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What are Old Roses?

Britt Archer
Britt Archer

The rose is often considered a symbol of timeless, classic beauty. Just as beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and colors, so do roses. There is one type of rose, however, that is steeped in the history of the world, and that is the old rose classification.

An old rose is any rose class that was in existence before 1876, when the first hybrid tea roses started to appear on the market. The widely agreed upon classes of roses that fall into this category include Albas, Damask, Gallica, Centifolia, Moss, Portland, Bourbon, Hybrid Perpetual, Rugosa, China, Tea, and Noisette. All of these roses have distinct histories that can be traced to specific origins throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Despite the variations between the classes of old roses, they generally share the same growing habits and characteristics. Old roses do not require as much maintenance as other roses, and they are surprisingly hardy and will thrive in nearly any soil type or environment. Old roses have been found on abandoned estates, growing just fine without having any care from humans for decades. Not only are they hardy, but they are resilient as well. Many old rose owners who have accidentally run over their plants with a lawn mower have found them to return the next year with little encouragement.

Pruning an old rose variety can often be difficult. Research is required to figure out the growth pattern of a specific type of rose. Some gardeners recommend that aspiring rose growers allow their plants to grow wild for a few years, and observe the shape that the plant takes. Some roses are climbing, some are shrub-like and still others are upright or droopy. Old roses do not need to be pruned as often as their modern or hybrid counterparts, and care should be taken to maintain the plant's natural shape. Failing to do so can often cause the plant's overall health to suffer.

Old roses should generally be mulched, and a healthy watering should be administered every seven to ten days. It is acceptable and even encouraged to water the roses more during particularly hot seasons. While old roses don't need to be fertilized, they produce the best flowers when it is done. Fertilization should be done every four to six weeks, with variations allowed for individual plant health and climate conditions. Like their descendants, old roses do best with at least six hours of full sun and adequate air circulation.

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