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Rose Buying Guide

Rose Buying Guide

Roses are used as cut flowers, screens, borders, containers, hedges, ground cover, wall cover, and of course, as specimen plants in the landscape. There are literally thousands of rose types. Bloom color, bloom shape, foliage, size, fragrance and plant shape are all things to look at when shopping for roses. This guide will help you sort through all the varieties of roses.


Rose Glossary

Bareroot - dormant plants sold in fall, winter or early spring.

Bud - the beginning of a new flower or leaf.

Bud union - the point where the rootstock is grafted to the flowering variety. The bud union can be seen as an enlarged area at the base of the plant, whether purchased as bareroot or in a container. The bud union is also used as a gauge to mark planting depth.

Cane - stem from the base of plant that supports foliage and flowers.

Deadhead - to remove flowers after blooming. Deadheading sends energy to new flowers, not seeds.

Disbud - to remove smaller side buds on a stem to invigorate the main bud at the end of the stem.

Grade - Bareroot roses are graded according to the quality of their growth. Grades also designate the future size and productivity of the rose. The numerical grades are established by the American Association of Nurserymen and should be noted on the plant tag.

The three grades are:

  • #1 is the best of a variety. Three or more healthy canes and a strong root system are essential.
  • #1.5 roses have two or more thin canes and usually take longer to develop.
  • #2 roses have one or two small thin canes and may require extra care to establish.

Graft - to join a scion (top part or stem) with a stock (bottom part or a stem with roots) to create a new plant.

Hip - seed pod that forms from a spent blossom. Hips provide another bit of interest in fall after the blooms have gone.

Hybrid - created by crossing two different plants to combine their most desirable characteristics. Roses are hybridized to create new colors, increase disease resistance, improve fragrance, and manipulate size.

Own root - the entire plant is of the same variety (not grafted).

Rootstock - hybrid roses are grafted onto a host set of roots. The rootstock is selected for strength and hardiness. The roses that bloom from a rootstock are not the most desirable for most rose gardeners.

Sucker - a stem that grows out and up from the rootstock (therefore not from the grafted variety). Usually coming up from under ground level, it's highly recommended that they be removed so that the plants energy is directed to the desired plant.

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Rose Types

  • Hybrid tea
    The hybrid teas are the most widely grown roses. Their traits include large single blooms, typically on long stems. If you've received a Valentine's Day rose, it was probably a hybrid tea. These roses are ideal for cutting. Most bloom in spring and fall. However, new varieties are being introduced each year for increased bloom time. Sensitive to cold, they need winter protection. Hybrid teas grow three to six feet tall.
  • Floribunda
    The robust floribundas are derived from the hybrid tea. The blooms are slightly smaller and clustered on the stem. You don't have to speak Latin to know what the "abunda" part means, plenty of stems with more flowers and a longer blooming cycle. If you want plenty of flowers, the florabunda is the one for you. The height is generally three to five feet tall. Polyantha roses are similar to the floribunda, but are generally only about two feet tall.
  • Grandifloras
    Grandifloras are a cross of the hybrid tea and the floribunda. Like floribundas, they usually have several clustered blooms. From the hybrid teas they have inherited the larger blooms and long stems. Grandifloras can reach six feet in height.
  • Miniature
    As the name states, miniatures are tiny replicas of larger roses. Their small blooms and foliage plus their compact size make them excellent container plants for indoors or out. They can also be used for edging, rock gardens or anywhere a full sized shrub would not fit. A miniature's mature size is usually less than two feet tall.
  • Climbers
    Also called ramblers, the climbing rose doesn't really climb. The plant produces long, arching canes that must be attached to supports such as fences, arbors, trellises or walls. They bloom continuously or at least several times during summer and fall. The arching canes can be 20 to 30 feet long. If your garden space is limited, use vertical space and plant some of these.
  • Shrub
    The term shrub covers a variety of roses, from bushy specimens to hedge roses. Generally hardy and disease-resistant, shrub roses provide a lot of blooms. The size varies with the variety, and ranges from three to ten feet or more.
  • Tree
    Tree roses are also known as standards. Not truly a separate rose variety, a tree rose is any rose plant (probably a hybrid tea or floribunda) that is bud-grafted onto a straight, sturdy trunk. Special pruning and winter protection is required in most climates. Tree roses make good container plants. Used as specimen plants, they offer a formal look to the rose garden. Heights vary according to the variety of rose used, but standards can be four to six feet tall.
  • Pillar
    Another form of rose shape is the pillar. A moderately vigorous climber or rambler can be trained and pruned to fit a vertical freestanding support. Depending on the variety, six to eight feet is a manageable and dramatic size. 
  • Ground Cover
    Any variety of spreading or low-growing rose used for covering banks or planting between taller shrubs fits this category. The varieties offer repeat flowering and good disease resistance. Often called carpet roses, they're generally two feet tall.
  • Heirloom
    Heirloom roses may also be known as antique or old roses. These are very hardy "survivors" grown on their own roots. In addition to their hardiness, old roses are known for their fragrance. They are often found growing in cemeteries and older or abandoned homesites.
  • Species
    Species roses have developed in the wild. Due to this they tend to be hardy and disease resistant. They bloom early in the season. Species roses may be a good choice for a natural garden, but remember - they're fast growing to the point of being invasive.


Picking the Right Rose

Since roses adapt to planting in-ground, in containers, or even in hanging baskets, they serve many purposes in the home landscape. When you go shopping at the garden center, nursery or catalog, you're going to want one of each. So before you bring them all home:

  • Know your planting Zone when making any plant selection.
  • Fragrance is a trait we all associate with flowers. Roses can have some of the most delicious fragrances of all. Remember that one's sense of smell is a subjective thing. What's heavenly to some may be sickening to others, so keep an open mind. Some roses have little scent at all, others are known for their fragrance. Humidity and warmth bring out fragrance.
  • Bloom times and frequency vary. Hybrid teas and floribundas should bloom within eight weeks of planting. Others may not bloom until the second season. Roses with a single bloom cycle have one showy mass of flowers each season. Repeat bloomers let the show go on.
  • Thorns are common and usually considered a necessary evil by rose aficionados, but there are some thornless varieties available.
  • Look at the color of flowers and foliage when selecting roses. Find the type that would look best in your landscape.
  • The mature size of the rose is a key consideration when planting. Most will arrive at maturity in two to three years. When planning a rose bed or adding to the garden, you want to be able to see the blooms. Place taller plants in the rear of the bed. But keep one thing in mind - you don't want to miss the fragrance if a tall variety has a particularly nice one.


Rose Care

Roses are susceptible to bugs and disease as most plants are. But roses are hardier than many people think. As with any plant the proper environment and care is critical. Give them:

  1. Sunlight - six hours a day.
  2. Good air circulation.
  3. Good drainage.
  4. Rich soil.
  5. One inch of water a week - from nature or you provide.
  6. A clean home. - keep the plant and the ground beneath clean from dead growth and other debris.

One more piece of advice - you'll probably get hooked, so buy a comprehensive rose guide and join a rose society so you can share your new passion with others.


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