How to Select and Use Roses in Garden

With so many different types of roses available to the gardener, selecting the best rose for your growing conditions is important.  Factors like the amount of sun, soil moisture, soil fertility, and winter hardiness are important considersations in selecting the right rose cultivar.  

Roses also have many uses beyond beautiful garden plants.  Their fruit, called hips, is ornamental and edible.  The plant has several culinary and herbal uses and they, of course, make wonderful cut flowers.

The best plants to grow alongside roses are those that prefer the same growing conditions - full sun and well-drained soils. While any plant that grows well in these conditions can be grown alongside roses, there are several perennials and shrubs that make great companions to roses in the garden.

Uses  |  Considerations for Selecting  |  Companion Plants More Information

Rose Uses


Rose hipsA part of the rose plant that is often overlooked is the fruit or hips. While we try to avoid big hips on our bodies, big hips on a rose can be incredibly attractive. Rose hips mature in late summer or early fall and can be burgundy, scarlet-red, orange, or golden-yellow. 

In addition to being ornamental, rose hips attract wildlife to the garden. Many birds and small animals will consume hips during the fall and into winter, if available. Rose hips are edible for people too. They are high in Vitamin C and can be made into jams or jellies or dried and incorporated into teas. 

The types of roses with the best ornamental (and edible) rose hips are shrub roses and old garden roses. Most shrub and old garden roses produce only one flush of bloom during the growing season. Deadheading (removal of spent flowers) is not necessary. In contrast, modern roses (hybrid tea, floribunda, and grandiflora cultivars) are repeat blooming and must be deadheaded to encourage continuous bloom. The hips on most modern roses are not as large or showy as those on shrub and old garden roses.  

Attractive, tasty hips are produced by many of the rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) and sweetbrier rose (Rosa rubrifolia), as well as other shrub and old garden roses. Specific cultivars noted for attractive hips include, ‘ConstanceSpry', 'Lucetta’, 'Adelaide Hoodless', 'Champlain', 'Henry Kelsey', 'Jens Munk', and 'Morden Centennial'. The Chicago Botanic Garden rated these cultivars highly for attractive orange to scarlet showy fruit.

Cut Flowers

Roses are highly prized as cut flowers.  These quintessential cut flowers can be used in vases or floral arrangements.  Any type of rose can be used for cut flowers but those types that produce long stems are better suited.  These include hybrid tea and many grandiflora and floribunda types. 

To produce high-quality cut flowers, roses are disbudded.  This process involves keeping one flower bud for each stem and removing (or disbudding) any secondary or side flower buds as they develop.  This produces a stem with on large flower at the top that is more attractive and easily used as a cut flower.  

Learn more about harvesting and caring for cut flowers in this article: How to Harvest, Conditions, and Care for Cut Flowers

Culinary and Herbal

The petals of roses are edible. They can be harvested and used fresh in vinegars, vinaigrettes, sauces, salads, and desserts. The flavor is slightly sweet and floral with overtones of apple, cinnamon, or mint.  When using rose petals it is important to only eat petals from plants that have not been sprayed with pesticides.  Since roses are traditionally not a food crop, the pesticides labeled for their use may not be safe for consumption.  Only eat petals from plants that you are sure have not been sprayed with pesticides.  

When you pluck the petal from the flower, the white base of the petal is bitter and should be removed. Old garden roses are typically the best tasting.  Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) have some of the best-tasting petals as do damask roses (R. damascena) and gallica roses (R. gallica).  Use only fragrant species or varieties as the fragrant flower are also the best tasting.  

Rose hips are edible and have some culinary and herbal uses. They tend to be high in Vitamin C and can be made into jams or jellies (with an equal part of sugar since they are quite tart). Rose hips are also sometimes dried and incorporated into teas. In fact, during World War II when Great Britain found it difficult to import citrus, a syrup was made from rose hips and used as an excellent substitute source of Vitamin C. Meskwaki and Menomini Indians boiled the hips to make a syrup for various food uses. Indians and pioneers ate the hips, flowers, and leaves when other food was scarce.

The tastiest rose hips come from shrub roses and old garden roses. Notable varieties include the sweetbrier rose (Rosa rubrifolia) and rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) such as 'Alba', 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup', and 'Scabrosa'.'


Roses are easily dried and used in dried arrangements, on wreaths, or in potpourri.  Air drying is the easiest and most common way to preserve most flowers. Gather the stems into small bunches and bind together with a rubber band. Hang the bunches upside-down in a dark, well-ventilated area. Most flowers 2 need one to two weeks to dry depending on environmental conditions. 

Learn more about drying roses in this publication: Harvesting and Drying Flowers.

Considerations When Selecting Roses for Your Garden

Type and Growing Habit

There are thousands of rose species and varieties available with many options for flower color, fragrance, bloom type (single, double, etc.), size, spread, growth habit (suckering, climbing, etc.), vigor, and bloom frequency.  

Selecting the best rose for your garden requires you to consider each of these attributes and match the right type of rose that can be best maintained.  

Learn more about the many different types of roses that can be grown in Iowa and their attributes in this article: Rose Types and Cultivars for Iowa

Get more information on good roses for the Midwest from the evaluation summary provided in this article from the Chicago Botanic Garden: See Plant Evaluation Notes: An Evaluation Report of Shrub Roses.

Growing Conditions

Roses should be grown in a location that receives full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day).  When grown in too much shade, plants will not bloom as well and are more prone to certain diseases, such as powdery mildew. 

Ideal soils are moist, well-drained, fertile, and loamy.  Incorporating compost in the garden bed prior to planting or building a raised bed can help provide better soil conditions if soils are heavy, poorly drained, or infertile.  

Learn more about growing roses in this article: Growing Roses in Iowa

Pests and Diseases 

Roses are susceptible to a wide range of health issues.  Because of this, good cultivar selection is essential. 

In general, shrub or landscape roses are better choices for most gardeners because they are typically more resistant to common diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew.  Additionally, these roses are winter hardy and repeat bloomers, making them easier to maintain and stay attractive all season. 

Pests can play a factor as well.  Some insects like Japanese beetle, rose slug, or aphids can be serious threats to plant health and appearance, and when populations are high will require more effort to keep plants healthy and attractive.  Areas with high populations of deer or rabbits may not be good growing locations for roses as they are frequently browsed or damaged by these animals.

Learn more about common problems with roses and how to manage them in this article: Pests and Disease of Roses

Winter Hardiness

Most modern roses need protection to survive the cold winter months in Iowa.  Hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda, as well as some polyantha, miniature, and climbing roses, are not reliably winter hardy and must be protected. 

Most shrub, landscape, species, and old garden roses, as well as some miniature, polyantha, and climbing roses, are reliably winter hardy and do not require extensive preparation for winter. 

The amount of care required for those rose types that are not reliably winter hardy is considerably more than those that are winter hardy.  If you are not able to provide the time needed to keep hybrid tea, grandiflora, and other non-hardy roses alive through the winter, then shrub or landscape roses would be a better selection.  

Learn more about overwintering roses in this article: How to Overwinter Roses in Iowa

Companion Plants

Rarely are roses grown alone.  They look their best in diverse gardens.  Even in traditional rose gardens that feature only roses, there are still other plants nearby to provide interest and color when the roses are not in bloom.  

The best plants to grow alongside roses are those that prefer the same growing conditions - full sun and moist well-drained soils.  Any plant that grows well in these conditions can be grown with roses, but those listed below complement the size, bloom time, and habit of most roses well.  


Select perennials that like full sun, well-drained soil, and bloom in early spring through late summer/fall.  These perennials will provide color when the roses are not in peak bloom or complement the rose flowers without pulling attention from their blooms. (listed roughly be height)

  • Garden Thyme (Thymus sp.)
  • Sedum (Sedum spp.)
  • Moss phlox (Phlox subulata)
  • Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
  • Ozark sundrop (Oenothera missouriensis
  • Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)
  • Catnip (Nepeta sp.)
  • Hardy geranium (Geranium spp.)
  • Wormwood (Artemisia sp.)
  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
  • Yarrow (Achillea sp.)
  • Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
  • Big betony (Stachys)
  • Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)
  • Calamint (Calamintha sp.)
  • Perennial salvia (Salvia x superba)
  • Speedwell (Veronica spp.) 
  • Tall sedum (Hylotelephium)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Blackberry lily (Iris domestica)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
  • Ornamental Onion (Allium sp.)
  • Sea-Lavender (Limonium latifolium)
  • Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
  • Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)
  • False blue indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)
  • Blazing star (Liatris spp.)
  • Peony (Paeonia hybrids)
  • Russian sage (Salvia yangii, syn. Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Ornamental Grasses 

  • Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)
  • Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
  • Tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Blue oatgrass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
  • Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora)
  • Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea
  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum )
  • Japanese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis)


Many different shrubs can be used as a backdrop or alongside roses.  (listed roughly by height)

  • Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata
  • Dwarf conifers (various species)
  • Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
  • Birchleaf Spirea (Spiraea betulifolia)
  • Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum)
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii)
  • Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
  • Summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia)
  • Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
  • Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)
  • Eastern ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
  • Koreanspice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)
  • Smooth witherod (Viburnum nudum)
  • Witherod Viburnum (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides)
  • Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
  • Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
  • Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  • Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
  • American Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum)
  • Smokebush (Cotinus spp.)

More Information

Last reviewed:
November 2023