How to Grow and Care for Rugosa Roses

rugosa roses

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

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

Although beautiful and rugged, 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.

Botanical Name Rosa rugosa
Common Name Rugosa rose
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size 4 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Soil pH 5.6 to 6.5
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color Pink, red, lavender, white
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Area Eastern Russia, Korea, Japan, northern China
rugosa roses
The Spruce / Autumn Wood
close up of rugosa roses
Masao Akiyama / Getty Images

How to Grow Rugosa Roses

Rugosas are known as rugged roses because they can be virtually maintenance-free. They can handle less-than-ideal growing conditions, including light shade, salt air, frigid temperatures, drought, and high humidity. The Latin name rugosa means "wrinkled" and refers specifically to the crinkled, serrated leaves with pronounced veins. Rugosa rose leaves occur in leaflets of five to seven leaves. Species plants often had single flowers (a circle of petals with a center disk), but double flowers have been hybridized and tend to be only about 2 to 3 inches wide. Many have a slight to strong clove fragrance.

If you have a large cottage border, a rugosa rose will make a nice back-of-the-border plant or focal point. Note that 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 areas and walkways. The canes will bend when heavy with flowers and the thorns will reach out and grab you.

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.

Light

As with most roses, rugosas will need a spot in full sun to partial shade. You will get the most blooms in full sun.

Soil

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

Water

Rugosa roses establish best if they are planted in the spring and kept well watered through their first growing season. They also prefer an area where there is little competition from weeds and nearby plants.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants are very hardy and can survive a variety of temperatures. They do not need humidity to thrive.

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 fare better if they are watered well before feeding.

Varieties of Rugosa Rose

  • 'F.J. Grootendorst': produces clusters of cranberry-red flowers
  • 'Hansa': grow as double, fragrant lavender-pink flowers and orange hips
  • 'Henry Hudson: a relatively small variety with white flowers
  • 'Sandy: an eco-friendly choice, since it was developed specifically for sand dune stabilization

Pruning

How much to prune rugosa roses depends on how large you want them to be. You can prune a plant almost to 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 to 10 inches from the tips in spring. As with all roses, don’t prune if a frost is anticipated within six weeks, to prevent 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.

Common Pests and Diseases

Rugosa requires less maintenance than many other rose species, but it is susceptible to common rose diseases, like black spot and stem canker. Black spot fungus infects the roses when the leaf surface is wet. Pruning the surrounding vegetation to improve air circulation in the garden helps to keep the rose leaves dry. Rugosa is not immune to attacks from Japanese beetles, aphids, and borers. The aphids and borers are more of an annoyance and won't kill the rose plant.

To treat the roses, rinse the plant with the garden hose and then apply insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Japanese beetles can cause damage and should be removed when spotted. Use an insecticide like Neem Oil to kill the beetles and prevent them from laying their eggs.