Rose Classification Simplified

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20180423L T.Kiya, WC.jpg

With over 300 species and nearly 20,000 cultivars of roses to choose from, it’s easy to understand why it’s helpful to categorize them according to their most obvious traits. Source: T.Kiya, Wikipedia Commons

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 point you in the right direction: just the right thing to bone up on before you head to the Rose Show!

Rose Classification

There is no single system of classification for garden roses. Pretty much every rose society has its own. In general, however, roses grown commercially these days are placed in one of the following categories:

1. WILD or SPECIES ROSES

20180423A Fosa glauca, Wouter Hagens, WC

If the rose’s name is written in italics, it’s probably a species rose, like this Rosa glauca. Source: T.Kiya, Wikimedia Commons

• 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)

2. OLD GARDEN ROSES or HERITAGE ROSES

20180423B Rosa Mundi Libby norman, WC.JPG

Old garden rose ‘Rosa Mundi’. Source: Libby norman, Wikimedia Commons

• 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:

A. Hybrid Tea Roses:

20180423C Rosa 'Peace', Arashiyama, WC.jpg

Hybrid tea rose ‘Peace’. Source: Arashiyama, Wikimedia Commons

• 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

B. Grandiflora Roses:

20180423D Rosa_'Queen_Elizabeth' Captain-tucker, WCJPG.JPG

Grandiflora rose ‘Queen_Elizabeth’ Source: Captain-tucker, Wikimedia Commons

• 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

C. Floribunda Roses:
20180423E iceberg_rose pxhere.com.jpeg

Floribunda rose ‘Iceberg’. Source: pxhere.co

• 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 teas (usually zone 7, sometimes zone 6)

D. Polyantha Roses:

20180423F Rosa_'The_Fairy'_Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, WC.jpg

Polyantha rose ‘The Fairy’. Source: rzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons

• 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)

E. Miniature Roses: 

20180423G Mandarin Sunblaze. www.starrosesandplants.com.jpg

Miniature rose Mandarin Sunblaze®. Source: http://www.starrosesandplants.com

• 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

4. SHRUB ROSES

(includes ground cover roses, landscape roses English roses [David Austin roses], etc.)

20180423I Henry Hudson eaglelakenurseries.com.jpg

Shrub rose ‘Henry Hudson’. Source: eaglelakenurseries.com

• various origins
• usually robust, informal habit creating a shrub effect
• single or repeat blooming
• variable height, usually more than 2 ft (60 cm)
• grown on their on own roots (not grafted)
• often offer good disease resistance
• excellent hardiness: up to zone 2 for some

5. CLIMBING ROSES

20180423J Blaze Improved www.jacksonandperkins.com

Climbing rose ‘Blaze Improved’. Source: http://www.jacksonandperkins.com

• 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.

6. TREE ROSES (ROSE STANDARDS)

20180423K Roses_trees, Наталия19, WC.JPG

Tree roses. Source: Наталия19, Wikimedia Commons

• grafted onto on upright canes
• most are bush roses
• generally very tender (zone 7 or 8)
• often need to be buried in trenches for better winter survival in cold climates
• some are non-grafted, produced by selective pruning of shrub roses, and these are sometimes quite hardy (zone 5 or even 4)


There you go: the basic rose classifications you need to know. Good growing!20180423L T.Kiya, WC

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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A Rose Hedge? Why Not!

octobre 21If you have no major problems with the roses in your area, such as rose chafers and Japanese beetles, roses make just as good a hedge than any other shrub. They even have the advantage, thanks to their spines, of making an excellent defensive hedge that neither thieves nor most animals would dare try to to cross. On the down side, they can only really be used as an informal hedge (a hedge that is not pruned into a geometric shape and is allowed to grow more or less naturally). If you pruned a rose bush into a typical rectangular hedge shape, you’d end up removing most of the flower buds!

Obviously you need to use a rose that is dense enough to make a good hedge and one that is highly disease resistant. Personally, I prefer modern roses as a hedge as they rebloom, but many of the old roses do make nice hedge plants if their brief blooming season isn’t a problem for you.

In cold climates, you’ll need to choose extra hardy roses, such as rugosa roses or those from the different Canadian series (Parkland roses, Explorer roses, Canadian Artist roses, etc.). Many German roses, especially the kordesii types, are also very hardy and make good hedges. English roses (David Austin hybrids) are moderately hardy (zones 5 or 6 and above) and many make excellent hedges.

All the varieties mentioned so far are considered “shrub roses” and indeed, they do tend to make the best hedges. Many of the bush roses (hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, etc.) lack the dense growth habit a hedge rose needs, plus their limited hardiness (they tend to suffer severely in zones colder than zone 7 unless you cover them for the winter) is a problem for many gardeners. Polyantha roses are an exception. They’re considered bush roses and yet many of them, like ‘Cecile Brunner’ and ‘The Fairy’ make excellent hedges and are very hardy.

Among the other roses that do not usually make good hedges are ground cover roses (too low) and climbing roses (too arched and too bare at the base). Some of the taller landscape roses will however make a very acceptable low hedge.

So, think it over: many a rose hedge is just what you were looking for!