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Shrub Roses

You may think that any rose with a shrub-like growth habit is automatically a shrub rose, but it’s not that simple!  The term “shrub” is less about what form a rose grows into and more about its hardiness and how easy/hard it is to grow.  The world of rose classification is confusing at times, but that’s what makes the subject of shrub roses fascinating to explore.

If you grow roses, you’re probably already well-acquainted with them, although you may not have known it.  If you’re new to growing roses, you’ll definitely want to keep reading because shrub roses are your dream come true!

Closeup of a single 'Jubilee Celebration' shrub rose bloom.
The ‘Jubilee Celebration’ rose.

 History of Shrub Roses

The “shrub” category was little-used for roses until David Austin began creating and registering roses under the shrub category.  The popularity of his roses led other breeders to register their roses in the same category, which led to shrubs becoming the most commercially successful classification of roses.

Shrubs fall under the “modern rose” group established by the American Rose Society (“old garden” and “species,” or wild roses, are the other two groups).  Shrubs then fall into two categories — classic and modern.

Classic” shrub roses are hybrids that were bred from old world roses — hybrid kordesii, hybrid moyesii, hybrid musk, or hybrid rugosa. They’re not the same as “classic roses,” which is how some people describe Old Roses

The “modern” shrub roses sub-category is where modern shrubs go if they don’t fit the classic shrub category.  So the shrub roses this articles is about are “modern rose group, shrub category, modern sub-category” roses.

Bonica shrub roses.
‘Bonica’ shrub roses.

Characteristics of Shrub Roses

Shrub rose is a “catchall” category of modern roses that range from ground cover roses all the way to climbing roses.  It’s a hard category to define because it’s where roses are classified that don’t fit the criteria of other kinds of roses.

These roses tend to be those that are hardy, tough, and easy to grow in comparison to Old Roses.  They don’t have quite the resistance to diseases and pests that wild roses do, but they can tolerate a wide range of climates (humidity to brief drought) and even occasional neglect.

Most roses you find at big store garden centers are shrub roses and they’re what you’ll find in most home gardens.  The majority of shrubs grow 5-6′ tall, but there are varieties that grow much smaller (ground covers) and some that grow very large (the ‘Montecito’ can grow to 50′ tall!).

The roses on shrubs are even more varied than the form the shrubs themselves can take.  What’s certain is you’ll find at least a handful (or more) shrub roses you’ll fall in love with.

Closeup of 'All The Rage' shrub roses.
The ‘All The Rage’ rose.

What Is Significant About These Flowers?

These roses are tough cookies.  They’re sometimes called “landscape roses” for a reason – they’ll grow nearly anywhere.

The blooms are more like Old Roses and not the large high-centered blooms of hybrid teas.

Closeup of a 'Christopher Marlowe' shrub rose.
The ‘Christopher Marlowe’ rose.

When Does They Bloom?

Shrub roses bloom spring through fall, depending on the specific variety.  There are a few varieties that only bloom once or twice a year, so be sure to read about the rose you’re considering to learn if it’s a repeat bloomer or not.

Bloom Description

Flowers are smaller than floribunda and hybrid tea flowers, but shrub roses have MORE flowers.

  • Blooms can be single or double and resemble Old Roses — lots of petal and, frilly.
  • Flowers can be solid colors, bi-colored, or multi-colored.  The colors may blend  or appear as stripes on the petals.
  • Flower colors range from white all the way to a deep purple and can be bold like hybrid teas or soft pastels like Old Roses.
  • Not all shrub roses are scented, but those that are have the Old Rose fragrances.
Closeup of a 'Distant Drums' rose bloom.
The ‘Distant Drums’ rose.

Can You Grow Shrub Roses At Home?

Yes — and there are LOTS of options!

Why Would You Want To Grow Them At Home?

The easy care of shrub roses is ideal for busy gardeners. 

  • They offer the look and smell of Old Roses without worrying about Old Rose disease and pest issues.
  • They’re great for cutting gardens, fragrance gardens (depending on variety), or butterfly gardens (depending on variety).
  • You plant them for screens, hedges, mass plantings, but also as standalone garden specimens.  Some varieties are good for containers gardening.
Closeup of a white shrub rose bloom just beginning to open.

How To Grow a Shrub Rose

In the first year, treat a shrub rose as you would any rose and give it what it needs for the best start — after it becomes established, it can survive a little neglect here and there!

When To Plant It

For areas with severe winters, spring is the best time to plant (after the last frost has passed).

In other areas, you can also plant roses in the fall so roots have time to become established before roses go dormant for the winter

Person spread soil around a newly planted rose.

Where Should You Plant It?

Shrub roses grow in zones 3-10, depending on the variety (most grow in 5-9) — read up on the specific rose you want to plant.  Some varieties can be grown in a zone colder than the zone they’re rated for if winter protection methods are used.

Plant them outdoors in full sun or part shade locations.  Hard-to-grow areas like strips beside driveways and sidewalk islands are ideal for shrub roses.

Soil

Roses do best in well-draining soil, rich, well-amended soil but many shrub roses can tolerate poor soil conditions (for example, these are the roses you see growing along the interstates in Portland, Oregon)

Watering

Shrub roses can tolerate some drought but, it’s best to keep the soil moist.

Closeup of 'Sunrise Sunset' shrub roses.
The ‘Sunrise Sunset’ rose.

Shrub Rose Bush Care

Other than wild roses, shrubs are the most low-maintenance roses.  They’re highly disease-resistant and able to bounce back from adverse weather conditions better than fussier rose varieties.

Pruning a Shrub Rose

Shrub roses need annual spring pruning to cut canes back to 1-2′ above the ground and remove any diseased/dead canes or canes that cross.

Deadheading isn’t mandatory for most of these roses, but they bloom better when spent blooms are cut — a few varieties need deadheading to produce second and third flushes.

You can prune lightly for shaping throughout the growing season, but don’t overdo it.

Woman using pruning shears to deadhead roses.

Using Shrub Roses For Bouquets/Decor

Some varieties of shrub roses can be used for cut flowers.  Some varieties to consider are:

  • ‘Madame Paule Massad’
  • ‘Fair Bianca’
  • ‘Paul Bocuse’
  • ‘Distant Drums’
  • ‘Climbing Shot Silk’
  • ‘Christopher Marlowe’
  • ‘Jubilee Celebration’
  • ‘Sally Holmes’
Closeup of 'Sally Holmes' roses.
The ‘Sally Holmes’ rose.

Where To Buy Shrub Roses

Shrub roses are widely available.  You’ll find plenty to choose from at any nursery or garden center.  Lots of online retailers sell them – remember they may be labeled as “landscape roses.”

Where To Buy Shrub Rose Cut Flowers

Because these are bred as garden roses, you’re highly unlikely to find them at commercial florists (even more incentive to grow your own!).

Wrapping Up Shrub Roses

Closeup of 'Jubilee Celebration' roses.
‘Jubilee Celebration’ roses.

They might be a “hodgepodge” category, but, in a way, that’s part of the appeal of shrub roses.  With so many colors, bloom forms, sizes, and growth habits there’s a shrub rose (or two) that will delight you with lovely, prolific blooms.

Have you discovered the joys of shrub roses in your garden? If so, tell us all about your beautiful workhorses in the comments section below! To read about other roses you can grow, click here for our rose blog posts.