Growing and Caring for Rugosa Roses

Rugusa Rose "Therese Bugnet"
© Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description of Rugosa Roses

One of the easiest classes of roses to grow is the rugosa rose. Rugosas are low maintenance, with great cold tolerance and pest resistance. Rugosa roses are tall, shrubby, sprawling, multi-branched, plants that need room to spread out. Many are fragrant, produce colorful ‘hips’ and have vicious thorns. Be sure to plant them where you won’t be backing into them and use extreme caution moving a large rugosa rose.

Rugosa roses are starting to become naturalized in non-native areas and could potentially become a nuisance or even invasive. Check with your local Department of Environmental Conservation, before adding rugosa roses to your landscape.

Leaves: The Latin name Rugosa means ‘wrinkled’ and refers specifically to the crinkled, serrated leaves with pronounced veins. Rugosa rose leaves occur in leaflets of 5 to 7 leaves.

Flowers: Rugosa rose flowers were often single (a circle of petals with a center disk), but double flowers have been hybridized. They tend to be only about 2-3 inches wide. Colors include pink, red, lavender and white. Many have a slight to strong clove fragrance.

Botanical Name

Rosa rugosa

Common Name

Rugosa Rose

Cold Hardiness

Hardiness will vary with variety, especially among newer hybrids, but in general Rugosas will grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9.

Sun Exposure

Full sun to Partial Shade.

You will get more blooms in full sun.

Mature Size

Rugosa roses are large, sprawling plants. They will easily reach 4-8 ft. (h) x 4-6 ft. (w). You can prune them, to keep them in check, but because of the thorns, they are not pleasant to work with.

Bloom Period

Rugosa roses bloom in late spring to early summer.

Many varieties will repeat bloom, but the initial flush of bloom in late spring will be the strongest.

Suggested Varieties of Rugosa Roses

  • 'F.J. Grootendorst' - Clusters of cranberry red flowers.
  • 'Hansa' - Double, fragrant lavender-pink flowers and orange hips.
  • 'Henry Hudson' - Smaller growing with white flowers.
  • 'Sandy' - Developed specifically for sand dune stabilization.
  • 'Terese Bugnet' - Reliable old variety with deep red stems for winter color.

Design Suggestions

If you have a large cottage border, a Rugosa rose will make a nice back of the border plant or focal point. But Rugosa roses will engulf a small garden. A better bet would be to plant a single rose where it can lean against a structure, like a split rail fence. Use caution planting near entry and walk ways. The canes will bend when heavy with flowers and the thorns will reach out and grab you.

Rugosa Rose Growing Tips

They are known as rugged roses because they can be virtually maintenance free. Rugosas can handle light shade, salt air, frigid temperatures, drought and high humidity.

Soil: Rugosa roses prefer a rich, well-draining soil with slight acidity of around 5.6 to 6.5 soil pH. However rugosa roses are very forgiving and can tolerate poor soil, clay and all kinds of abuse.

Planting: Rugosas roses establish best when there is little competition from weeds and nearby plants. They adapt best if planted in the spring and are kept well watered.

Caring for Your Rugosa Rose

Fertilizer: Unless your soil is very poor, your rugosa rose shouldn't need a lot of supplemental feeding. A slow release, complete fertilizer in the spring should suffice. Some varieties have a sensitivity to chemical fertilizers and seem to fair better if they are watered well before feeding.

Pruning: How much to prune rugosa roses depends on how large you want them to be. You can prune them to almost ground level in the spring, if you want to keep it small, or you can do minimal pruning of old wood and suckers, if you want a large, natural looking bush. To encourage new growth and keep the plant full, it helps to prune at least 3 – 10 inches from the tips in spring.

As with all roses, don’t prune if a frost is anticipated within 6 weeks, to avoid winter dieback.

If you don’t deadhead the flowers, you will get wonderful rose hips in the fall that will persist through winter. The rose hips are similar to their cousins, the crab apple. They are high in vitamin C and can be used for teas, jams and jellies.

Some varieties will send out suckers that run and spread. Removing the suckers early will keep the shrub from becoming a nuisance.

Pests & Problems of Rugosa Roses

Rugosa is lower maintenance, but it is a rose and it can be susceptible to the usual diseases, like black spot and stem canker, and it is not immune to attacks from Japanese beetles, aphids, and borers.