Guilt-Free Container Roses
Disease-resistant varieties let you grow glorious roses in pots—without the chemicals
As summer starts, you may be surveying your deck, your patio, or even your garden borders with an eye toward adding some potted plants for a splash of color. This time around, consider walking past the usual annuals and perennials at the nursery and heading for the rose section instead. Many of the newest varieties are the opposite of the fussy, disease-prone older tea roses and once-blooming, space-eating shrubs of years past. Some call them "millennial" roses, after the groundbreaking Knock Out, a compact shrub rose introduced in 2000 that pumped out rich red flowers all season with minimal care. These recent introductions, such as the Drift, Flower Carpet, Easy Elegance, Veranda, Sunblaze, Vigorosa, and Oso Easy series—as well as some David Austin and heirloom roses, such as the wild rugosas—have proved their power to flower without chemical fungicides. These roses bloom like crazy, resist black-spot disease, and have a compact or spreading habit that makes them ideal for filling pots. Click through for easy-care, container-friendly choices, expert care tips, and great ideas for mixed plantings where roses are the stars.
Shown: With containers and the right varieties, such as the Apricot Drift shown here, you can have beautiful, healthy roses just about anywhere there's full sun and a nearby hose.
Here's how Michael Marriott, technical director of , keeps them healthy.
Planting: Potting soil is fine, but for best results mix equal parts soilless potting mix and good-quality garden soil. This combination promotes root growth, holds moisture, and adds microbes that foster the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Watering: Plentiful water is essential for roses. Water deeply by hand or install a drip irrigation system to ensure that the root ball is thoroughly moistened; in warmer climates that means once a day. Wondering whether to water? Lift the container; if it's light, grab the hose.
Feeding: Purchased planting media usually have sufficient nutrients to feed roses for around six weeks. After that, you'll need to feed with a slow-release all-purpose granular fertilizer (such as Osmocote) that lasts all season.
Sun: Position containers in full sun for at least 6 hours each day. Where excessive heat is an issue, be sure the site receives some afternoon shade.
Long Term: Prune in spring, and deadhead throughout the season. Repot with fresh soil every two to three years, sooner if blooming notably decreases. In areas with harsh winters, protect roses and ceramic or terra-cotta planters from freezing temperatures by moving them to a shed or an unheated garage until spring.
Here are a few of the many easy-care shrub and groundcover roses that thrive in containers.
Shown: 'Lady of Shalott' has peach-orange blooms with a warm tea-rose fragrance; .
Sunbeam, a bright-yellow rose from the Veranda series, fits with tidy plants, such as this salvia and creeping thyme; .
Flower Carpet Yellow rose pairs with sweet potato vine and 'Celebration Apricot' calibrachoa; .
Flower Carpet Appleblossom is a groundcover that can produce over 3,000 flowers in a season; .
'Anne Boleyn' is exceptionally free-flowering, with large sprays of pink flowers; .
'Ducher' (doo-shay), bred in 1869, is a compact, rounded shrub rose that has proven its tough, disease-resistant nature for more than a century. Rare among China roses for its pure-white double blooms, which come on in near constant supply over a long season. Perfumed with a fruity fragrance. Tolerates heat, sun, and various soil conditions. Good choice for a larger container. Full sun. Grows up to 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. Zones 7-9
Buy it: 2-gallon pot, about $20;
An award-winning series that comes in several colors, Vigorosa roses are hardy, floriferous, repeat-blooming groundcover roses that grow in a natural, graceful arching habit. Innocencia sports clusters of sweetly fragrant, pure-white semi-double flowers on a bushy and spreading shrub. Its compact habit makes it ideal for a mixed planter. Full sun or afternoon shade. Grows up to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Zones 5-9
Buy it: 1-gallon pot, about $10;
A cross between full-size groundcover roses and miniature roses, the Drift series is bred to provide the resilience, disease resistance, and frequent flowering of larger landscape roses, such as Knock Out, on much lower-growing bushes, perfect for containers. Has exhibited resistance to black-spot disease even in the humid Deep South, and flowers freely in extreme summer heat. Full sun. Grows up to 1½ feet high and 2½ feet wide. Zones 4-11
Buy it: 1-gallon pot; about $10;
One of the Texas Pioneer Series, a group of repeat-blooming modern roses that were bred to have the tough traits of antique roses. 'Republic of Texas' is a mix of 'The Fairy,' which is pink; R. wichuriana, a rambling, single white species; and a buttercup-yellow shrub rose called Baby Love. It produces clusters of soft-yellow double flowers. Mildly fragrant, this one's an excellent choice for hanging baskets. Full sun. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide. Zones 5-9
Buy it: 2-gallon pot, about $20;
If you have a large container and want a "wow," easy-care rose to overflow and cascade, this is one to consider. Large clusters of slightly fragrant, very double, and very full deep-pink blooms resembling peonies appear in profusion from late spring through summer. Reported to perform very well even in wet climates. Full sun. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide (can grow much larger in warmest zones). Zones 5-9
Buy it: Bare-root, about $21;
While most roses can be grown in a container, the more naturally compact the variety, the better the success rate, according to rosarian Tom Carruth. Good candidates include small shrubs, compact floribundas (a cross between long-stem hybrid tea roses and shrubbier polyantha species), ground-cover roses, miniature roses, and 18-inch-tall standards, or tree roses.
When in doubt, says Carruth, opt for a deeper, wider container, which can help prevent the growing medium from drying out too quickly, a condition that roses hate.
Roses, even repeat-blooming types, flower in flushes throughout the season. To keep the show going, mix them with flowering perennials and annuals or foliage plants that will strut their stuff when roses are resting. Select a large container (at least 24 inches wide and deep) to ensure room for the rose's deep roots; avoid overcrowding by paying attention to each companion plant's habit and mature size. As roses flower best in full sun and rich soil with plenty of water, any partners should have similar requirements. Here, four container "recipes" to inspire you.
This pink and blue combo blooms nearly nonstop from late spring to early fall.
A: Larissa rose
Long-stemmed rosy-pink clusters on a small bushy shrub. Grows up to 4 feet high and wide. Zones 6-9.
1-gallon pot, about $17;
B: 'Little Trudy' catmint
Compact version of the classic border plant. Grows up to 1 foot high and 16 inches wide. Zones 3-8.
3½-inch pot, about $12;
C: 'Rozanne' geranium
Large violet-blue flowers with white centers that bloom until frost. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide. Zones 5-8.
3-inch pot, about $16;
Consider white and silver that glow by the light of the stars.
A: Icecap rose
New in 2015. Pure white blossoms in dense masses on a compact shrub. Grows up to 4 feet high and wide. Zones 5-9.
Bare-root, about $22;
B: 'Hameln' fountain grass
A dwarf clump that sends up arching deep-green leaves with a pinkish-white bloom. Grows up to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. Zones 4-11.
¾-gallon pot, about $18;
C: Dusty miller
Grown from seed in a mound of silvery-white, felt-like foliage. Grows up to 18 inches high and 1 foot wide. Zones 7-10 (annual elsewhere).
100-seed packet, about $4;
Create a showstopping display of contrasting bold color.
A: Coral Drift rose
Groundcover with bright coral-orange flowers that bloom in profusion from spring through frost. Grows up to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Zones 4-10.
1-gallon pot, about $26;
B: 'Chameleon' spurge
Burgundy-purple leaves with yellow-tinged purple flowers. Grows up to 18 inches high and 1 foot wide. Zones 5-9.
4-inch pot, about $10;
C: 'Marine' heliotrope
Clusters of fragrant purple flowers throughout the summer. Grows up to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Zones 9-10 (annual elsewhere).
3-inch pot, about $7;
Blend edibles with the famed chef's namesake floribunda shrub.
A: Julia Child rose
Large butter-yellow flowers with a distinct licorice fragrance on a short, bushy shrub. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide. Zones 4-9.
Bare-root, about $20;
B: Bronze fennel
A colorful, nonbulbing version of standard fennel. Grows up to 6 feet high and 2 feet wide. Zones 4-9.
3-inch pot, about $6;
C: Alpine strawberry
Continuous harvests of tiny, supersweet berries from the first season. Grows up to 1 foot high and wide. Zones 5-9.
3½-inch pot, about $6;