Drought Tolerant Roses

'Pat Austin' rose

‘Pat Austin’ rose

Lady Banks rose

Lady Banks rose

butterfly rose (Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis')

butterfly rose (Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’)

There appears to be a deep-seated prejudice among drought tolerant plant advocates and it’s about time that this prejudice was exposed for all the world to see.  I am talking a prejudice against roses. 

Examine any list of drought tolerant plants and you will search in vain for roses.  This is not at all fair since there are a significant number of rose species and dozens of rose cultivars that will do just fine with a single weekly watering, if not less, even in the high heat of summer.  Do a google search for “drought tolerant roses” and you will begin to consider planting a garden of nothing but roses, since there are all types of roses, from ground covers to climbers, that have minimal water needs.
The most drought tolerant roses are China roses.  Noteworthy among them is the so-called butterfly rose (Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’), a multi-colored, mutable, protean, or changeable rose whose flowers open up yellow in the morning, change to pale pink in the afternoon and, by the time evening arrives, assume a color somewhere between deep rose pink and magenta.  I can testify to the toughness of this rose since I planted several specimens more than a decade ago and, today, they form a wonderful informal hedge at the edge of my garden, providing year around color for both me and my neighbor, while reaching a height of between seven and eight feet. 
China roses were first brought to the attention of water conscious gardeners in 1969.  A specimen of ‘Old Blush,’ a pink China rose, was discovered next to a deserted shack in the Texas countryside.  This abandoned rose had obviously not received irrigation for years, had endured many harsh summers, and yet was thriving, as lush as any rose in a well kept garden.
What makes China roses special among drought tolerant roses is their reblooming capacity.   Many China rose cultivars flower on and off throughout the year in mild climates such as ours.  Several other species of roses, while equally drought tolerant, have a single annual bloom period. 
The most familiar one time annual bloomer is Lady Banks, a vining or climbing rose that is a most wonderful sight to see in late winter or early spring when few, if any, woody perennials are in bloom.  It’s elongated shoots are covered end to end in small yellow roses.  On occasion, a white Lady Banks cultivar is also seen.  The growth of Lady Banks roses is explosive and you will have to hard prune it regularly to keep it in bounds.
Rugosa roses, although more common in the Eastern U.S. than here, are also water thrifty.  An appealing feature of Rugosas is their tactile, crinkly foliage, making them an appealing garden curiosity.  Gallica and Centifolia roses are two other popular rose types that bloom just once a year yet have a minimal water requirement.
Truth be told, if you water any sort of rose through drip irrigation and religiously maintain a four inch layer of mulch around it, you will not have to budget an enormous quantity of water to make it flourish.  And I, for one, am not yet ready to give the boot to roses of any description for the sake of horticultural correctness. 
David Austin roses, for example, have a reputation for needing lots of water.  Yet just the other day, behind the bank on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Petit Avenue in Encino, I spotted ‘Pat Austin,’ a breathtaking David Austin rose, whose opulent flowers are apricot peach in color with a wonderful scent.  This rose bush was one of several growing in a planter bordered by the bank’s asphalt parking lot on one side and the city’s concrete sidewalk on the other.  The reflected heat absorbed from these hard surfaces, together with this year’s scorching spring temperatures, have not diminished Pat Austin’s beauty.
Tip of the Week:  If you are adept at grafting citrus or would like to try your hand at it, you would be well advised to take advantage of UC Riverside’s offer of disease free budwood.  You can select from several hundred grapefruit, orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, and kumquat varieties through the web site at http://www.ccpp.ucr.edu.  When you reach the site, click the “Order Budwood Online” link and then, from the web page that appears, click “Take me to the Budwood Order Forms” at the top of the page.  Using disease free budwood when grafting is more important now than ever since the outbreak of citrus greening or huanglongbing (HLB), a devastating bacterial disease spread by an Asian psyllid, which is an aphid like insect.  If you do a youtube search for “bud grafts on citrus,” you will find instructional videos on how to utilize citrus budwood for grafting. 


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