Plants - Roses

Groundcover roses thrive just about anywhere and bloom all season long.

The wonderfully scented hybrid musk roses 'Ballerina' (Zone 4, single, light pink) and 'Mozart' (Zone 4, single, deep pink and white blend) are both about 110 centimetres high and 180 to 240 centimetres wide, with enough substance and form to fill large areas. Musk roses tolerate lower light and are a good choice for dappled shade or sites with only morning sun.

The familiar polyantha rose 'The Fairy' (Zone 4, 90 centi-metres high, 120 centimetres wide), a Victorian style of blossom often replicated on old plates or wallpaper, is ideal for medium-size spaces on a hill or in a house foundation planting. Its jumbled mass of cascading branches are jammed with fat bunches of small, double, pink roses and glossy, boxwood-size leaves. No rose blossoms more enthusiastically-it blooms profusely from mid-May to November-and what 'The Fairy' lacks in fragrance it more than makes up in robust health and generous floral display.

When the first rose leaves open in mid-spring, feed plants with a commercial rose fertilizer, organic fish extract fertilizer, or a combination of blood, bone and kelp meals. Provide subsequent feedings in late June and late July to keep ever-blooming roses flowering into autumn. Summer-blooming roses with one long flowering period will also benefit from the same fertilizer/feeding schedule. Supply agenerous amount of rotted manure around each plant in autumn.

• For best ground coverage, keep pruning to a minimum, cutting out only dead and brown wood in spring.
• Try an organic treatment for disease. A solution of one teaspoon of baking soda in one litre of water applied to foliage weekly is as effective as synthetic fungicides in preventing fungal spot diseases. If a rose has chronic leaf spot disease, remove the plants and try another selection.
• Allow some insect damage. If critters threaten the entire planting, use an organic pyrethrum-based pesticide.
• In colder regions (Zones 2, 3 and 4), place evergreen boughs over and around the plants after freeze-up to hold a protective snow cover through winter.

Some groundcover roses are truly snaky and prostrate in habit, forming a low, dense carpet studded with flowers. The species Rosa pimpinellifolia repens syn. R. spinosissima repens (Zone 3, 60 centimetres high, 120 to 180 centi-metres wide) opens small, light yellow flowers for a long summer blooming period.

Most desirable of the low roses is 'Seafoam' (Zone 4, 60 centimetres high, 150 centimetres wide), a gorgeous hybrid featuring slightly scented clusters of six-centimetre, double, blush pink buds that mature to glistening white. It begins blooming a bit later than other roses, but then flowers continuously until late autumn. 'Seafoam' wants to grow in down-and-out directions, and is easy to propa-gate by pegging the canes in place to form roots over the summer ('Seafoam' isn't patented, so this is a legal procedure). To encourage rooting, strip off a few leaves near the end of a cane, bend it over and bury the bare section under five centimetres of soil. Anchor the cane with a large pin fashioned from coat-hanger wire. Set a rock on top just to ensure it stays down, and leave the peg and rock in place until roots are evident in late autumn. Some rose growers advocate bruising the cane to encourage rooting, but this can also present an entry point for fungus; the cane will root without wounding the wood.

Modern groundcover roses are useful for filling niches and gaps in smaller home gardens. The very contemporary Flower Carpet roses (Zone 5) have inbred disease resistance and, given a protected position out of winter wind, make a dense covering in bright sun. They are available in shades of white, pink and cherry red, and grow 60 centimetres high and 120 centimetres wide.

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