Canadian Roses for Colorado

The Canadians, like their English and French ancestors, have a great love of roses. However much of Canada is in zones 4, 3 and even zone 2. Therefore many of the hybrid tea and floribunda roses bred in modern times have not been tough enough for Canadian gardeners. So the Canadians set their own federal agriculture department to work on breeding roses that succeed in Canada. Not only do these roses do well north of our border, they are very successful in Colorado,even in our higher elevation environments. Our 10-20 below zero winters and dramatic temperature changes can kill or significantly injure more tender roses like the hybrid teas and floribundas. So gardeners in Colorado who don’t have time to remove large masses of dead canes, hill soil around the canes to protect them for winter, and who have less inclination to spray and fertilize frequently, find the Canadian-bred roses provide a rewarding and easy-care alternative.

         The Canadian rose breeding program began in the 1940s, but most of their progress was made after 1960 and especially in the 1980s and 90s. The criteria they chose were cold-hardiness, disease resistance and repeat flowering. The roses were bred in two series: the Parkland Series and the Explorer Series. The Parkland Series was bred at the Morden Agricultural Station in Morden, Manitoba and much of the breeding was done with the native Rosa arkansana, which is also a native of Colorado. This rose was chosen largely because of its cold tolerance and its ability to recover quickly after dieback and to flower on new wood. Many of these Parkland Roses have the name “Morden” in their name, probably to communicate to Canadian gardeners that if they do well at the Morden Station, they will be tough enough for most of Canada. These roses seem well adapted to prairie conditions and prefer good air circulation. They all repeat well and some are continuous blooming. They are very cold tolerant and are mostly disease resistant, especially the more recent introductions.

         Morden Centennial is a standard in the landscape industry. Bred in 1980, it has proved its ability to perform in Colorado, especially since it is hardy to zone 3. It grows 3’-4’ high and wide and has large medium pink flowers that repeat and make large showy orange hips. In Colorado it is very disease resistant, but not in Chicago. At our nursery, we do not carry Morden Ruby, Morden Cardinette and Morden Amorette because they seem too susceptible to blackspot. We also have stopped carrying Martin Frobisher since it is so susceptible to cane girdler.

         Morden Blush, however, is an excellent rose for our area. It stays bushy and compact, only 3’x3’, with lovely double soft pink flowers of old-rose form, aging to blush pink. It is claimed that this rose is the most floriferous and long-blooming of the Parkland roses, and is hardy to zone 3. Another star performer with a good record in Colorado is Winnipeg Parks. This hardy shrub rose is 3’-4’ high and wide and blooms profusely with cherry red, loosely double flowers. It also tolerates some shade. Adelaide Hoodless has also proved itself and is the most popular red rose at Ft. Collins Wholesale Nursery. Its semi-double red blooms are borne in clusters and contrast nicely with its glossy, dark green foliage; and it grows to 4’-5’. Very showy and successful plantings can be seen at the Denver Zoo. Although some books say it is susceptible to blackspot, I have not seen it, but to be safe, water it before noon and grow it on the dry side.

         Three recent introductions are causing a stir. Hope for Humanity has gorgeous blood-red blooms that repeat nearly continuously in our demonstration garden. It is supposed to stay 3’, but is more likely going to be 5’-6’ in our area. Morden Snowbeauty fills the need for a repeat-blooming, hardy, white shrub rose. The 3” semi-double, pure white flowers bloom profusely. It looks like it will be 3’-4’ and has good disease resistance. And the latest Parkland rose to come to us is Morden Sunrise, a delicious warm yellow, orange, pink blend with improved resistance to blackspot. Our plant is still young, but it looks like it will be 3’-4’, and the open, semi-double flowers are lovely. This is the only orange blend rose I know that is hardy to Zone 3.

         The other development of Canadian roses was the Explorer Series which was bred in Ottowa, Canada, by Dr. Felicitas Svejda. She developed many fine roses in her 20 year career and named them after famous Canadian explorers. She crossed rugosa roses with cultivars of Rosa chinensis and made other crosses using Rosa kordesii and R. laxa and R. spinosissima. The Explorers have good repeat flowering, good disease resistance and excellent cold hardiness. Unfortunately they have little or no fragrance.

         Alexander MacKenzie is a short climber/tall shrub, 5’-7’ tall with raspberry red double flowers that are cup shaped. The foliage is a rich dark green with reddish new growth. It is hardy to zone 4 and we know of several doing well locally. Champlain stays compact, reaching only 3’x3’. The flowers are a good dark red and bloom continuously through the season. Champlain puts on a good show in my xeriscape garden under dry conditions,  although it stays quite small. It is hardy to zone 3 or 3b and is generally very disease resistant. However it is susceptible to powdery mildew in nursery containers, so I suspect good drainage and good air circulation are important. It is reputed to be free of aphids, and I haven’t seen any on mine.

         Henry Hudson is a small white rugosa hybrid with pretty flowers. It  does well in the mountains, but was pitiful for me and seems to have too many of the problems often seen in rugosa roses in alkaline conditions. Henry Kelsey, on the other hand, does wonderfully well. It is one of the  Rosa kordesii climbers, hardy to zone 3. This breeding breakthrough has brought us the most cold hardy and dependable climbers to date. I have been growing Henry Kelsey for years in a difficult, dry spot in poor soil and it never fails to bloom and repeat. I do fertilize it once a year. It is great on a fence or trellis, growing 6’-9’ high. The flowers are semi-double and open a true red, then fade to a rose-red with golden stamens. The foliage is very dark green and glossy, and is very disease resistant. The hips are fertile so it is best to dead-head spent flowers for more bloom.

         John Cabot is another great climber. Rosarian Bill Grant says, “I grow about 70 climbers and this one outshines all but a few…”. It is another Kordesii  hybrid, hardy to zone 3, and will climb to 8’-10’. The loosely double flowers are a bright orchid pink and repeat very well. It is somewhat tolerant of shade where the flowers glow. It is doing amazingly well under my wisteria in gravelly soil with little water. John Davis, I suppose, must be another Canadian explorer. This variety is another Kordesii climber, but seems like it must not have high aspirations. For me it is a beautiful shrub, but I have heard that it does climb. The foliage is very attractive, and the medium pink double flowers are some of the most beautifully formed of any Canadian rose. John Davis blooms profusely and repeats very well. Mine is on the west side of the house where it gets baked by the late afternoon sun and sand-blasted by the west wind; and still it performs well. It is hardy to zone 3.

         William Baffin is considered to be the most cold hardy, repeat-blooming climber, surviving in zone 2 climates. Therefore it has become a  favorite of our mountain gardeners. It is really a huge shrub, with good disease resistance, growing under favorable conditions to 10’x10’. However if half of the canes are pruned out it will shoot up quite tall on a trellis. The semi-double flowers are a strawberry pink and repeat well.  Give it room. Roses tend to be fast-growing, but William Baffin, with a good organic fertilizer, can be heroic.

         Jens Munk is another good rose for mountain gardeners, being hardy to zone 2. It is a rugosa hybrid that seems to do better than most in our alkaline conditions, though it can get the yellow leaves with green veins, characteristic of the deficiency of iron known as chlorosis. A fertilizer with sulphur and chelated iron or a seaweed drench often will correct the problem for a while. Jens Munk has fragrant, large, single light to medium pink flowers with golden stamens. It repeats well and its rugose (crinkled) foliage has good disease resistance. It was rated by the Chicago Botanic Gardens as one of their best performing roses.

         Quadra is a cold hardy climber or trailing rose. To my eye it has one of the most beautiful flowers of all Canadian roses. It has very double, deep red flowers that seem always in bloom. It has been slow to achieve much height in my low water environment, but after three years  it is now getting beyond the shrub stage.

         There are many more Canadian roses; some I have yet to try, some are too young for me to describe. I spoke recently with Claude Richer, the woman in charge of rose breeding at Ag. Canada at this time. She told me they are working on a new series of roses to be called the Canadian Artist Series. This series will have more pastel colors and the same criteria of cold hardiness, disease resistance and repeat flowering.

         Ms. Richer recommends planting Canadian Roses in well-aerated soil with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. I would add that Canadian roses vary in their water needs, but for best performance, water deeply once a week or every two weeks. Some varieties are quite water thrifty and with mulching and good soil prep, watering can be even less frequent. However without sufficient supplemental watering, the rate of growth will be slower and the flowers will be fewer. In addition, if you want good repeat flowering, the roses should be fertilized with a good organic rose food. We use Mile Hi Rose Feed applied at least in early May and optimally again in Mid June or Mid September.

         If you love roses, try a Canadian. If you’ve never had much success with roses in Colorado, try again with a Canadian Rose.