There are many kinds of roses – Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Landscape Rose, and many more – but the same rose can come in different ways too. Typically, they are grown to produce stems from ground level, and become a bushy plant. But sometimes we see them on a trunk, which may be one to four feet tall, with a crown of branches where the flowers will appear. These are called ‘Tree Roses’ or ‘Standard Roses’, and although they are available from time to time, how to grow them and use them in your landscape can be a bit of a mystery. Let’s find out more about these plants, and the many different ways they can be used to add interest and variety to our gardens.
What Is a Tree Rose?
A tree rose can be almost any variety of rose – although compact, smaller ones are best – attached to a trunk that is 2 or 3 feet tall. This single trunk supports a head of many branches, and up there, where they can be seen well, are the blooms of the rose – red, pink, yellow, or whatever color you have chosen. Tree roses will grow a foot or so taller, perhaps, than when you buy them, but they won’t grow into a large tree, they way a young shade tree will. They are a great way to add height without a lot of width, so they are perfect for smaller gardens, or if you have no garden at all, just a terrace or balcony. They are grown pretty much in the same way as regular rose bushes – more on this later – but because of their extra height they give us something very different to use when creating beautiful gardens. Perhaps the best roses to use for the top growth are miniature roses, or roses with smaller blooms and compact growth. They will remain neat and attractive, and be always covered with blooms, rather than just producing a few large blooms from time to time. It is also possible to sometimes find weeping tree roses, with trailing roses on top, which make lovely garden features.
Using Tree Roses in Your Garden
Tree roses are versatile and useful, and with a little imagination they can really add a unique touch to your garden. One suitable place is in smaller flower beds where you could grow dwarf flowering shrubs or annual flowers. A Tree Rose will give height, and lots of colorful interest to a bed just 2 or 3 feet wide, something virtually impossible any other way. One can be put in the center of a square bed, and they can be planted in a row along the center of a rectangular bed. Depending on the spacing you use, they can look like a hedge on stilts, or a miniature avenue. Planted alongside a pathway they make a charming approach to your home, and you could perhaps place an up-light beneath each one to make that entrance beautiful at night too.
Often around your home you will have evergreen bushes, and as these grow spaces may develop between them – maybe you even planned it that way. A Tree Rose is perfect for filling a space that is narrow, but where you need height. Sure, you could use a narrow juniper, or another type of slender evergreen, but why not enjoy beautiful blooms instead – its ‘no contest’ really.
Another major use for tree roses is as container plants. They give instant height, without waiting for another type of narrow bush to grow, and they give an upper layer of blooms, that can be color coordinated with the shrubs or trailing plants you use underneath it. Perhaps you have a long planter box at the edge of a terrace or balcony. What better than some Tree Roses to fill it, with smaller shrubs underneath?
How Do They Make Tree Roses?
The skilled nurserymen who produce rose plants for our gardens usually do this using the ancient technique of grafting, or more precisely, budding. For this a bud is taken from the wanted variety and placed in a slit on the stem of another rose plant selected for its hardy and reliable roots. It helps the variety we want to grow more strongly and be more adaptable to different soils. The ancient China knew how to do this, and most of our fruit comes from grafted trees. Shade trees too are normally grown this way, to give a sturdy trunk quickly. Home gardeners are more familiar with growing from cuttings, but to grow a rose from cuttings takes a stem with 3 or 4 buds on it, while budding only uses one, so more plants can be grown from each original plant, more quickly. Anyway, budded roses grow better and have twice as many blooms as roses grown on their own roots from cuttings.
The most popular rose for roots is one called ‘Dr. Huey’, which is a climbing rose. For normal plants small cuttings of this plant are grown in a field, and then a worker stays close to the ground and attached the bud. Because ‘Dr. Huey’ is a climbing rose, it grows long, sturdy stems. These can be taken, cut into lengths and then rooted. After removing all the thorns, two buds of the rose you want are attached to the top and Bingo! You have a Tree Rose. Remember that the stem or trunk part of your tree rose is different from the growing branches on the top.
Caring for Tree Roses
Tree Roses are grown pretty much the same way as regular roses, particularly with feeding and watering. Roses like a steady water supply, and while they may survive some pretty dry weather, flowering will usually stop, often for the season. A good blended fertilizer for roses, and rich mulches of compost or rotted manure will give you the maximum blooms and the healthiest growth.
The top part is pruned in the same way as if it was growing directly on the ground, but you need to take care that no growth comes from lower down. This will be shoots of ‘Dr. Huey’, not your rose, so trim them off right at the stem if they appear. Check carefully just below the budding point, as they can begin to grow there too. The good doctor is very vigorous, so if you don’t remove him, he will quickly take over, and starve the plant you started with. (This applies equally to regular bush roses in your garden too.) Once you have removed any ‘suckers’, as these unwanted shoots are called, then take out any weak, dead or damaged stems in early spring, just as the buds are beginning to swell. Trim back the remaining branches between one-third and one-half, and always cut just above an outward-facing bud.
If you garden in colder zones like zones 4 or 5, it can be hard to grow Tree Roses because the top plant is exposed to much more winter cold than it would be growing on the ground. It will not be covered with a protective blanket of snow, for example. If they are in containers, then you can bring them into a cold area (below 40 degrees) for the winter. They don’t need light, so an unheated garage is usually perfect.
The second special care needed is staking. Because the branches are up in the air on a relatively slender trunk, they can break in storms, or even from the weight of heavy snow. So when planting in the ground or in pots, always place a permanent stake right beside the trunk. A metal rod is ideal. Cut it off above the budding point, so that you can attach both the trunk and the upper branches to the stake for support. Don’t make the ties too tight, and use plastic-coated wire or thick plastic, not natural string, which can rot and break in a few years.