South Regional Reports

Spring-Blooming Roses for the South

Autumn is the best time to plant these early-season stars

For an unforgettable spring show that gets better each year, plant a vigorous bloomer like Yellow Lady Banks climbing rose this fall. Photo: courtesy of André Alliot, via Wikimedia Commons

Spring-blooming roses put on a spectacular show early in the season, expending the same amount of energy in their single bloom period that other roses put into theirs over the span of a year. Of course, that means they are just green during the summer, but that is part of why they are so great. After they finish flowering, I cut them back, fertilize them, and use them as a backdrop for other plants until next spring. There is no more fertilizing and no need to deadhead. So what if the grasshoppers eat a few holes in the leaves? They are just background greenery.

Autumn is a good time to find a spot for a spring bloomer, since October begins the best planting season in our area. The weather in October usually becomes cooler, and the rain is more reliable. The hardest part is choosing which rose to plant, since a lot of spring bloomers are big growers. Give them full sun and moist, fertile, well-drained soil, and they will brighten your spring garden year after year.

Ispahan Damask rose
Old-fashioned flowers and fragrance are the hallmarks of ‘Ispahan’ Damask rose. Photo: Shelley Powell

‘Ispahan’ Damask rose

Rosa ‘Ispahan’, Zones 4–9

This big shrub easily reaches 6 feet tall and wide. The very full double flowers are light to medium pink with a wonderful fragrance. Damask roses subjected to our region’s hot, humid summers can be susceptible to every fungus around, so it’s a good thing ‘Ispahan’ only attracts attention in spring!

swamp rose flower
The flowers and fruit of swamp rose are as attractive to wildlife as they are to gardeners. Photo: courtesy of Fritz Flohr Reynolds, via Wikimedia Commons

Swamp rose

Rosa palustris var. scandens, Zones 5–8

A thornless selection of a North American native species, this is a big shrub that grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. Its loosely double, medium pink flowers have a wonderful fragrance and are always in bloom over Mother’s Day. If it is trained up over an arbor, it can make a great small tree form. As its common name suggests, swamp rose thrives in moist soil, but it will also tolerate occasional periods of drier conditions.

Yellow Lady Banks climbing rose
For flowers that feel like a burst of sunshine on a cloudy spring day, try Yellow Lady Banks climbing rose. Photo: courtesy of André Alliot, via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Lady Banks climbing rose

Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, Zones 6–9

Perhaps one of the best-known spring bloomers, this thornless wonder will climb almost anything, including trees. It has evergreen foliage and vining branches that can reach 15 to 30 feet long. Seeing it in full bloom covered with hundreds of tiny yellow roses always fills me with wonder.

Farmer’s Dream climbing rose
Trained on a railing, fence, or arbor, ‘Farmer’s Dream’ climbing rose provides loads of cheerful spring color. Photo: Shelley Powell

‘Farmer’s Dream’ climbing rose

Rosa ‘Farmer’s Dream’, Zones 5–9

Here is a climbing rose with ambition. It not only wants to make a lot of flowers, but it wants them to be big. Its vigorous branches grow 15 to 20 feet long. Late spring finds this climber loaded down with big, fluffy, medium pink flowers and delightfully full rosebuds.

pink climbing rose
The subtle, warm color of ‘Léontine Gervais’ softens to ivory as the flowers age. Photo: Shelley Powell

‘Léontine Gervais’ climbing rose

Rosa ‘Léontine Gervais’, Zones 5–9

‘Léontine Gervais’ is a big climber, reaching 10 to 25 feet tall and about 10 feet wide. It has gorgeous glossy green foliage and nice, double, apricot-colored blooms. Its fragrant showy flowers appear in clusters of five to seven over a period of four or five weeks.

There are a lot more choices, but these are our favorites. If you are thinking about planting a rose but have a short attention span, spring bloomers are perfect.

—Jason and Shelley Powell own and manage Petals from the Past, a garden center in Jemison, Alabama.

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