How to Grow Dog Roses (Rosa Canina)

Dog rose with fuchsia flowers

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Dog rose (Rosa canina) is one of the many wild rose species native to Europe. It is a deciduous shrub.

The plants leaves are divided into two or three pairs of smaller, toothed leaflets. The large flowers are light pink to white. Each bloom has five petals and many stamens. Offering a faint, sweet fragrance, they appear once a year from spring to summer. The flowers have pollen but no nectar. Pollination occurs by self-pollination and by all insects besides butterflies.

Deep red to orange, oval-shaped rose hips ripen in small clusters in October and November. Inside each hip are many hairy seeds. From winter to early spring, these hips remain on the bush and provide winter food for birds (they can also be used to make tea). With proper support, this thorny climber can grow between three to 16 feet tall and wide.

Establish a free-growing hedge to create a screen for privacy or for bird protection. Rosa canina can also be grown as a solitary specimen to fill an unattractive corner with lush foliage and bright blooms.

Overall, the dog rose bush is quite versatile. This wild beauty grows quickly and is easy to care for. Welcome this historic rose bush into your yard and generations will find that an undisturbed specimen can live up to 300 years.

Botanical Name Rosa canina
Common Name  Dog rose, dog berry, witches’ briar
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size  3 to 16 ft. tall
Sun Exposure  Part shade to full sun
Soil Type  Slightly dry and well-drained potting mix, or soil mixed with equal parts sand or compost
Soil pH  Neutral (5.5 to 6.5)
Bloom Time  Spring through summer
Flower Color  Light pink to white
Hardiness Zones  4-10, USDA
Native Area  Europe
Toxicity  Non-toxic

Dog Rose Care

Plant Rosa canina in autumn or spring. Loosen the soil to prepare for its deep roots and mix in some compost. Space each bush at least six to 15 feet apart.

This type of wild rose is likely the easiest of all roses to care for. It can survive hot and dry periods and even wind and frost. Deemed especially invasive in parts of the United States, it runs quite wildly in USDA Zones 4 through 9. You should check carefully if it is appropriate to grow in your region before planting.

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

Light

Dog rose prefers sunny to semi-shady locations. This species will often grow larger in light shade than it will in full sun. In natural conditions, it roams freely along roadsides, in light forests, and on pastures and embankments.

Soil

Give this bush fertile soil. Generally, Rosa canina adapts to many soil types, from humus to loamy to sandy. Avoid wet soils. The ideal garden soil is fresh to slightly dry.

If growing in containers, provide a well-drained potting mix, or mix soil with equal parts of sand or compost. While this plant can tolerate slight fluctuations in pH, take care to maintain a neutral soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5.

Water

Water deeply, about twice a week. Feel the top two inches of the soil and, if it feels dry, water it. Consistently moist, not soggy, soil is best. Avoid wetting the leaves. If growing dog rose in a container, water it more often.

Fertilizer

Fertilize Rosa canina with a half cup of 10-10-10 granulated slow-release fertilizer every March. Evenly spread it around the plant's base and to about 18 inches in diameter. Water thoroughly. Cover with two to three inches of mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds down.

Is Dog Rose Toxic?

Rosa canina is generally non-toxic. Coming with such a rich history, this plant has been used medicinally since the time of Hippocrates. Many years ago, the root was known to be able to cure the bite of a wild dog (inspiring the common name, "dog rose").

During World War II, when Britain could not import citrus fruits, the government welcomed the people to eat dog rose hips to treat Vitamin C deficiency.

Before consuming the hips, remove the surface hairs, which could aggravate the throat and digestive tract. When eaten mindfully, petals and hips can actually treat digestive ailments and offer flavor in many forms. Harvested hips can be made into tea, syrups, and jams.

Symptoms of Rare Poisoning

The whole plant is rich in tannins, which could cause stomach upsets, vomiting and constipation. However, it would generally have to be eaten in large quantities for this to happen.

Pruning

Throughout the growing season, prune any spent flowers. In late fall or early spring the plant will be dormant. Only then should you prune dead, damaged, or overgrown stems.

Use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts 1/4 inch above the first bud. Cut at a 45-degree angle. The low point of the cut should be on the opposite side of the bud to encourage water away from it. Remove diseased branches.

Compost spent blooms or small, dead stems. Any diseased part of the plant should be discarded in the trash to avoid spreading the disease further.

Flowers and fruits form on last year's shoots so you should spare them when cutting.

Propagating Dog Rose

Rosa canina can be propagated through cuttings. More naturally, these plants reproduce by seed. As birds and other wildlife consume the hips, they disseminate the seeds. Sometimes seeds require stratification or they can take up to two years to germinate.

Common Pests/Diseases

Gall forming wasps are fond of dog rose plants. While a gall is not harmful in itself, it serves as a birth chamber for little wasps. Be vigilant of the garden bower beetle and shiny gold rose beetle.

In the event of a fungal disease such as powdery mildew or downy mildew, apply a spray fungicide.

Fortunately, the dog rose tends to be resistant to the usual rose diseases.