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Garden Journal

Thornless roses offer many kinder, gentler varieties

By Paul Barbano | Jul 04, 2012
Plant thornless roses in full sun in rich, well-drained soil.

Henry David Thoreau opines that both truths and roses have thorns, but the truth is that not all roses have thorns.  Many roses have smooth or almost thornless stems, so they are ideal to plant along sidewalks, porches and children’s gardens.

Numerous old thornless garden roses are still around, including the pink flowered hybrid perpetual rose Paul Neyron.  The aptly named Reine des Violettes, which translates as Queen of Violets, bears fragrant violet flowers on thornless canes.

Zephirine Drouhin is a thornless Bourbon rose with fragrant, bright pink double flowers that will tolerate shade. Golden Showers is a large-flowered yellow climbing rose with a light licorice scent.

Plant breeder David Austin specializes in modern roses that look and smell old fashioned but bloom better.  The David Austin rose A Shropshire Lad sports cup-shaped flowers that open into attractive rosettes. The soft, peachy pink blooms have a delicious fruity fragrance and are borne on a strong-growing bush with few if any thorns.

Plant thornless roses in full sun in rich, well-drained soil.  Add compost or well-rotted manure to the planting hole.  Many gardeners also add bone meal.  Like all flowers, roses look best when clustered together, whether as a hedge or a group planting.  Space bushes about 18 inches apart.  Water well, especially during hot, dry periods, but never let water puddle around the roots, or the pants can die.

It takes a lot of nutrition to produce rose blossoms, so fertilize often with a good organic fertilizer.  Stop fertilizing about a month before frost so your thornless roses don’t send up tender shoots that will be killed in the winter.   

Apply a layer of composted manure in early spring, keeping it six inches away from the main stem.   Since manure decomposes slowly, a spring application will last the entire growing season. You can also feed your roses a manure tea.  Make this manure tea by mixing 10 pounds of manure into a 32-gallon garbage can filled with water. Stir every day for a week and give each thornless rose bush one gallon of tea in May or June.

To encourage reblooming, cut off blossoms as they fade.  Mulch will help retain moisture and keep the roots cool and healthy.

You can even grow thornless roses in pots.  They make great accents on patios or decks, without thorns to snag your guests.  Use the biggest pot you can.  Since pots dry out faster than roses planted in the ground, be sure to water frequently.

Even thornless rose blossoms can be left to develop into seed pods called rose hips.  Rose hips are made into rose hip jam, or brewed for tea, because of their high vitamin C content.  You can even eat rose petals, assuming you don’t use pesticides or sprays.

With thornless roses, you can enjoy the fragrance and beauty of roses; plant them to screen a view or frame a doorway and never have to worry about being pricked or snagged.  Although the sharp objects along a rose stem are commonly called thorns, they are technically prickles, outgrowths of the outer layer of stem tissue.  And that, as Thoreau might say, is the truth without thorns.

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