How to Grow Dog Roses

Dog rose with fuchsia flowers

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

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Dog roses (Rosa canina) are a hardy wild rose species. This deciduous shrub produces many arching stems that are covered in small thorns. The toothed leaves are a medium green color. Five-petal, sweetly fragrant flowers appear in the late spring, stretching around 2 inches across. The blooms are typically a light pink color, but they also can be a deep pink as well as white. Small, oval, glossy, red-orange fruits (or rose hips) follow the flowers. Besides providing visual interest for several months, these hips are particularly attractive to wildlife. 

This rose species is a good climber and will readily grow up a support structure. It also does well as a free-growing hedge to create a living privacy screen. And it can add plenty of visual interest as a solitary specimen. It has a fast growth rate and a long lifespan. In fact, because it grows so readily it is considered invasive in some areas, so check your local regulations before planting. A dog rose shrub can be planted in the fall or spring.

Botanical Name Rosa canina
Common Names Dog rose, dog berry, witches’ briar
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size  3–15 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure  Full, partial
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time  Spring, summer
Flower Color  Pink, white
Hardiness Zones  4–9 (USDA)
Native Area  Europe, Africa, Asia
Dog rose with fuchsia flowers closeup

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Dog rose flower facing sun with rosehips under leaves

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Dog rose bush with rosehips in sun

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Dog rose rosehip with leaves closeup

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Dog Rose Care

When planting your dog rose shrub, first loosen the soil to help its deep roots take hold. Also, mix some compost into the soil to improve drainage and to give the shrub a boost of nutrients. If you are planting multiple shrubs, space them roughly 6 to 15 feet apart. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around your shrubs, which will help to conserve soil moisture and to keep weeds down. 

This species is one of the easiest roses to care for, and its upkeep is relatively straightforward. Plan to water regularly. Pruning and feeding are generally annual tasks.

Light

Dog roses grow and flower best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, they also can tolerant some light shade.

Soil

In general, dog rose shrubs can adapt to many different soil types, including humusy, loamy, sandy, and some clay. Sharp soil drainage is key for healthy growth, as waterlogged soil can promote root rot. They also prefer a soil pH that hovers around neutral, though they can handle slightly acidic and slightly alkaline soils. For container growth, use a well-draining potting mix, or mix soil with equal parts sand and compost.

Water

These roses thrive in consistently moist but not soggy soil. Water deeply whenever the soil feels dry to the touch about 2 inches down. Try to avoid wetting the foliage, as this can promote diseases. Container plants will likely need more frequent watering than those grown in the ground.

Temperature and Humidity

Dog roses are quite hardy to the temperature extremes of their growing zones. They can survive hot and dry periods, harsh winds, and frost. High humidity can be an issue, especially if there is not enough air circulation around the shrubs, as it can promote rot and fungal diseases.

Fertilizer

A rich soil will help dog rose shrubs to grow and flower at their best. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer on your shrubs each spring as new growth picks up, following label instructions.

Dog Rose Varieties

There are several varieties of dog roses, including:

  • Rosa canina 'Assisiensis’: This cultivar is known for its lack of thorns.
  • Rosa canina var. lutetiana: This variety grows to roughly 12 feet tall and sports pinkish white flowers.
  • Rosa canina var. frondosa: This shrub also reaches around 12 feet high and features pink flowers with light pink centers. 

Pruning

Throughout the growing season, it's ideal but not essential to remove the spent flowers to promote further blooming. This shrub doesn’t require much pruning, as it naturally forms an attractive shape. If you want to clean up any overgrown stems, the best time to prune is in the late fall or early spring when the shrub is still dormant. But note that the shrub flowers on the previous year's stems, so don't take off too much or you won't have many flowers for that season. Remove any dead or diseased portions as they arise. Wear thick gloves and long sleeves to protect yourself from thorns whenever you prune.

Common Pests and Diseases

Some common garden pests, including aphids, scale, spider mites, caterpillars, and leafhoppers, might affect dog rose shrubs. Treat your shrub with an insecticidal soap if you spot any pests. Fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew and downy mildew, also might impact the shrubs. If that's the case, remove the affected foliage, and apply a fungicide. Fortunately, the dog rose shrub tends to be resistant to many of the common rose diseases.