The rugosa rose shrub (Rosa rugosa) is a hardy rose with beautiful, fragrant flowers. The blooms generally have five petals, though there are semi-double and double bloom varieties. The shrubs grow in a rounded form with dark green foliage on thorny canes, and they are roughly as tall as they are wide.
They tend to spread via suckers and can create a dense thicket. They’re considered invasive in some areas due to their ability to spread, so be sure to check your local regulations about planting. They have a fairly quick growth rate and can be planted in the fall or spring.
|Common Name||Rugosa rose|
|Botanical Name||Rosa rugosa|
|Plant Type||Perennial, shrub, rose|
|Mature Size||4–6 ft. tall, 4–6 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Pink, red, lavender, white|
|Hardiness Zones||2a–7a (USDA)|
Rugosa Rose Care
Rugosas are known as rugged roses because they can be virtually maintenance-free. They handle less-than-ideal growing conditions, including light shade, salt air, frigid temperatures, drought, and high humidity.
Use caution when planting them near entry areas and walkways. The thorny canes, which you don't want in your path, will often bend when heavy with flowers. One of your primary maintenance tasks with this plant will be to remove unwanted suckers that sprout around the base and pruning the shrub as needed to maintain a neat shape.
Due to their ability to readily spread even in sub-optimal growing conditions, rugosa roses are considered an invasive species in certain parts of the U.S. This includes Alaska and some states in the Northeast.
As with most roses, rugosas prefer a spot in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Too much shade will generally result in fewer blooms.
Rugosa roses like rich, loamy soil with sharp drainage and a slightly acidic soil pH. However, the shrubs are typically quite forgiving and can tolerate somewhat poor soil, including gravelly, sandy, and clay soils.
Aim to keep the soil moist but not soggy for young plants. Established shrubs can tolerate some drought, though they still prefer moist soil. Avoid overhead watering, as this can promote fungal growth on the leaves. Likewise, try to water in the morning, so any wet foliage has time to dry in the sunlight. Adding a layer of mulch is also ideal to help retain soil moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants are very hardy and can survive a wide range of temperatures, including those well below freezing. Humidity also typically isn't a factor as long as there's good air circulation around the plants.
Unless your soil is very poor, your rugosa roses shouldn't need a lot of supplemental feeding. A slow-release flowering shrub fertilizer applied in the spring should suffice. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.
Types of Rugosa Roses
Several cultivars of rugosa roses vary in appearance, including:
- 'F.J. Grootendorst': Produces clusters of cranberry-red flowers
- 'Hansa': Grows fragrant lavender-pink double blooms and orange hips
- 'Henry Hudson': A relatively small variety with white flowers
- 'Sandy': Developed specifically for sand dune stabilization
- 'Albiglora': Disease-resistant with white flowers with large scarlet hips and yellow fall foliage color
- 'Atropurpurea': Gold to orange flowers with orange-red hips
The best time to prune is in the late winter to early spring. However, you should promptly remove any damaged or diseased stems as they appear. How much to prune depends on how large you want your shrub to be. You can prune a plant to around a foot from ground level 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 three to 10 inches from the tips.
Propagating Rugosa Roses
The easiest way to propagate a rugosa rose for a hedge is simply to let the suckers grow. But you also can move these suckers to a different location. Not only does this get you a new plant, but it also helps to prevent overgrowth around the parent plant. The best time to do this is in the late spring when the suckers are actively growing. Here’s how:
- Use a trowel to gently dig up a healthy sucker, leaving its roots as intact as possible.
- Loosen the soil several inches down in your desired planting location.
- Plant the sucker in that location at the same depth it was previously growing.
- Water well to moisten the soil and keep it watered until you see new growth.
How to Grow Rugosa Roses From Seed
Rugosa roses are typically grown from nursery plants. You can grow them from seed; however, seeds from cultivars do not produce a plant true to type. Germination can be unpredictable and you’ll have to wait longer for your shrub to be fully flowering. Look for seeds that have already gone through the stratification process—a cold treatment that mimics winter conditions.
To plant in the early spring, fill a tray with moist seed-starting mix, and press your seeds about 1/2 inch deep into the soil. Keep the soil temperature at around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the tray in bright, indirect light, and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Germination should begin in a few weeks. Harden off the seedlings before planting them outside.
Potting and Repotting
Rugosa rose is a shrub rose with a vigorous, suckering growth habit, which does not make it a good choice for container growing. Miniature, patio, and polyantha roses are best for growing in pots.
A layer of mulch around the base of your shrub will help to insulate its roots over the winter. Because these shrubs have excellent cold tolerance, they don’t require any special overwintering maintenance.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
While rugosa roses generally have very good pest and disease resistance, they still are susceptible to many of the same issues that other rose species face. Common pests include aphids, scale, rose midges, and leafhoppers. Some infestations can be treated with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Common diseases include black spot and powdery mildew. Keeping foliage dry and increasing air circulation will help to prevent disease.
How to Get Rugosa Roses to Bloom
Rugosa roses generally bloom in the late spring to early summer. You might also get a repeat bloom later in the season. The flowers stretch around three to six inches across and feature a fragrant floral, musky scent. If you want to encourage reblooming, you can deadhead (or remove) the spent flowers. After flowering, the rose hips appear, which many gardeners leave on the plant for fall and winter interest.
Common Problems With Rugosa Roses
Rugosa roses are typically trouble-free when grown in suitable conditions but heat stress, drought, or overwatering can lead to problems.
Leaves Turning Yellow
If it’s fall, yellow foliage on your rugosa rose might simply be the leaves taking on their natural seasonal color. However, yellow leaves also can be a sign of heat stress, improper watering, or improper soil drainage. Make sure the soil is neither too dry nor too waterlogged.
Leaves drooping or even falling off can often be a sign of lack of moisture. While rugosa roses can tolerate some drought, they do prefer moist soil. And young shrubs especially need consistent watering as their root systems are still developing.
How long can rugosa roses live?
Rugosa roses are perennial, meaning they come back each year. And thanks to their hardiness, they can live for many years. Mature plants ultimately will get woody and not produce as many flowers. But you can help to prevent this by pruning out old wood annually.
Where should I place a rugosa rose outside my house?
Rugosa roses can make for an excellent specimen plant in the landscape. But they also can turn into a good screen thanks to their dense foliage. Just be sure your planting site allows for some room on all sides of the shrub, so you can navigate around it without having to contact the thorns.
What plants are similar to rugosa roses?
Many rose species are similar to rugosa roses, including the Carolina rose. It's also a low-maintenance species, though it's not as cold tolerant as the rugosa rose.
Seaside rose. Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States.
Rugosa Rose. Washington State University