How to Grow and Care for Carolina Rose

Carolina rose with fuchsia-pink petals and yellow anthers on stem with surrounding leaves

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

The Carolina rose (Rosa carolina), also known as the pasture rose or prairie rose, is a deciduous wild shrub native to eastern North America. It is a single-petaled wild rose that is characterized by clusters of five-petaled, delicate pink flowers with a yellow center, producing green hips that transform to red by late summer. As a wild species, the Carolina rose is considered to be a relatively low-maintenance shrub, considerably less temperamental—though also less showy—than hybrid roses. In its native range, Carolina rose can be found found in glades, along roads and railroads, open woods, and in wet soils along streams and swamps. Like other shrub roses, Carolina rose is typically planted in the spring after last frost, or in the fall at least six weeks before the first winter frost. It is a fast-growing, robust shrub that spreads freely by suckering.

Common Name Carolina rose, pasture rose, prairie rose
Botanical Name Rosa carolina
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type Deciduous flowering shrub
Mature Size 3-6 ft. tall, 5–10 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-draining, loamy
Soil pH Acidic to neutral (5.0-7.5)
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink
Hardiness Zones 4-9 (USDA)
Native Area Eastern North America

Carolina Rose Care

Provided its light, soil, and water requirements are met, the Carolina rose requires little maintenance. However, it benefits from a few seasonal duties. Throughout the year, clean up any dead leaves from in and around the shrub to keep it tidy. Mulching the shrub in the summer helps to retain moisture and keep the roots cool. In the winter, the crowns of the Carolina rose appreciate protection from harsh winter temperatures.

This shrub will also require tending to suckers if you want to prevent it from spreading.

Carolina roses on shrub branch with pink flowers and yellow centers

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Carolina rose shrub with tall branches and large pink flowers

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Carolina rose shrub with tall branches and large pink flowers and dead buds

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

Plant the Carolina rose in a location that receives full sun for several hours a day. While the Carolina rose can technically tolerate some shade, it should be grown in full sun to ensure best flowering and disease resistance. Six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day is optimal.

Soil

Naturally found in average to wet soils, the Carolina rose grows best in well-drained soils that are sandy to loamy, but it can also tolerate soils with some clay. It is typically found growing on the side of fields, prairies, woodlands, as well as in fencerows and thickets, indicative of non-fussy nature.

Water

The Carolina rose appreciates deep and regular waterings, but it has good drought tolerance once established. Watering the Carolina rose in the morning is best; avoid overhead watering to ensure the foliage and blooms don’t develop fungal disease.

Temperature and Humidity

The Carolina rose grows well in the conditions found in USDA zones 4 to 9. It can tolerate harsh winters and freezing temperatures. Proper year-round care, including feeding and keeping clear of pests and disease, will help the Carolina rose to tolerate cold winters more readily. However, the Carolina rose requires warm summers to go into full bloom and the foliage and blooms of the Carolina rose cannot tolerate frost.

Fertilizer

While most modern hybrid roses are notoriously heavy feeders, this is not true of wild species roses such as R. carolina. Rather than the monthly feeding recommended for most heavy-flowering hybrids, wild roses will often do just fine with no feeding at all if the soil is even moderately fertile. At most, a single feeding with a commercial rose fertilizer applied after the spring flowering season is sufficient. Be careful not to burn the Carolina rose with excessive fertilization. To fertilize the shrub properly, thoroughly moisten the soil prior to application, then water again after fertilizing. If you suspect that additional nutrients are needed, then apply manure or compost as a topdressing.

Types of Carolina Rose

Carolina rose is usually planted in its native wild species form, though there is one cultivar, 'Alba', with white flowers.

Consider these other native North American shrub roses with similar appearance and performance:

  • Rosa palustris (swamp rose) is another native of eastern North America, known for its fondness for wet ground.
  • Rosa blanda (prairie rose) is native to western North America, a climber with flowers that fade from pink to white.
  • Rosa woodsii (wood's wild rose) is native to the Rocky and Cascade Mountains. It is a large sprawling shrub, growing as much as 10 feet tall.
  • Rosa nutkana (Nootka rose) is a pink-flowering native to the Pacific coast.
  • Rosa california is native to the regions west of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is another pink-flowering shrub.

Pruning

Like most wild shrub roses, Carolina rose does not require pruning but will readily accept trimming if necessary to shape it or curtail its growth. If desired, prune in late winter to early spring once the buds start to "break" to help encourage new growth and increase flower production. Ensure that any old leaves are removed from the shrub before you start pruning.

Start with any deadened, brown wood, cutting it back to the base. Remove any branches that intersect each other and rub together to reduce the chance of disease, as well as any outlying branches. Prune the remaining branches back by about one-third of their height.

Deadheading spent flowers is not recommended with Carolina rose, as doing so removes the hips that provide late fall and winter color.

Propagating Carolina Rose

There are any number of ways to propagate a shrub rose such as Carolina, but the easiest way is to simply dig up the rooted suckers that spring up around the periphery of the shrub crown. Here's how:

  1. In late spring when suckers are actively sprouting, use a sharp trowel to cut a trench around an isolated sucker.
  2. Carefully lift out the suckering stem, with roots and soil attached.
  3. Plant the sucker in the desired new location and water thoroughly.

To propagate by stem cuttings:

  1. Immediately after flowering, use sharp pruners to cut a 12-inch segment from the tip of a stem that has recently flowered.
  2. Remove any remaining flowers or flower buds from the stem. Remove all but two sets of leaves at the top of the cutting.
  3. Use sharp pruners to split the bottom end of the cutting into four quarters, about 1/4 inch up.
  4. Dip the split end of the cutting into rooting hormone, then plant it in a small pot filled with at least 4 inches of a potting mix formulated for roses.
  5. Loosely cover the planted cutting with a plastic bag, making sure the plastic is not touching the leaves.
  6. Place the cutting in a bright window or under grow lights until the cutting develops roots, which normally takes about two weeks. At this time, you can remove the plastic bag and continue growing the new rose in its pot until new leaves begin to actively sprout from the stem.
  7. When the cutting is well established and actively growing, you can transplant it into the garden.

How to Grow Carolina Rose From Seed

Carolina rose seeds can be purchased from a nursery or garden center, or collected directly from a mature plant. To collect the seeds from a grown Carolina rose, wait until the hips have turned red in the late summer or early fall, but before they have dried out. Pick the ripe hips, remove the seeds, and cold-stratify them for three months at 30 degrees Fahrenheit (placing along the back wall of a refrigerator is usually sufficient). Slightly scarifying the seeds by rubbing them lightly between pieces of sandpaper may also help germination.

In the early spring, after the last frost has passed, sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep in the garden bed and keep the topsoil moist until germination. Germination rates are notoriously irregular, so planting multiple seeds is recommended. Some seeds may not sprout until the following year.

Overwintering

Wild species roses such as Carolina are very hardy, tough plants that normally don't require winter protection. But cleaning up rose plant debris around the base of the plant will help prevent fungi and insect larvae from overwintering. In the northern part of the hardiness range (zone 4), you may want to cover the crowns with a sterile dry mulch, such as leaves or straw, to moderate freeze-thaw cycles over the winter. This mulch should be removed promptly in spring.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Though wild species such as Rosa Carolina are much less sensitive than hybrid roses, they are still susceptible to a number of common pests and diseases. Common pests of the Carolina rose include thrips, aphids, scale, and caterpillars, while common diseases and fungi include rusts, powdery mildew, and black spot.

Some insect damage can be tolerated, but severe infestations can be treated with a horticultural oil or spray pesticide—preferably one non-toxic to bees and other pollinators.

Fungal diseases can be more troublesome, and some gardeners will find it necessary to apply preventive fungicide sprays or systemic powders several times during the growing season to keep their roses looking healthy. Fungal disease is especially prevalent in warm, humid climates where there is frequent summer rainfall.

How to Get Carolina Rose to Bloom

Don't expect a wild species rose such as R. carolina to be a repeat bloomer in the same way as hybrid roses. Species roses generally flower only once in the spring.

Carolina rose is more tolerant of shade than most roses, but it will be reluctant to bloom if located in dense shade. Best blooming will occur if the plant gets at least six hours of direct sun each day.

Early feeding with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer may stunt blooming, as nitrogen forces the plant into foliage growth at the expense of flowers. Carolina rose shouldn't be fertilized in early spring before it blooms; any feeding you do should occur after the plant has bloomed.

Common Problems With Carolina Rose

The Plant Spreads Too Aggressively

Most wild roses naturally spread through suckering, so don't be surprised if your Carolina rose follows this pattern and spreads through your garden. This can be an advantage when you want the plant to form a screen or informal thicket, but in mixed gardens, you will need to systematically remove suckers if you want to keep the shrub confined. This is not a hard job—this species is not categorized as invasive—but you can expect to spend some time digging up suckers almost every year if you don't want the shrub to spread. Be aware of this tendency if you plant a Carolina shrub where it might encroach on a neighbor's property.

Leaves Are Yellow or Spotted

This symptom normally indicates that your shrub rose is being affected by one of the many fungal diseases that roses are prone to suffer. Preventive treatment with a spray fungicide or granular systemic fungicide will be necessary to prevent serious disease. Mild disease, however, can usually simply be tolerated, since these wild roses are rarely killed.

Something Is Eating the Flowers

Look closely, and you'll likely see that it's some form of beetle, especially the colorful but damaging Japanese beetle, that is eating your rose blossoms. Beetle damage will probably also be seen on the leaves of the plant. The least toxic solution is to simply pick off the beetles by hand, but if this isn't to your liking, then various pesticides will kill the beetles.

Birds will never eat the flowers, though they are very fond of the ripened red hips that follow the flowers in late August into fall.

FAQ
  • How do I use this plant in the landscape?

    Wild shrub roses such as Rosa carolina are commonly planted in native-plant gardens or massed in borders. Its thorny growth habit makes it an effective barrier planting. It is also a common addition to wildlife gardens, where its flowers attract pollinators and its hips attract birds.

  • How long does a Carolina rose plant live?

    This shrub freely spreads through suckering to colonize as a thicket. Such a thicket will live indefinitely, provided it remains free of disease.

  • Can I use the hips for cooking?


    The hips of Carolina rose are excellent for use in various recipes for sauces, jellies, teas, and soups.

  • What is the different between a hybrid rose and a wild rose?

    Wild roses like R. carolina are native species that are genetically pure. Most modern hybrid roses, by contrast, are complicated creations, formed by a combination of selected crossbreeding between various wild species and their cultivars, as well as grafting techniques in which branches from highly ornamental roses are melded onto hardy wild rootstock from various native species.

    Wild roses, on the other hand, are known as "own-root" rose—their roots and canes are genetically the same plant. Wild roses are much less demanding than hybrid roses, though also less showy. Wild roses typically bloom just once, and their flowers are usually fairly simple single-petal blossoms, not the full double-petaled flowers that bloom repeatedly on a hybrid rose.

    Wild roses are preferred by native plant enthusiasts, while hybrid roses are for gardeners who like showy flowers for cutting.