The Expanding Universe of No-Spray Roses

Gardeners who may want to grow roses but view them as too much work will be glad to know that throughout the rose industry efforts are being made to bring low-maintenance roses to the marketplace.

But first, let’s be clear: A low-maintenance landscape is not a no-maintenance situation. In the case of roses, low-maintenance means that the gardener does not have to adhere to arcane pesticide application schedules nor master aggressive renewal pruning techniques to have attractive blooming shrubs throughout the growing season.

Texas A & M University has been conducting research since the 1990s to identify “Earth-Kind” roses, cultivars that perform well without pesticides, fertilizer applications or even supplemental irrigation after the first season. The only care the study roses receive is a three-inch layer of organic mulch. It takes nine years of research for a rose to receive the Earth-Kind designation. After the initial two-year trial, there are four years of research in a wide number of environmental situations. This is followed by three years of further testing to confirm the results.

My never-been-sprayed roses.

Over the decades of research, the university developed a way to “fix” clay soils for roses through soil amendments. First till in three inches of compost, then till in three inches of expanded shale. This is a natural product that has been heat treated to puff the shale particles so that they can absorb excess water, releasing it gradually into the soil. I use it along with compost to backfill planting holes and find that it does promote better drainage.

At present, fewer than two dozen roses have received the Earth-Kind designation. However, two separate research trials are completing the first phase of testing. One of these is looking at 100 cultivars near Dallas, Texas. The other is looking at 20 very cold tolerant selections. The University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and Kansas State University have joined Texas A & M in this research. These trial sites include Zones 4, 5, 6 and 8. It will be interesting to see if some roses bred for sub-zero winters can thrive in milder situations.

The American Rose Society has a regional rose-testing program, American Garden Rose Selections (AGRS). In 12 trial gardens around the country, roses are grown for two years and evaluated using a system developed in Germany and adapted to work across our environmentally diverse nation. Roses are evaluated for disease resistance, attractiveness, vigor, fragrance, flowering, hardiness and more. Few roses do well in all six regions, so the program allows gardeners to see which cultivars may be best buys in their area. For more about this program, visit

Today’s gardeners want roses that can be grown among other landscape plants and perform well all season with a minimum of fuss. Rose producers know that and are

working to bring consumers what they want.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett gave up spraying her roses years ago and has never looked back. She now gives lectures on the subject to hobbyist growers. Email her at

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