Rose Classification for Dummies

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Confused about rose classification? Is that rose a hybrid tea or a floribunda? Or perhaps an old garden rose? If you’re lost, here are a few quick and easy pointers to lead you in the right direction: just the right thing to bone up on before you head to the Rose Show!

Rose Categories

There is no single system of classification for garden roses. In general, however, roses are placed in one of the following categories:

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Rosa glauca

1. WILD ROSES
• grow spontaneously in the wild
• single flowers, scented or not
• bloom once a year
• fruits (rose hips) often ornamental
• bear species names (Rosa blanda, Rosa glauca, etc.)
• variable hardiness (1 to 10, depending on the species)

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Old garden rose ‘Rosa Mundi’

2. OLD GARDEN ROSES or HERITAGE ROSES
• date from before 1867 (1920 according to some definitions)
• generally small to medium-size flowers, often double
• often very fragrant
• most bloom only once a year
• many subcategories: gallica roses, damask roses, moss roses, etc.
• variable hardiness (4-9, depending on cultivar)

3. BUSH ROSES
Repeat-flowering roses, most developed after 1920. They were, through the 20th century, the most popular garden roses, but are now being replaced by the easier-to-grow shrub roses (see below). There are several categories:

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Hybrid tea ‘Peace’: note the high center.

A. Hybrid Tea:
• large, double, reblooming flowers with high-centered buds
• one flower per stem, rarely more
• stiffly upright habit with sparse foliage, making a fairly unattractive plant
• height: usually 3-5 ft (1 to 1.5 m)
• usually grafted
• not very hardy (zone 8); winter protection needed in most climates

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Grandiflora ‘Queen Elizabeth’

B. Grandiflora:
• essentially a hybrid tea with 3-5 flowers per stem
• all other characteristics like hybrid tea
• not very hardy (zone 8); winter protection needed in most climates

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Floribunda ‘Iceberg’

C. Floribunda:
• smaller flowers, single or double, carried in large sprays (5 and above)
• stiff habit, but smaller, bushier and more attractive than hybrid tea
• height: around 3 feet (90 cm)
• usually grafted
• usually hardier than hybrid tea (usually zone 7, sometimes zone 6)

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Polyantha ‘The Fairy’

D. Polyantha:
• significantly smaller flowers, borne in dense clusters
• abundant bloom most of the gardening season
• attractive habit, often spreading
• height: 30-60 cm
• usually grafted
• often fairly hardy (zones 4, 5 or 6)

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Miniature roses

E. Miniature:
• small flowers, individual or clustered
• most rebloom
• height: usually between 6 and 24 inches (15-60 cm)
• grown on their own roots (not grafted)
• often fairly hardy (zone 4 or 5)
• can be used as houseplants if given a period of cold dormancy

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Shrub rose ‘Félix Leclerc’

4. SHRUB ROSES*
• various origins
• usually robust, informal habit creating a shrub effect
• single or repeat blooming
• variable height, usually more than 3 ft (1 m)
• grown on their on roots (not grafted)
• excellent hardiness: up to zone 2 for some

*This group includes, according to most definitions, English roses (David Austin roses), landscape roses, etc.
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Climbing rose ‘Blaze’

5. CLIMBING ROSES
• long flexible canes from 8 to 20 feet (2.5 to 6 m) in length
• can be trained and tied to arbors, trellises and pergolas
• all other characteristics are highly variable; flower size, abundance, appearance, rebloom, hardiness, etc.

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Hardy tree rose ‘Polar Joy’: zone 4

6. TREE ROSES (ROSE STANDARDS)
• grafted onto on upright canes
• most are bush roses
• generally very tender (zone 7 or 8)
• often buried in trenches for better winter survival
• some are non-grafted, produced by selective pruning of shrub roses, and can be quite hardy (zone 5 or even 4)

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