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Grow Beautiful, Healthy Roses in Minnesota

Gail Maifeld, Dakota County Master Gardener

The rose is one of the most cultivated and popular flowers in the world. Myths and poems are attached to roses which have been popular for centuries. They are prized for their colors, beautiful scents, and size of blooms, from miniature to large. But as any rose grower knows, roses also have a history of being hard to care for and, of course, all forms have thorns. But developments in rose breeding have minimized many of problems associated with growing roses and maximized their attractive qualities. This article will explain how to grow beautiful roses successfully in Minnesota.

Grow Beautiful, Healthy Roses in Minnesota

Roses have had a reputation as high maintenance and difficult to grow in Minnesota. Historically, this has been true of the beautiful “hybrid tea” varieties. Remember the “Minnesota tip?”  Hybrid garden roses are still grown in Minnesota and are more susceptible to Minnesota winters.  However, over the years, rose breeders have come up with hardy roses for northern climates. “Hardy” roses grow in USDA Zones 3 or 4, need no covering through the winter, are disease resistant, require minimal pest and disease control and bloom profusely. Hardy shrub roses have been developed to meet these criteria.

The shrub rose of today is a sturdy, minimal care plant.  Shrub roses have excellent disease resistance and are low maintenance with reblooming flowers all summer.  But to receive the most from a rose, plant it in full sun (6-8 hours) with moist, well-drained soil.  Roses should be planted after the last spring frost or in the fall, six weeks before frost.  Prepare a hole wide enough for the roots.  Roses don’t like to be crowded so plant 3 feet apart to allow for growth.  A general fertilizer or specialty rose fertilizer can be used.  Fertilize in the spring to encourage new growth.  Stop fertilizing in late July so the rose will begin to harden off.  This prepares the plant for the winter cold. 

Some roses can be grown in containers.  Create a hole in the pot twice as wide as the roots, spread the roots and fill pot with soil.  Make sure to water thoroughly.  

Some roses tolerate some shade, but no rose will bloom in full shade.  Shade will also make the rose more susceptible to pests and disease such as black spot, powdery mildew, and downy mildew.  There are remedies for these problems, and some varieties are genetically resistant to mildew.  

Common pests that affect roses are Japanese Beetles, aphids, and spider mites. A garden center will have products to remedy these pests but read the product label for use.  Also, read the label on the rose bush when purchasing, for information about their resistance to the above diseases and where the rose plant will grow the best.  Research the American Rose Society’s lists for which roses grow in your location.

Unfortunately, deer are also rose fans. They like to munch on rose bushes despite the thorns. A fenced barrier may be the only effective deterrent.  

Gardeners love fragrant roses.  Fragrant rose petals are often used to make perfumes.  Unfortunately, with a focus on disease resistance, hardiness, ease of planting and other growing characteristics, breeding roses for fragrance took a back seat.  Not anymore!   Easy Elegance “Yellow Brick” has a beautiful aroma and Knock Out rose has a faint floral smell.  Plant these varieties along a deck or walkway to enjoy the fragrance.  

These are some of the breeds of roses that are successfully grown in the north:

  • Knock-Out-Rose - This rose comes in a variety of colors, reblooms all summer and doesn’t require dead heading. This said, your rose garden will look tidy if some dead heading is done. This rose is a medium size shrub so will fit in a border or around annuals and other perennials.

  • Drift Rose - This is a recent variety of shrub rose.  Bushes have tiny flowers and are a good ground cover.  Easy to incorporate in a border or on a hill.

  • Easy Elegance Rose - This rose is known for its fragrance and easy-care qualities.  They are bred to be disease resistance and tolerate windy conditions.  Given a sunny spot in a garden this rose will thrive and reward the gardener with a wonderful fragrance.

Cuthbert Grant Shrub Rose

Several years ago, the University of Minnesota introduced the Northern Accents series which includes ‘Ole,’ ‘Sven’ and ‘Lena.’ These are “ever-blooming” shrub roses that tolerate Minnesota winters well. 

The University Minnesota Extension continues to be part of the ongoing “American Rose Trials for Sustainability.”  This project’s goal was to identify roses that had a scent while grown under minimal care conditions and to produce roses that would survive without pesticides, fertilizer, and winter with only mulch and snow covers. Roses that would not need to be tipped, buried or use a Styrofoam cap. Information gained in these trials informs the work of rose breeders. 

A rose is an attractive companion to borders of evergreens, perennial beds of baby’s breath and annuals like verbena.  Plant one of the above varieties to enjoy all the favorable qualities of a rose bush.  For inspiration in choosing roses for your garden or just to enjoy their beauty, visit the two rose gardens at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. These gardens display 400 varieties of hybrid garden roses and hardy shrub roses.


University of Minnesota Extension,

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,

Minnesota State Horticultural Society;

Photo Credit: (All Creative Commons) (1), Gail Maifeld (2,3)

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