Growing Sustainable Roses

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Not all roses are garden prima donnas! Knock-out, Earth-kind, and Kordes roses are among roses you should consider if you want beauty without all the fuss. Kit Flynn introduces us to numerous options for growing sustainable roses —roses that don’t require spraying or special care.

Garden Destinations logoThanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible


  • Sustainable roses do not require spraying or special care beyond watering during their first year
  • Knockout roses were introduced in 2000, and was the first rose in 100 years to demonstrate it was possible to grow roses without chemicals
  • Roses without Chemicals by Peter E. Kulkielski is a great tutorial for starting with sustainable rosesiTunes


As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show.


Welcome to the Triangle Gardener magazine podcast. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Today’s story is part of our series on sustainable gardening.  Kit Flynn is here to tell us about sustainable rose gardening.  I’m your host Dan Mason.


So there are lots of sustainable roses out there and do investigate them because they are good for the environment and they are wonderful additions to your garden.


But first a word from our sponsor who helps make this all possible.

Garden Destinations is digital magazine  for travelers who want to experience the world’s finest public gardens and garden destinations. From their website, GardenDestinations.com, you can learn about unique gardens, get insider tips from expert travelers, and make plans to include these destinations in your next adventure.  Check them out at GardenDestinations.com.

Now, on with today’s story….


I’m Kit Flynn and I’m sitting in my garden in Chapel Hill and I would like to talk with you about growing sustainable roses.  Now sustainable roses are those roses that don’t need any spraying.

The year 2000 was an exciting one among rosarians, as it saw the introduction by William Radler of his famous Knockout rose, a rose that would go on to become the best selling rose of all time. Knockout is important because it is truly a disease resistant rose so it requires no spraying. This was the first rose, after a century of dealing with all those finicky hybrid tea roses that demonstrated to the public that finally it was possible to grow a rose without the use of chemicals.

However, the story really begins before Knockout.  In 1996, under the auspices of Dr. Steve George, from Texas A&M.  Texas A&M began their Earth-Kind trials in an effort to discover if there were any roses that could grow without chemical support. The idea that there could be some low maintenance roses was truly a revolutionary one. The initial five-year study included 468 specimens—including some hybrid teas—and followed several rules in an effort to judge sustainability: (1) roses received no water after the first year; (2) the soil was not amended; (3) no roses were fertilized; (4) no fungicides or pesticides were applied; and (5) no roses were pruned. All the roses receiving the Earth-Kind designation were own-root roses and this meant that they were growing on their own roots, they were not grafted.  They were able to tolerate blackspot, something that the hybrid teas are unable to do for the most part. At the end of the five-year period, eleven varieties, and you have to understand that in rosarian language, “cultivars” are referred to as “varieties”. Eleven varieties including Knockout had won the Earth-Kind label. No hybrid tea passed the test.

Today, there are Earth-Kind trials taking place throughout the country and researchers are giving new roses the Earth-Kind designation. One word of warning is necessary: Blackspot has different races, that is meaning strains. So if a rose might be impervious to one race it could easily succumb to another. Consequently, Nebraska Earth-Kind roses might not do well here in North Carolina.  Therefore, I advise that it’s better to look at the Texas A&M list.

The list of sustainable roses doesn’t stop with the Earth-Kind roses, although that is certainly a good place to begin your research. Griffith Buck was a professor of horticulture at Iowa State University who was intent upon hybridizing roses that could withstand the brutal Iowa winters. Buck introduced 85 rose varieties that grew beautifully on their own roots and could survive the cold Iowa winters. Fortunately for us, Griffith Buck was generous in handing out his roses to his many friends because Iowa State University ended their rose hybridizing research and plowed over his fields upon his retirement. Horrified, his friends amassed the ones he’d given them, giving the cataloging rights to the University of Minnesota. These roses, known as “Buck roses” are now widley available. Mary Buck, Griffith’s daughter, asked Pat Henry, the owner of Roses Unlimited, to test several cuttings from a rose her father had been working on before his death. This led to the introduction of “Quietness,” a highly esteemed Buck rose—try it, you might like it. Please realize that not all of the Buck roses will do well in our hot, humid summers. The best reference is to find those that bear the “good disease resistance” designation.

Founded in 1887, W. Kordes’ Söhne has produced not only some of the most beautiful roses but also some of the most disease resistant roses that are now on the market. Through their subsidiary, Kordes Roses International, Kordes roses are widely available in the US. The Kordes’ Söhne determined that their roses receive no sprays for a period of three years in eleven German test sites. In the 60 years of this program, only 144 varieties out of 1500 have received the ADR label—and Kordes has the most ADR roses.

Kordes recently introduced their Fairy line—I personally have had good luck with ‘Cinderella Fairy Tale’ and ‘Pomponella Fairy Tale’. These are delightful shrub roses with a good fragrance for many of them. Their Vigorosa line features a group of groundcover roses that are great for mass plantings. Their Veranda roses are floribundas that only grow between 2-3 feet high and are suitable for planters. They even offer some hybrid teas with the ADR designation, such as ‘Grande Amore’ and ‘Eliza’.

Along with the Earth-Kind and Kordes roses, there are the Pioneer Roses developed by Michael Shoup who owns the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. Texas is the home of the Rose Rustlers who are intent on rediscovering long forgotten roses that are still thriving on their abandoned home sites. The roses wearing the Pioneer designation are tough roses. All are shrub roses, some are relatively new, having been propagated by the Antique Rose Emporium.

Do not forget the species roses, such as lovely Lady Banks rose and the chestnut rose, R. roxburgii. Species roses only bloom once but many of them are lovely additions to the garden along with the rugosa roses that actually dislike all sprays. Every year there are more and more sustainable rose introductions hitting the market. One to keep your eye on is ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, a David Austin introduction that has shown terrific disease resistance. Because it is only offered as a grafted rose, my advice is to hold off until other nurseries have permission to propagate this one.

The last place to find sustainable roses is by looking around your neighborhood. Two years ago I was talking to my neighbor and suddenly noticed one of her roses. It turned out it was ‘Blossomtime’, designated to be a short climber. My neighbor never sprayed it—and it looked great. Consequently I bought it, it’s in my garden, I love ‘Blossomtime’, and I’ve never sprayed it once.

Lastly, there’s a great book on the subject: Roses Without Chemicals by Peter E. Kukielski who was the curator for the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden before running the New York Earth-Kind rose trials. One caveat: some of his nomenclature is a bit untidy.

So there are lots of sustainable roses out there and do investigate them because they are good for the environment and they are wonderful additions to your garden.

I’m Kit Flynn and happy rose gardening.


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