If you have ever tried to separate the many different categories of roses, you know that it can be a little, erm, confusing.
Not to get too much into the weeds here (who are we kidding, I could talk roses all day!), But when a rose is hybridized, it is registered with the American Rose Society by the breeder or nursery.
The breeder decides how the new plant should be classified, usually classified in the same category as one of the parents.
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The official classifications according to American Rose Society are species (or wild), ancient garden (or antique), modern, hybrid and grandiflora, floribunda and polyantha, miniature (or miniflora), climber and shrub.
So a hybrid created from a tea and a floribunda can be classified as a tea simply because it is what the individual breeder chose. But it can actually have several qualities that are common to a floribunda type.
As a result, we have a somewhat chaotic classification system where these plants are not classified via any kind of structured method.
But it does not have to be that complicated. Some growers and hobbyists simply group them according to their growth habits. Some are climbers, while others stay low to the ground, spreading wider than high. Others grow in the familiar shrub form that you see in gardens across the globe.
These are not official classifications, but they are certainly easier to understand and they give you a better idea of how the plant will work in your garden, which I would argue is more important than knowing whether it is a hybrid or an antique. .
While we are talking about classification, you should note that a given classification group does not necessarily indicate growth habits. Climbing, ground cover and shrub hybrid tea are all available e.g.
Going forward, we’ll talk about the different growth habits these plants may have, and I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites for each one.
So without further ado, let’s explore the different growing habits. Knowing the difference will help you figure out which style works best in your space.
Then you can go over to our guide on rose ratings (coming soon!), If you want to narrow down your choices further.
If you want to cover a gazebo, gazebo or ugly rod with a plant that does not become invasive (I look at you, wisteria), a climbing type is perfect.
Roses with climbing habits usually reach up to 20 meters tall and up to three meters wide. Climbers are often hybrids, floribundas, polyanthas or species, though I have also seen old garden climbers out there.
Climbing types do not have tendrils or any other way to “hold” on to a structure, so you have to do it for them. You can either wrap sticks around a support or tie them using a flexible material such as rubber.
Ground cover and operation
If you want to replace your lawn or cover an area with lively flowers, ground cover types are the answer.
These are, as you can imagine, lichen growers spreading rather than growing upward. They generally remain below a foot tall, but compensate for their short stature by spreading far and wide.
You can sometimes see these called drift or carpet roses.
Drift is a cross between ground cover and miniature roses. They are generally considered to be tough and disease-free options, so choose one of these if you are new here and want to dip your toe in the rose water.
‘Apricot cultivation’ is a particularly appealing option. It has double flowers in pink orange. It is a continuous bloom with resistance to many diseases.
Only root plants are available from Burpee.
‘Sunshine Happy Trails’ has fruity, fragrant yellow-gold flowers.
It goes up to 30 inches above the ground with flowers from spring to fall.
Plants in No. 2 containers are available from Nature Hills Nursery.
Some people group hiking and climbing types together, but they have some differences, so I make an executive decision to call them out separately.
Ramblers tend to grow bushes and they are more energetic than climbers. If you want something to cover the side of your garage, choose a walkers and reserve climbers to decorate a trellis.
Ramblers grow up to 20 feet tall, but most remain approx. 12 feet or less. They can be spread up to 6 meters wide without training.
‘Lady of the Lake’ is an English hiker with pink semi-double flowers that has a wonderful citrus scent. When they open completely, you can catch a glimpse of their golden stamens.
Bush or Bush
This category can be a bit confusing, as the term “bush” is also an official classification. But it is also a way of referring to growth habits.
Shrubs generally grow anywhere from one to six feet tall and one to 10 feet wide. They do not need any kind of support to keep them upright.
Some have a more sparse growth habit, while others are more bushier and can be used as a privacy hedge.
Hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras and polyanthas often, but not always, grow in a bush habit.
You can find hybrid climbers and floribunda ground cover, so do not assume that a rose classified as one of these will definitely have a shrub habit.
One of my favorites is ‘Oso Easy Italian Ice’, which is a self-cleaning plant with pink petals on the outside that gradually changes to yellow on the inside.
This is one of those varieties that is hard to kill even if you neglect it.
Burpee carries these plants so you can add one to your garden.
‘Easy on the Eyes’ has semi-double flowers that come in a variety of colors on a single plant. Some flowers will be lavender, some will be peach, and all have a deep magenta center.
As an added bonus, it has a soothing citrus scent and is tough enough for the beginner to master.
Grab one of these standouts at Nature Hills Nursery in a No. 2 container.
Tree types (also called standards) do not grow naturally in the form of a tree with a main trunk topped with a canopy of leaves and flowers.
Instead, they are grafted using a single sugar cane without foliage with a hybrid, floribunda, grandiflora or shrub top.
As you might imagine, they look like miniature trees and are ideal for containers, flanking doorways or as centerpieces in a garden.
Most of them need extra support while they are young and I have had a few who refused to grow upright even after years and years.
They do not work in windy areas, and if they are not in full, direct sun, they tend to lean to reach the light.
As a quick side note, do not confuse tree types with the varieties that grow as tall as a tree. There are some 10-foot plus varieties and hybrids out there, but these are climbers, hikers or shrubs, not trees. Plants grown in a tree habit usually do not grow taller than three or four feet.
Some of the most popular tree types come from breeder David Austin, but the famous Knock Out® breeders have also made their own trees.
Hardy in zone 5-10, they are drought tolerant and fragrant.
You can buy them with yellow, red or pink flowers from Home Depot.
How do your flowers grow?
Knowing how a plant grows in your garden is important to choosing the best one for you.
After all, it will not do you much good if you want a centerpiece for your cutting garden, but instead of a bush you pick up a ground cover.
Now you are armed with the knowledge that gets you in and out of kindergarten without making you feel confused about the different growth habits. Tell us your choice in the comments section below!
If this guide helped you become a little more knowing about roses, check out these articles next:
About Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren is an author, photographer, reader and gardener outside of Portland, Oregon. She grew up in the Utah Desert and made her way to the Northwest Pacific rainforest with her husband and two dogs in 2018. These days, her passion is focused on growing decorative edible foods and searching for food in the urban and suburban landscape.