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Don Kinzler, Published June 28 2013

Growing Together: Get to know your roses

Singer Lynn Anderson never promised you a rose garden, but I will. Anderson obviously didn’t have access to the right plant material.

The world of roses can be a bit intimidating, but let’s sort it out together. I’m asking forgiveness from rose aficionados who enjoy the fine points of classifying a rose as hybrid tea, floribunda, multiflora, grandiflora, polyantha, rugosa, kordsii, etc. For a practical growing guide, let’s divide roses into two groups: hybrid tea roses and shrub roses.

Hybrid tea roses produce classic blooms of florist-type perfection usually born singly on strong stems. There are thousands of named cultivars (the horticultural term meaning cultivated variety), many of which have fragrances that are indescribably delicious.

Unfortunately, hybrid tea roses require winter covering in northern climates. They are fairly high-maintenance, and as a result have fallen out of favor with some. They respond in direct proportion to the amount of care given. Locate in a sunny but sheltered spot where you can enjoy them up close and personal. If you have observed the blooms of ‘Peace’ rose or the fragrance of ‘Perfume Delight,’ you understand why I believe hybrid tea roses deserve a spot among our plantings.

Shrub roses are our second broad group. Flowers often are born in clusters. Each individual flower is usually a bit smaller and more open than the classic hybrid tea bloom. This varies with cultivar. Some rival perfection. If shrub roses lack anything in perfect bloom shape, they easily compensate with a landscape shrub covered in colorful clusters.

Here’s a special word of caution. I have observed signs at several garden centers advertising “Hardy Shrub Roses.” But not all shrub roses are automatically hardy for our area. Because they vary in hardiness, some shrub roses require winter protective covering. I discovered this firsthand more than once as the “hardy” shrub roses I bought became dead skeletons the following spring.

How do we tell which shrub roses are truly hardy? Monday, a tour of a rose test garden is being conducted by Randy Nelson, University of Minnesota Extension, Clay County, and Todd Weinmann, North Dakota State University Extension, Cass County. The rose test garden is located at Centennial Park, 2210 15th Ave. N., Moorhead.

The tour will begin at 10 a.m. and last until noon, and we all are invited. After the Moorhead program, the group can proceed to a second test site at Oak Tree Park, Dilworth.

Randy Nelson describes the test garden as part of a trademarked program called EarthKind Management System, developed by Texas Extension Service. The management system tests 20 rose cultivars using no insecticides, no fungicides, no irrigation, no winter covering and no fertilizer other than compost. The only pruning involves spring removal of winter rabbit injury or top dieback.

If shrub roses can survive all these “nos,” I certainly would place them in both the hardy and the low-maintenance category.

I pressed Randy Nelson for an inside scoop. I wanted to know which of the 20 cultivars have performed best. Obviously a good researcher, he said the results weren’t yet available for publication, but tour attendees will have a first-hand look.

Being on the persistent side, I visited the test garden early. The surroundings are a bit unassuming, but the roses will be well worth the Monday tour.

I will name some names, but you need to see for yourself. I especially was drawn to the blooms of Quadra (dark red). Lynnie (deep pink), Frontenac (pink), Morden Blush (light pink), George Vancouver (red), Champlain (red), John Cabot (Pink), William Baffin (rose pink), J.P. Connell (yellow/white) and Northern Accent Ole (light pink).

Having worked with university-based research in the past, I realize that tests and trials are great, but a quick way to irritate gardeners is to get us excited about an item only to find you can’t buy it anywhere.

Happily, I located many of these varieties at area garden centers, plus many additional well-adapted cultivars. I found the largest selection at Sheyenne Gardens in Harwood, N.D. They provided a well-organized hand-out describing more than 50 cultivars indicating color and height, with important notes on hardiness and key features.

At this date, not all kinds are available, but selection still is fine. I purchased “Hope For Humanity,” a rich red shrub rose originating from the Morden, Manitoba Experiment Station.

In a final comparison, I don’t consider hybrid tea roses and hardy shrub roses to be opponents. I’ll plant the former for fragrance, perfect flower form, and for the challenge of succeeding. And I want shrub roses for their low-maintenance landscape beauty.

This autumn as we’re “Growing Together,” we’ll discuss winter protection. But for now, let’s stop and smell a few roses.