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Coming To A Mall Near You – Roses For Commercial Use

Knockout Roses at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World.

Paul Zimmerman

Another day in suburbia.  You pack the kids/spouse/grandkids in the car and head out to do a little shopping.  Fighting past traffic you pull into the Mall/Galleria/Shopping Center parking lot, thinking to yourself it’s another day of cookie cutter stores/restaurants/coffee shops.  When suddenly your eye is caught by something so unexpected, so unusual, so out of place you want to pick up the phone and call the folks at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.  That color, that form and yes – could it even be fragrance?  Could these plants blooming in the midst of an exhaust vaporized, asphalt heated parking lot actually be roses!

There is a good chance they might be.  And a good chance you might begin to see roses in commercial landscape settings more often in the future.  As tough new varieties are introduced and tough old roses are re-discovered, more commercial landscape architects are turning to roses to provide a visual feast for the eyes of folks whose lives’ bring them in daily contact with these urban settings.

For many years roses have been considered unable to grow anywhere but in a coddled back yard.  Rose introducers in this country did not help by bringing to market mostly roses that fit the myth.  Anyone who did landscaping in a commercial setting would never dream of including roses in their plan.  Instead, rugged shrubs and ground covers were the order of the day.  Tough, green, but not something to give the eye a visual respite from hard surfaces such as walls and sidewalks.  Yet recently, a group of designers lead by among others the Dutchman Piet Oudolf began to introduce color and texture through the use of plants such as ornamental grasses.  Other designers have also begun to cast their eyes about for additional plants to light up these otherwise mundane settings.  Roses are obvious, but are there varieties that could handle these stressful conditions?

In this country enter the Jackson & Perkins Simplicity Roses.  J&P broke ground by introducing folks in the United States to the concept of roses that need little, if any care.  From there the Meilland series, The Town and Country roses of Poulsen, the Flower Carpet Series and others are all collectively convincing people roses can survive in a commercial setting.

For The American Rose Society and its ambassadors in the form of the members of the hundreds of local Rose Societies, this is a golden opportunity to reverse the trend of roses being used less and less by gardening enthusiasts.  And also to bring these gardening enthusiasts into your Local and our National Rose Society.  A Gardening Enthusiast is not necessarily a rosarian (even though many rosarians are Gardening Enthusiasts).  Gardening Enthusiasts are folks who grow lots of different kinds of trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vegetables and herbs – all the while seeking to integrate all these different plants into their garden as a whole.  They are the fastest growing group of gardeners out there, but alas they shun roses because of the myths.  So as your local rose society plans community gardens try one in a commercial setting.  Show folks just how tough the plant we all love can be.

Landscaping in a Commercial setting has a different set of requirements than landscaping on private property.  Before you attempt to bring roses to your local mall check with city officials about codes for commercial landscaping.   Things like height, width, use of sprays, proximity to parking spaces, walkways will be regulated.  Roses have thorns and that needs to be taken into consideration in areas where children might be.  A maximum height is important where cars turn in and out of parking aisles, because sight lines cannot be blocked.  Chemical sprays are very carefully regulated in these settings for obvious reasons.  Taking the time to get familiar with these codes will help you when trying to convince the person in charge roses will work in their setting.

The requirements for roses in a commercial setting are the same as in your backyard but maybe even more so.  Good air movement will be needed so exhaust fumes doesn’t settle into the rose bed area.  Go for a sunny area, as roses do like all day sun.  Ignore any claims about shade tolerance in a setting such as this.  Besides all commercial areas have plenty of sunny spots.  An area with a grass border would be good because it will buffer some of the heat from the asphalt.  According to the weatherman it might be 90 degrees, outside but down on the parking lot it might be 110.

Check with the folks who do maintenance on the site you are looking at.  Ask if the area floods and water sits during heavy rains. All commercial landscape sites have strict drainage requirements and you want to make sure the roses are not planted in area where a potential rain torrent will wash away that fresh layer of mulch.  If you live in an area where it snows make sure the snowplows don’t stack the snow there in 15’ drifts.  While the insulation might be good for the roses, a 6’ pile of wet slush being pushed onto any plant is a recipe for disaster.  Make sure you are not making maintenance more difficult (i.e. grass cutting) for these folks.  They are usually stretched thin as it is and you don’t want to get on their bad side.  Ultimately they are going to be the ones keeping a daily eye on the roses and you want them as allies.  Above all make sure the roses are close to a source of water.

Let’s take a moment to talk about watering in a commercial setting.  Chances are you might get nothing better than a blast from a pop-up Rainbird.  If you are allowed to design a custom irrigation system bubblers are best.  I love drip irrigation but the emitters can clog and no one will be watching for this to happen until it’s too late.  Any kind of flood bubbler that will not clog is the way to go.  Remember, the idea is to plant it and forget about it.  Whatever choices you are given try to convince the maintenance folks early morning watering is best if they don’t do it already.  This applies to any plant – not just roses.  Plus these kinds of irrigation systems can be buried or hidden under mulch.  Also when you plant use water polymers to get the roses through the times when the irrigation system breaks down or someone forgets to adjust it when the temperatures go up by 20 degrees over two days.

Soil requirements are the same as for any rose bed or for that matter, garden bed.  Soil that drains well and is full or organics always works the best.  Use plenty of bone meal, adjust for PH if needed, and always use a heavy layer of mulch.  Besides keeping weeds down it also keeps the soil moist and at an even temperature.  The best line of defense against disease for any plant is its own health, and good soil is a primary part of that.  You might also think about putting down weedcloth, as weeding is not usually high on the maintenance list.

As these commercial landscaping roses don’t need much fertilizer stick to time released fertilizers.  There are many good ones on the market, but find one that matches the length of your growing season.  If you live in a northern climate with a shorter growing season you don’t want to apply an 8-10 month formula, as it will be releasing nitrogen when the roses should be shutting down for the winter.  Check with your local garden center or consulting rosarian to see what they recommend.  Seasonal applications of things like Epson Salts are always helpful but remember, theses roses are best left to their own devices and doing too much can actually be more harmful than helpful.

While roses for the Commercial Landscape should ideally rarely need spraying we do not live in an ideal world and the time might arise when this needs to done.  Be aware that every state I know of will require a commercial applicators license to apply sprays in a public setting.   Again, check with local officials and whatever you do don’t try to get around this by spraying at 2 AM in secret.  Most commercial settings forward thinking enough to include roses in their landscape will have a good, well-educated garden staff that includes a licensed applicator.  Work with and advise them on what to spray if needed and make sure what you are spraying is permitted in a public setting.

Every landscaper has a different style of planting so if you are advising a professional stick to assisting him or her with varieties and allow their vision to be the ultimate aesthetic picture.  But if you do get a chance to design the bed, you are advised to severely limit the amount of varieties and to plant in broad sweeps.  And broad sweeps means dozens of the same variety planted in mass together.  Generally in settings such as these you work in heights.  For example an island bed viewed on all sides might be a ring of lower growing roses surrounding a group of taller ones.  Pick just two varieties, one short and one tall and use only them.  Don’t give into the temptation to fill the center with dozens of different kinds of roses.  Commercial landscaping is about quick, first impressions and fussy planting is the antithesis of this.  Be aware of foliage size, texture and color.  Try to pick roses that have interesting forms of all of these, as it will add another layer of interest.  Rugosas have wonderful foliage texture and they certainly are rugged – great combination for a commercial setting.

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s talk about roses.  What constitutes the ideal rose for the commercial landscape?  While there are many thoughts here would be my list of requirements

  • Ever-blooming.  This is something that is going to be seen year around so the longer the roses are in bloom the better.  The exception being northern climates where the bloom season goes from June to September.  Say parts of zone 5 and lower.  Think Albas!
  • Self-controlled growth.  A rose that is supposed to be 3’ and stays that way is needed.  Again, the idea is easy care and having to constantly trim the roses to keep them within height codes is not much fun.
  • Self-deadheading.  I think this is important.  Spent blooms that hang on a bush are not attractive and unlike our personal gardens no one will be deadheading these on a regular basis.
  • Disease Resistant.  Goes without saying
  • Doesn’t need pruning.  Again, no one will have the time to do it.  Many roses don’t like being pruned so if we can eliminate this part of maintenance it will be for the better.
  • Appropriate for the climate.  This seems obvious but give some thought to it.  Tender roses that re-bloom are wonderful but they will not survive a winter.  That Portland Roses might look good in your Southern backyard but it will not be happy in a warm-humid commercial setting.  However it will be ideal for a northern setting where it can get the climate it likes.  If you are not sure if a rose will naturally like your climate check with other local rose folks.  They’ll know.

Below are classes and individual roses I and other folks I’ve talked to feel are good choices for the Commercial Landscape.  As you peruse the list keep in mind the things we talked about.  But most of all make sure you pick roses that will show off our favorite plant at its best.  Chances are these are going to be many folks first glimpse of these new breeds of roses, and if successful will go a long way to convincing folks that roses are a lot tougher than the myths make them out to be.  Who knows, maybe we can get some of our fellow gardening enthusiasts to include them in their perennial borders!

As a general guideline the following classes will work for Commercial Landscape Use.  Please keep in mind that some individual varieties in these classes will be better than others.  As always check with fellow rose growers in your area.

Alba.  Good for zone 5 or lower – these are cold hardy and very rugged.  The give a heavy spring bloom for about 4 weeks and bear wonderful foliage the rest of the year.

China Roses.  Heavy re-bloomers. Short in stature and strong colors make these wonderful roses for commercial applications.  Zone 7 or higher only.

Floribunda.  There are a lot of roses in this class.  Some are gems and some are duds but do some hunting because some of these are great.  Some can handle zone 5.

Hybrid Rugosa.  I’d only advise these for zone 6 or lower.  They are rugged, repeat blooming, have wonderful foliage but do not like heat.  These are used heavily in Europe in median strips.

Polyantha.  Some are quite hardy and their re-bloom and short stature make them a great choice.  Some can handle zone 5.

Portland.  About 4-5’ in average height, re-blooming and very fragrant.  Again zone 6 or lower as they do better in cool weather.

Tea Roses.  Only for zone 7 or higher, these roses re-bloom heavily and give little trouble in terms of care.

As to individual varieties here are some that should do quite well for you.  They are available from growers like Arena Rose Company, Ashdown Roses, Edmunds Roses, Jackson & Perkins and Weeks Roses to name a few.

Here are some roses we all like.  I’ve given class names for those in general commerce and class names for those from specific nurseries.  Mutabilis (China).  Starry Night (Edmunds Roses). Amber Queen (Floribunda).   New Zealand (Hybrid Tea – Edmunds Roses).  Lynnie  (Ashdown Roses).   Monticello (Arena Rose Company).  Robusta (Hybrid Rugosa).  Jacques Cartier (Portland).  Friends Forever (Ashdown Roses – zone 6 or below).  The Gift and The Gift x Sweet Chariot (Ashdown Roses).  Versailles Palace (Arena Rose Company).  Wild Dancer (Jackson Perkins).  Little Butterfly (Ashdown Roses).  Sally Holmes (Shrub).

These are but a few of the many more roses available for the commercial landscape.  Check with your local rose society or favorite rose grower for other suggestions.