How to Choose Disease Resistant Rose Varieties to Grow Organically (With Sources List)

I’m an organic gardener and I grow a lot of roses — about 50 varieties of them.

They don’t look like sticks with a bow on top and I don’t treat them any better than my other garden perennials. I plant mine in the same amended soil I use for the rest of my plants, fertilize them a couple times a year, and prune them around Valentine’s Day. I like to keep them mulched with a thick layer of leaves that breaks down into compost. That’s about it.

Heirloom and English roses are often good choices to grow organically.

Photo Caption: In the spring I have bouquets that look florist-bought with little effort on my part. Heirloom and English roses are often good choices to grow organically.

I love my roses for their beauty and fragrance but I also enjoy eating petals on salads and hips as jelly or tea. They also attract beneficial insects (especially the single-blooming varieties).

The most important aspect of growing organic roses besides smart garden practices (good soil & regular irrigation) is choosing the right rose for your garden. Once you’ve picked the right rose, it does the work of staying healthy for you. Some roses work better in the south than the north or better on the east coast than the west. Heat, humidity, diseases present, and seasonal weather are all factors. Some experimentation may be required.

The roses listed here will (probably) grow in USDA zones 6 – 9. If you live in the higher altitudes with extremely cold weather here are some links with roses for your area:

Whether you are growing in cold weather or warm I think own-root roses are the way to go whenever possible. In cold weather they can die back to the ground and still come back true to type from the roots. In warm weather your well-meaning significant other can run over them with the lawnmower without causing permanent damage. (I know this one from experience!) Overall it adds to the vigor and disease resistance of the rose. I do have some grafted roses but given the choice I pick own-root.

I also strongly prefer roses with fragrance. If there are 2 roses that will fit a given spot and one has fragrance and the other doesn’t… well! I don’t waste space on perfume-deprived roses.

When siting roses find places with 4 or more hours of sun (6 or more hours is better). Some roses might flower a little in 4 hours of sun but they’d much rather have daylight beating down on them from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night. In addition to strong flowering, full sun can reduce disease by keeping your rose leaves dry.

Also, disease resistant does not always mean disease free. If I have found a rose to be disease free in my garden I’ve made a note next to it. Otherwise, disease resistant means a rose might have some spots but it will still retain most of its foliage, flower beautifully, and live from year to year without excessive care. In other words, it is either completely resistant or simply tolerant to disease. Also, a rose that is disease free in my garden might not be in yours (and vice versa).

Most roses will put out a second flush of bloom when the cooler season hits in the fall.

Photo Caption: Most roses will put out a second flush of bloom when the cooler season hits in the fall. I often mix them with other flowers at this point (goldenrod is a lovely filler to use like baby's breath). Some of my roses bloom continuously all season.

The following roses I either have grown, am currently growing, or know someone who is growing them. They’re proven in the lower altitudes of the southern Appalachian mountains & foothills but they have reputations to do well in a broader range. All of these roses are disease resistant and fragrant (some more than others).

I’m particularly nuts for ‘The Generous Gardener’, ‘Pacific Serenade’, ‘Dainty Bess’,  ‘Purple Pavement’ (in spite of short bloom time and lots of thorns), and ‘Brother Cadfael’ which all perform beautifully in my garden. ‘Dainty Bess’ has more of a climbing form and needs a trellis.

To save money or find rare varieties you can go to the Rose Propagation and Exchange on Gardenweb.

I also recommend the following nurseries for own-root roses:

Also, here’s some excellent books if you’d like to learn more about roses you can grow organically:

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

19 thoughts on “How to Choose Disease Resistant Rose Varieties to Grow Organically (With Sources List)”

  1. Lisa - April 12, 2010 10:28 am

    Thanks for putting this list togethe!
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Cuckoo Bees! =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:20 am

      You’re welcome!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  2. Curbstone Valley Farm - April 12, 2010 2:25 pm

    Nice rose list! I grew a lot of David Austin roses in my last garden. Most were very disease resistant (except one, Winchester Cathedral, that was a rust magnet). I also grew a Rugosa Rose, Schneekoppe, that of all our roses, was hands down the most carefree plant in the garden.
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Honest Scrap =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:25 am

      I think ‘Winchester Cathedral’ may have my least favorite bush form of all the David Austins I’ve grown (and soooo many nasty little thorns!)… but it hasn’t had disease for me. Roses definitely perform differently in various locales.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  3. Kelly@LifeOutOfDoors - April 12, 2010 11:28 pm

    All hail to organic gardeners who grow roses. Hurrah. I just ordered 6 Ballerinas to go around my patio – so glad to see they made your list. Any thoughts on whether or not I should feel guilty about not ordering native roses?

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:26 am

      I don’t feel guilty about growing anything that doesn’t reseed itself. Especially since I probably grow 2 or more native plants to every non-native in my garden. Most named rose varieties are well behaved and stay put as single specimens… and ‘Ballerina’ is one of those. Go for it with pleasure!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  4. Jess - April 13, 2010 8:43 pm

    Wow great post. After deciding I didn’t want roses in my garden I quickly crumbled and now have 2 different types and am looking for a light pink climber for against the house. This was super helpful!
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Green Thumb vs Black Thumb =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:31 am

      After seeing your Charleston/English garden photos I absolutely agree that you need a pink climber against your house. It’s a NEED. 😉
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  5. Sandra - April 16, 2010 6:05 pm

    I must be a strange one; I’ve never really cared for roses. Maybe I’ve just not had the right roses, eh? You’ve put together an excellent list, perhaps I’ll change my mind, after all.
    .-= Sandra´s last blog ..Go Soak Your Head =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:34 am

      Well, I’m a big promoter of “grow what you like” so I think it is fine you don’t like them. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  6. Jamie - April 21, 2010 11:18 pm

    I am super impressed with this list. I have always been told, “Don’t even attempt roses. They are too hard to care for.” But. I love them. They are just so dang beautiful, ya know? Since moving South (away from my wonderful Midwestern soil and to the land of clay and sand), I banished the thought completely. Now reading this, you may have changed my mind :) Thanks!
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Earth Day =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:37 am

      Great! I’m extra happy to reinstate someone’s garden dreams. I hope you’re able to find the perfect fit. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
  7. Goo - April 28, 2010 1:18 pm

    I can only imagine you have the most beautiful garden. I am a fan of old-fashioned roses but also love the modern English roses bred by David Austin, such as Eglantyne which you mention. It shows good disease resistence in our damp climate – we are only about 50 miles away from the David Austin nursery.

    We’re also very fortunate to have many wild roses, the blooms are brief but the hips in late summer are wonderful. Interestingly, most of them have some blackspot.
    .-= Goo´s last blog ..Wood Ash in the Garden – and other places! =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:41 am

      It would be so much fun to visit the David Austin nursery! I’ve had so much luck with his plants (all except for “Windflower” which stuck its tongue out at me and promptly died). I like to get his roses from a local nursery that grows them own-root.

      We have the same problem with wild roses getting blackspot. I don’t think many of them are native here, either.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

      Reply
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  10. Rebecca - February 28, 2011 9:39 am

    Wow! What a huge list! The fact that you grow your roses organically is awesome. I’ve always shied away from growing roses because of the worry of diseases, Japanese Beatles and such.. Your roses are beautiful and I’m inspired to add one of your disease resistant varieties. Thanks for sharing this info :)
    Rebecca´s last blog post ..Zinnias-my twist on an old favorite

    Reply
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