When I lived in Northern Europe and the roses in my garden died every winter, I often wondered what are the best roses for cold climates. Surely there had to be varieties which could take a little bit of frost? Or, was I doomed to never enjoy roses because winters there are cold?
Roses tend to die in the winter as they are not winter plants. Most of them are not hardy and lneed 7-8 hours of daily sunlight. In the winter, wet, cold and moist conditions tend to make roses prone to diseases and pest attacks. Additionally, rainfall, snowfall and wind easily break branches. Intense frost tends to attack roses from the inside, freezing the water in their cells which presents as dieback. Most roses can’t handle fluctuating temperatures, and a mistake of late pruning or fertilising will kill them fast as new growth cannot defend against cold. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful rose garden!
To prevent fussing around winter protection, choose roses which are hardy in your zone (if you live in the US). For example, a rose hardy in zone 3 is hardy in all zones above, but not below! Hardy roses will generally be bred to be pest-resistant, disease-resistant and immune to frost. All of this means you can plant them straight in and not worry about what winter may bring! Rose varieties like Ramblin’ Red, Sunsprite, The Fairy, Black Jade, are perfect for colder climates!
Why do roses die in the winter?
Roses die in the winter as they’re decidedly not a flower which likes cold. Roses need 6 hours of direct sunlight minimum, but they will truly thrive on about 9+ hours a day. However, roses also need heat to survive and thrive. As roses are temporary plants (meaning they shed flowers and leaves in the autumn), they do not hibernate. They slow their metabolisms down to a rate where they’re just keeping the cells of their shoots alive enough to weather the winter intact. As these cells contain water, strong frosts freeze the cellular water, literally causing the rose cells to burst from the inside and die.
Another reason why roses die in the winter is that, just like humans, they are more prone to getting sick. Wet, cold and cloudy conditions are ideal breeding grounds for all sorts of bad microbes, fungi and pests. This perfect storm of bad conditions makes your rose an easy target if it is already diseased, damaged, stressed or otherwise not suited for the area. Some roses will never be suited for your location, no matter what you do, as they cannot defend against everything that a harsh winter brings. This is why choosing the right varieties is very important!
How do I know what killed my rose?
Windy winters break rose canes
There is a multitude of reasons why the cold can kill your rose. Your climate could be especially windy during the winter. This usually means that wind will whip rose canes back and forth. This will damage them and break them, which can either outright kill them or leave them wounded and susceptible to illnesses. You can spot wind damage as your rose will be rugged, the canes sticking every which way, some bent and some broken. If you have climbers you didn’t attend to, you can expect them to be fully dislodged from the wall or the trellis.
Rainfall and snowfall cause dieback disease
Your climate can also experience heavy rainfall or snowfall in the winter. While this may not seem like much of a problem, strong bouts of hail can absolutely decimate your rose garden. Heavy snowfall or rainfall might beat down your rose bush and break branches. It might even destroy the roots of your roses, by which point you cannot hope to salvage them. However, with intense frosts, rose dieback is more of a problem. If you notice that your rose has green branches which turn completely black, this is dieback disease brought on by frost.
Roses hate fluctuating temperatures
Your winter climate may also just fluctuate a lot. If you live in the places like the Netherlands or Denmark, you might know what I’m talking about. You might get rain for 10 days in a row, with the temperatures suddenly rising to give you an hour of sunshine. And all of that – just to have a short snow day immediately afterwards! While not even humans are accustomed to such weather fluctuations, to some roses such sharp temperature and condition changes might be detrimental. The fluctuating environmental conditions can easily make soil waterlogged or too dry, or even hit a wet rose with blinding sun for a short while. If you see brown or scorched leaves or even completely creased foliage, your rose is probably very unhappy with the weather fluctuations.
Avoid pruning or fertilising after mid-August
Finally, your rose dying might not necessarily just be the cold climate’s fault. If you pruned or fertilised your rose anywhere between October and December, it is likely you helped your rose instigate new shoots. Each time a rose is pruned or fertilised, it basically gets a flashing neon sign saying “Everything is great, make more shoots, it’s time to flower!!!”. If you pruned in October, this means new shoots start appearing just around December. Baby shoots of the rose are not hardened and mature and, as such, can’t withstand cold temperatures. Much like humans would get sick wearing sandals into the snow, these little buds shrivel and die, making the rose wounded and more likely to introduce various illnesses. Or ever worse, get attacked by fungi, which proliferate during times of cold and wet conditions.
How do I know a rose is good for a cold climate?
A rose is generally good to plant in your area if it fits the hardiness zone of your area, or if it is above it. “Hardy rose” simply means a rose that tolerates winter well and is able to survive in suboptimal weather conditions. To find out your hardiness zone, you can either consult this handy map outlining USDA hardiness zones, or this map showing European hardiness zones. Americans can also make use of this website where you can just type in your zip code and be automatically informed of your hardiness zone!
Generally, you can easily find information about your rose’s hardiness online, or from your retailer. While planting a rose not hardy in your zone is possible, generally it requires much more vigilance in protecting your rose against the elements. With the best care and most fuss, your non-hardy rose might still not make it through the winter.
Best roses for cold climates
This list was assembled with a typical rose in mind. A typical rose from any nursery will do great in zones 7, 8 and 9 with little to no winter protection. These zones encompass the lowest winter temperatures from -17.8 to -1.1 degrees Celsius (0 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit). However, these same roses will begin to struggle below 0 Fahrenheit, but also above zone 10 (usually the very tip of Florida, some parts of California and Arizona), as roses do not like the arid tropical climates. Hence, this list contains roses that do well in zone 6 all the way to zone 2 (-23.3 to -40 Celsius or -10 to -40 Fahrenheit).
Best climbing roses for cold climates
Captain Samuel Holland Rose
This wonderful, vividly pink rose grows up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) in height and spreads out 1.3 metres (4 feet) wide. While it still requires full sun like any other rose, Captain Samuel Holland boasts double flowers all season long. If you’re looking for a climber rose which is disease-resistant and has thick flower coverage for arbors and fences – this is your best call!
Like any climbing rose, Captain Samuel Holland requires regular pruning and upkeep around the base, but it is exceptionally healthy and easily blends into the background, allowing the flowers to stand out. If you care for it well, expect it to last long, with some gardeners reporting a lifespan of over several decades. Captain Samuel Holland is hardy in zones 2 and above.
William Baffin Rose
William Baffin is lightly pink rose with a long blooming season (all the way from May to first frosts!). Easily reaching 3 metres tall (10 feet) and 2 metres wide (6 feet), this amazing and vast climber is hardy in zones 2 and above. Very showy with its blooms and amazingly fragrant, William Baffin attracts butterflies throughout the season.
This is a thorny rose, but the upside is that it is not only great against diseases. It also tolerates living in areas with air pollution issues. It can be grown as a shrub, but reaches its full potential when watered daily, mulched and exposed to full sunlight along a trellis, high wall or a fence.
Best rambling roses for cold climates
Ramblin’ Red Rose
Full disclosure – rambling roses are generally not hardy in climates below zone 6. This is why Ramblin’ Red is the only entry for cold climate rambling roses. Reaching 2.5 metres (8 feet) in height and width, Ramblin’ Red sports a pretty intense red colour for its flowers. It is a shrub rose, unusually hardy all the way to zone 3. This is what perhaps makes it one of the most exciting rambling roses out there. It is hardy, disease-resistant, low-maintenance and gorgeous with full and thick blooms to boot!
Ramblin’ Red flowers from late spring to late summer, with flowers which are incredibly fragrant and perfect for cutting. The red of the flowers turns burgundy towards the fall, and it is perhaps an ideal rose for walls, given the wonderful contrast of dark foliage and gemstone-red blooms.
Best English roses for cold climates
Stanwell Perpetual Rose
Believe it or not, Stanwell Perpetual is a rose over 150 years old! This wonderful variety reaches 1 by 1 metre of height (3 to 4 feet) and width within 2-3 years of planting it. It sports rosette-shaped, fully double, creamy rose flowers which are so enchanting, typical of English roses. These pale pink flowers produce scent to be reckoned with, spreading easily throughout the garden.
Stanwell Perpetual is perhaps the hardiest of the English roses, being able to withstand frost to zone 3. It is a hedge rose with lots of thorns and is generally quite disease-resistant if you’re able to meet its needs of daily watering and dappled shade sunlight 6+ hours daily.
I can’t contain myself to recommend Susan Williams-Ellis to all rosarians I know. Hardy from zone 4, this incredible specimen is known for above-exceptional health and full resistance to all diseases. Reaching a height and width of about 1.2 metres (4 feet), the wonderful white flowers are typically Old Rose fragrant. With over 140 cabbage-like petals and counting, this is a bloomer which turns heads!
Susan Williams-Ellis is repeat flowering and ideal for the front of the house, hedges and borders. It will do best in full sunlight, but tolerates partial sunlight as well as it tolerates cold. If you prefer pink flowers, consider planting The Mayflower Rose. The two are basically the same varieties of the same rose, except that Susan Williams-Ellis is white and The Mayflower is Barbie-pink. Both are hardy in zone 4 and a delightful rose for northern climates.
Best hybrid tea roses for cold climates
Canada Blooms Rose
Just like rambling roses, hybrid teas do best in zone 5 and above and as such are generally not hardy. The exception to the rule is Canada Blooms, a well-known hardy hybrid tea rose. Highly fragrant and perfectly pink, Canada Blooms is an ideal rose for zone 4 and above. With some mulching, this rose will easily overwinter in zone 2!
The dark-green foliage is a perfect backdrop to stunning blooms, which are often double and perfect for cutting and displaying. It tops out at 0.9 meters (3 feet) in height and width, making it a perfect rose for small gardens in colder climates.
Best floribunda roses for cold climates
Sunsprite is a sunshine-yellow floribunda rose. Strongly-scented, bright-golden and lightly ruffled in appearance, the blooms stand wonderfully against semi-glossy foliage. It is a modern hybrid, known to be resistant against all diseases. It is exceptionally hardy given the size and complexity of the blooms. Growing to be 90 to 120 (3 to 4 feet) wide and tall, it is ideal for just about every spot where you need some pick-me-up. It will do great in both shady and sunny locations, but prefers full sun if possible.
Sunsprite requires quite dilligent pruning in colder areas. However, good news is it is easily hardy to zone 5 (zone 4 with protection).
Deeply, darkly, wonderfully burgundy red – that is Lavaglut for you. These grandiflora-looking cluster blooms almost seem too gorgeous to be able to thrive in winter conditions, but this rose has it all. While rather short (60 to 90 centimetres, 24 to 46 inches), this repeat bloomer offers stunning heads of blooms for display during late spring and early summer.
If you’re looking for a rose resistant in a climate where temperatures vary wildly, look no further. This beauty can survive equally well in north of Europe and south of United States. Hardy to zone 4, you will be downright surprised how pest resistant it can be. Additionally, it has very durable flowers against both snow and scorching sun.
Best grandiflora roses for cold climates
Honey Dijon Rose
I must admit that I am a huge sucker for the wonderful mustard-pastel-yellow colour of this rose. An abundant bloomer and sweetly scented, Honey Dijon is hardy up to zone 5. It is naturally vigorous and resists winter diseases with ease. Reaching a height and width of 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 feet), this rose does equally well in shade and sunlight. In fact, choose to plant it in a shade for a pop of colour. Pastels such as this beauty tend to look the most beautiful in a corner away from sunlight.
A perfectly orange grandiflora, Octoberfest is a large, double-flowered rose. Hardy up to zone 5, it is tall and upright, with impressively large blooms that are not afraid of chillier weather. Sporting up to 40 luxurious petals, Octoberfest emanates a moderate scent, making it ideal as a border rose or even a balcony rose. Unlike Honey Dijon, it requires full sunlight. It also tends to be fussy about the soil, which has to be slightly acidic. Once you meet its needs, it will reward you with clusters upon clusters of show-stopping blooms.
Best polyantha roses for cold climates
The Fairy Rose
A dwarf shrub rose, The Fairy is known for dreamy, pastel pink blooms reminiscent of English roses. The difference is that this rose grows much shorter (60 to 120 centimetres or 2 to 4 feet), and that it often blooms in rich, cascading clusters. The Fairy is hardy, drought-tolerant, shade-tolerant, disease-tolerant and frost-tolerant, and you can easily grow it in hardiness zone 4.
While this rose does best in full sun, it will easily proliferate in shade. Expect it to bloom intensively in the summer, at which time it will awash your entire garden in a honey-like scent. Choose this variety for beds and borders, as well as hedges.
Best miniature roses for cold climates
Black Jade Rose
An atypical red rose, this cute miniature is exceptionally hardy, tolerating zone 4 without an issue. It grows only about 60 centimetres (2 feet) in height and width. This makes it an ideal front for beds and hedges, as well as containers. The flower are very dark red against glossy green foliage, with quite simple yet charming open petals. This miniature rose requires full sun and doesn’t do the best in shade. However, it is very thankful when it comes to the choice of a soil.
Rainbow’s End Rose
Talking about weird, Rainbow’s End is one of those curious roses which stops visitors dead in their tracks. Vibrant both before and much after maturity, this rose sports perfectly yellow flowers which slowly transition towards a full red-pink as they age. It isn’t very fragrant, but it sports very complex flowers with over 30 petals. Surprisingly enough, it is hardy in zone 4 and above. The most charming thing about this rose is that, if you grow it in full sun, it usually contains some blooms which are red, some blooms which are yellow, and some which are a mix! This gives a completely off-the-rails vibe of having 3 different roses in one. Definitely a great pick for a great colour show in the north gardens!
Best groundcover roses for cold climates
White Meidiland Rose
This spreading shrub rose is white as a wedding dress! It flowers so prolifically that it can easily completely overwhelm and cover up a surface. White Meidiland will only grow about 30 centimetres (1 foot) tall, but it can spread up to 2 metres in width (6 feet). It is exceptionally beginner-friendly, as it is low-maintenance, easy to grow and tolerates cold, frost and heat equally well.
Hardy in zone 4, White Meidiland will do equally well in full and partial sun. It looks even more brighter and charming in dark corners, due to its fresh, white flowers. It is a continuous bloomer, and will provide you with plenty of flowers. Expect it to bloom from early spring to the first frosts.
I hope our northern readers are happy with this great variety of roses which tolerate the cold! No more planting of the wrong varieties and seeing them die winter after winter. Make this one count and plant a colourful garden of roses which will serve you well. Meanwhile, why not give your roses extra protection to help them overwinter? Read all about it here!