delicate, these shrubs are exceptionally tough and not at all fussy. They do not enjoy clay soil but can thrive in any other moderate growing medium that is well-draining and relatively nutrient-dense.
Their soil should be kept moist, as they are thirsty plants, but should not be drenched. They don’t like “wet feet,” and over-watering can lead to fungal infections like root rot.
Given their hardiness, they can endure a range of temperatures and humidity levels. Mulching can keep them cool if necessary and help to retain moisture when it gets too hot. The breaking down of mulch naturally over time also provides them with nutrients and minerals.
Japanese roses can and will grow and bloom without additional food or fertilizer in healthy soil, but giving them a bit of compost now and then is a healthy treat for these stunning plants. If you do choose to fertilize them, make sure to use a slow-releasing granular all-purpose fertilizer, either in early spring or fall.
When to Plant
The best time to plant Japanese roses is as they start to exit dormancy at the beginning of spring. Make sure the threat of frost has passed before preparing these beauties for the ground. Japanese roses bloom in April and May, which requires much of their energy.
Planting Your Roses
Japanese roses are notorious for their vigorous suckers, which make them great candidates for propagating. Indeed, most newly obtained Japanese rose bushes will either be grown from healthy cuttings or bought as container-grown plants from nurseries or garden centers.
When planting these rose bushes, first select a spot with partial sun. Remove any debris, grass, rocks, or weeds, and dig a hole twice as broad as the plant and as deep as its longest roots. Japanese roses that are not yet established must be planted at the height they are accustomed to.
Turn your soil with compost and return enough of it to the hole to form a small mound. Rest the rose plant on the mound and spread its roots out around it. After that, fill the hole two-thirds of the way with soil and drench it thoroughly with water. After this step, you can return the rest of the ground to the earth, settling the soil in a firm but not too compacted manner.
Spread a 1 to 2-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant to reduce weeds and assist with retaining moisture.
The growth pattern of Japanese roses is rather wild, so occasional pruning is advised to keep it in check and promote healthy new shoots. Pruning also prevents overgrowth and helps keep the plant in the shape you desire.
Furthermore, Kerria japonica roses tend to develop suckers which can cause the shrub to spread all over the place. These need to be removed before they unbalance the roses’ growth, especially in smaller areas.
These roses grow well and fast once established, so don’t hold back when pruning. You can cut back at least one-third of the plant during your annual pruning session and even more than that if you wish to rejuvenate older plants.
The best time to prune these roses is after their first bloom in spring or as soon as you see dead areas arising on the plant.
Always make sure you have sterilized and disinfected your pruning tools to prevent the spread of diseases or fungi.
Japanese Rose Bush Diseases
Japanese roses can be susceptible to fungal diseases like twig and leaf blight. They can also contract root rot if they stand in too much water for too long. If you notice small red or brown spots of the leaves of your roses, it’s best to treat them with fungicide or to prune away diseased areas of the plant.
Other measures to take to avoid the spread of diseases include ensuring that you never leave pruning debris at the base of your roses and that you inspect them every so often to keep an eye on their overall health.
Need Gardening Supplies? We Can Help!
If you’re in the market for new (or replacement) gardening supplies, you can visit Hoss Tools, a family-owned business with rave online reviews from customers. They’ve got a great garden spade for making short work of planting your bare root roses and, later, once your roses are covered with beautiful blooms, you can snip a few branches with these pruning shears to pop into a vase and enjoy!
Varieties of Japanese Roses
There a quite a few varieties of the Japanese rose, each with unique characteristics. Their growing conditions, however, are similar.
Kerria Japonica ‘Picta’
The Picta has lance-shaped grey and green leaves and deep yellow five-petaled flowers. They are one of the slower-growing and shorter varieties of Japanese rose, only reaching 2 feet.
Kerria Japonica ‘Pleniflora’
Compared in their look to chrysanthemums or marigolds, the Plentiflora variety is a double-layered Japanese rose with many petals. Also referred to as Bachelor’s Buttons, their flowers are quite small but they bloom profusely. Their leaves are light green and veiny, and they grow to be large bushes.
Kerria Japonica ‘Albescens’
This breed of Japanese rose produces stunning pale-yellow flowers that can almost appear to be cream in color. Their bright green leaves complement their small, five-petaled flowers, borne on delicate, dainty canes.
Kerria Japonica ‘Simplex’
Bold yellow in color and with toothy bright green leaves, the Kerria japonica Simplex can reach heights of 6.5 feet. They produce solitary five-petaled flowers and bloom best in mid-spring.
Kerria Japonica ‘Golden Guinea’
The Golden Guinea Japanese rose, much like its other single-layered counterparts, has the look of an old-fashioned rose and is a bright, saturated yellow. Its leaves are attractive, veined, and tooth-edged, and its canes arch and tangle most pleasingly. This variety of Japanese roses has a fantastic fragrance.
Decorating with Japanese Roses
Japanese roses look best in gardens where they can grow to their full potential and add bright splashes of color to landscapes. That being said, they do work beautifully as decorative dried flowers. Freshly cut, they can also be used to adorn rustic décor pieces like driftwood, antlers, or other organic structures.
Arrangements with Japanese Roses
Given how Japanese roses bloom on their branches, they do not make great cut flowers in the traditional sense. However, their delicate look and wild beauty produce some of the most beautiful and straightforward indoor arrangements possible.
All you need to do is pop a few branches of this magnificent specimen in an elegant vase or urn. Make sure to cut your branches just before the flowers open, as this will allow them to bloom indoors for longer. Quince, forsythia, Oregon grapes, tulips, and witch hazel are lovely additions to arrangements of this nature.
Japanese roses can also work as filler flowers in bouquets of wildflowers and the like.
Where to Buy Japanese Rose Bushes
By now you may be wondering “Where can I buy a Japanese rose for my yard?” We’re so glad you asked!
You can purchase a Kerria japonica ‘Golden Guinea’ as well as a double-flowering Kerria japonica variety from Nature Hills Nursery. Visit them to shop for your very own Japanese rose to add to your garden this year.
Bring Sunshine to Your Garden With a Japanese Rose
It’s easy to fall in love with these gorgeous prolific bloomers, and you won’t regret the sunshiny color they add to your garden landscape.
To learn about other members of the rose family, read our roses blog posts for helpful growing and care guides, plus profiles of traditional varieties of roses.