What To Grow Under Roses: Tips For Growing Plants Under Rose Bushes
By: Stan V. Griep, American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian, Rocky Mountain District
Whether you’re looking for ways to improve the look of your rose garden or trying to help encourage beneficials to the area, it’s sometimes necessary to add plants that grow well under roses. Read on to learn more.
Reasons for Planting Beneath Roses
There are some rose bushes that have a growth habit of getting what is called “leggy,” which essentially means that for some reason the roses will shed all of their lower foliage, leaving nothing but their canes showing. The foliage and blooms are all up higher on the bush, making the lower portion bare and lacking a nice eye-catching look that we like for our gardens.
In order to bring out the desired look for such gardens, we need to find some lower growing plants that will not just bring back the eye-catching beauty of blooms or foliage but plants that grow well under roses too. Some folks believe that rose bushes are actually healthier with companion plants, as they help encourage the beneficial bugs and drive away the bad ones.
Plants That Grow Well Under Roses
When adding companion plants to the rose beds, it is wise to choose plants that do not have an unruly or spreading growth habit. Look for those that have a more well-behaved growth habit, perhaps even a growth habit that is similar to the roses themselves. Ensure that your underplanting rose companions are at least 12 to 18 inches away from the rose bushes to avoid disturbing their root systems. Roses do not like having to compete for available nutrients, water or sunlight, so keep this in mind with your companion plantings.
Although it’s usually recommended to contact your local extension service for the best plants in your particular area, it also helps to read the “growing zone” information available for all plants that are of interest to make sure they will grow well in your zone. Here is a listing of some plants that are considered good companions for planting beneath roses:
- Anise hyssop
- Garden phlox
- Lady’s mantle
- Russian sage
- Annual phlox
- Million bells
- Flowering tobacco
In some cases, we may be looking for companion plantings that serve a multi-purpose of both interest and beauty, yet also help repel insects and such. Some of these plants are:
- Onions – known to repel aphids, weevils, borers and moles
- Garlic – repels aphids, thrips and helps fight black spot and mildew (for the best results with garlic, you will likely need to plant it with the rose bushes for several years)
- Marigolds – tend to discourage harmful nematodes and repel many pests, and is considered a trap plant for slugs
- Parsley – said to repel rose beetles
- Mint – deters ants and aphids (be careful with mint though, as it can easily become overgrown and invasive)
- Geraniums – repel Japanese beetles, aphids and other rose beetles
- Chives – repel many insects
- Tomatoes – help protect roses from black spot and add tasty food as well
For some foliage type plants try:
- Hostas – good for zones 3 to 9
- Heuchera – good for zones 4 to 9
- Lamb’s ears – good for zones 4 to 9
- Persian shield – good in zones 9 to 11
- Coleus – good for zones 10 to 11
The shapes of the leaves and their colors do well to provide good contrast to the rose bushes’ classic form.
Many companion plantings will require a bit of shaping, pruning or thinning to hold them to their area and maintain a well-kept appearance. The need for this bit of work is not a bad thing, as it does us good to be in our gardens. If some companion plants do not provide the desired look, change them out until you get the appearance that most appeals to you.
Growing plants under rose bushes can help create a garden space of soul recharging delight so you can enjoy them to the fullest!
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Great Companion Plants for Roses
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
Plants, like people, do best with partners that will bring out their top qualities and share their space with equanimity, neither overpowering nor paling in comparison. There are several considerations when choosing suitable plant companions: aesthetics, growing conditions, and plant health. Plant companions should both look good together and require similar growing conditions. Another component of companion planting, often referred to in organic gardening, is selecting companions that ward off pests, improve the soil, or have a beneficial effect on plant health in other ways.
A great resource recommended on this subject is Jackson & Perkins Rose Companions: Growing Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, Shrubs, and Vines with Roses, by Stephen Scanniello. Formerly a rose curator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Scanniello offers expert advice on how to create a stunning garden with roses and companions plants, or, as he states in the introduction, “how to get roses to play well with others."
Top 10 Plants for Successful Underplanting
Underplanting is an essential part of gardening and landscaping. The basic thing to understand about underplanting is that choosing the right plants is crucial. They need to be tolerant of the dry soil, the shade, root competition, and ever-changing moisture and light conditions. It is not true that you can not have lush vegetation under trees and shrubs.
That bare soil can be covered with plants with the most beautiful leaves, colors, textures. And it is such a fun process – think about it as putting a garden beneath a tree.
But underplanting doesn’t stop there – it is basically planting smaller plants beneath bigger ones. Think not only trees but shrubs, flowers, or even underplanting containers. It is the secret of creating an outstanding garden. You can go with annuals or perennials, ground covers or medium-sized plants, lush foliage, or beautiful flowers…
As we already said – it is a fun process, and we will help you start by sharing our TOP 10 plants for successful underplanting. There are many more, so feel free to research, experiment, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Don’t be fooled by Epimedium’s delicate looks. This shallow-rooted ground covering plant is tough and very adaptable. Epimedius are mostly evergreens with beautiful heart-shaped leaves suspended by dark wiry stems.
This plant will even add color to your garden as it mottled pink in spring, lush green in summer, and lovely bronze in the fall. It will surprise you with its fragile pale yellow, pink or red flowers that emerge in April-May.
If you have twiggy shrubs and need to plant something under them, then choose hosta. Hostas thrive greatly in partial or even full shade, and yet they offer texture and color. You can choose from the many leaf shapes and colors. Just remember that hostas’ leaves come out pretty late (in summer), so don’t expect any foliage in early spring. They are a great choice to plant under Hydrangeas.
Aucuba is another shade-tolerant and root-tolerant plant that is great for planting under trees. This shrub has beautifully colored leaves that make it a common choice for every garden. The dense, glossy foliage of this evergreen plant is splattered with yellow. It is definitely one of the plants you can use to create a lash wonderland under any tree in your garden.
Liriope is a great “starter” shade perennial to start underplanting with. It is actually a grass-like flowering plant that thrives greatly in shadow. And it is budget-friendly if you want to cover a larger space as it is a very fast-growing ground cover. No bare ground, no weeds if you decide to plant liriope under the trees in your garden.
Taxus Baccata, commonly known as Yew, is another great plant to consider for planting under evergreen or low tree canopies, especially if you want a large evergreen shrub. bushy evergreen tree with narrow, leathery, very dark green leave prefers the shade, so it is a popular underplanting choice. It tolerates regular pruning and grows up to 10 meters.
Although impatiens are annual flowers, they also make a great choice for underplanting, especially if you want to add color to your garden. They simply love the shade, spread nicely, and do not compete with others. Impatiens will look fabulous under and in front of the stems of ferns. Choose your favorite color or mix a couple of them and enjoy their beauty.
Cotoneaster will quickly cover bare earth around the taller plants and loves sun and shade. You will love its shiny, dark, round green leaves, white flowers in spring, and red fruit in autumn. It is an evergreen that can be well combined with shrubs and trees. Its low growing form will add both texture and color to any garden.
There is no doubt pansies are beautiful and colorful, but they are also so tough and resistant and can thrive in any condition. This is why they are a great choice for underplanting, especially under tulips in your gardens or other plants in spring planters. Pansies are annuals with large, flat, upward-tilted flowers that will take your breath away.
Euonymus is one of the most popular shade- and root-tolerant woodland plants. It is an evergreen shrub that generally does well under the shadow of bigger plants. There are Euonymus shrubs with variegated and non-variegated leaves, so the choice is yours. Plant Euonymus under Silverleaf Dogwood or Red Twig Dogwood.
These evergreen perennials with upright, leathery, elliptic, or lance-shaped leaves will give texture to the blank space under trees or shrubs in your garden. It is an easy plant to grow, being shade tolerant and disease resistant. Its glossy leaves will give a tropical feel to your garden. Just have in mind that this beautiful plant is a slow grower.
We are often asked what plants can be grown beneath rose bushes. So for those who with this question, here is a selection of perennials low enough to put below your roses, and tall enough to grow between or behind. When ordering, to save confusion, please take a note of the plants in this collection as by the time you receive them they may have changed.
Height x spread: 60cm x 75cm 9cm
Anemone x hybrida 'September Charm'
Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm 9cm
Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'
Height x spread: 60cm x 60cm 9cm
Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
Height x spread: 120cm x 90cm 9cm
Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland'
Height x spread: 60cm x 45cm 9cm
Height x spread: 45cm x 60cm 9cm
Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm 9cm
Veronica 'Shirley Blue'
Height x spread: 30cm x 45cm 9cm
Prunella grandiflora 'Alba'
Height x spread: 15cm x 45cm 9cm
Phlox paniculata 'Bright Eyes'
Height x spread: 90cm x 60cm 9cm
Height x spread: 90cm x 75cm 9cm
Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Pink Mist'
Height x spread: 80cm x 80cm 9cm
1 of each (12 plants) requires a space of around 90cm wide x 120cm long. 2 of each (24 plants) requires a space of around 90cm wide x 240cm long. 3 of each (36 plants) requires a space of around 90cm wide x 360cm long (All measurements are approximate)
Attractive Flower Companions for Roses
What’s better than growing one flower? Growing another beautiful flower next to it! Lavender is a terrific option for your garden below is more information about the benefits and varieties of this bloom.
These beautiful scented flowers are high on the list of our favorite rose companions. Gardenia names Nepeta (Catmint), hardy Salvia (Sage) and Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavander) as the varieties that are most popular to plant alongside roses. They also note that these perennials are easy to grow and “Make the roses appear more vibrant than they would on their own… [they also] cover the exposed knees of your rose bushes without covering their rose blooms and attract a huge number of insects, especially bees and hoverflies.”
Lavender is also helpful at keeping rabbits away.
The perennial companion varieties include:
- Lavandula angustifolia “Hidcote” (Lavender)
- Lavandula angustifolia “Lavenite Petite (Lavender)
- Lavandula angustifolia “Munstead” (Lavender)
- Nepeta “Six Hills Giant” (Catmint)
- Nepeta racemosa “Walkers Low”
- Salvia nemorosa “Caradonna” (Sage)
- Salvia x sylvestris “Blue Hill” (‘Blauhugel’ Sage)
- Salvia x sylvestris “Mainacht” (Wood Sage)
- Salvia x sylvestris “Tanzerin” (Wood Sage)
What to Grow Beneath Roses
One thing to consider when growing a rose bush is that roses grow can leave gaps and openings near the stems of the plant this is often called being “leggy.” Gardening Know How describes this as when “Roses shed all their lower foliage, leaving nothing but their canes showing. The foliage and blooms are all up higher on the bush, making the lower portion bare and lacking a nice eye-catching look that we like for our gardens.”
Gardening Know How also notes, “When adding companion plants to the rose beds, it is wise to choose plants that do not have an unruly or spreading growth habit. Look for those that have a more well-behaved growth habit, perhaps even a growth habit that is similar to the roses themselves. Ensure that the under planting rose companions are at least 12 to 18 inches away from the rose bushes to avoid disturbing their root systems. Roses do not like having to compete for available nutrients, water or sunlight, so keep this in mind with your companion plantings.”
Flowers to Grow to Help Fill in Openings
Which flowers should you grow to cover up the openings from your rose stems? Here is a list of our favorite perennials to choose from:
- Russian sage
For a list of annuals you can plant alongside your roses, here's what we recommend:
- Annual Phlox
Expert Tip: Make sure the varieties chosen will not grow bigger than your roses. You do not want the roses to be shaded as a result.
Find Rose Companions
If you thought roses had to be relegated to a bed by themselves, think again. These flowering shrubs make great companion plants. By adopting an informal approach to design, you open the door to limitless creative options. There are benefits to playing garden matchmaker. Here are eight great reasons to find your perfect pairing.
- Extend the season with non-stop color by combining annuals, perennials, grasses and even other shrubs.
- Perk up a blah border by adding contrast and texture with spiky blooms (foxglove or grasses), bold, coarse leaves (brunnera), or frothy inflorescences (baby’s breath).
- Attract beneficial insects, birds and bees with a diverse palette. Did you know that hummingbirds gladly eat the aphids off of your rose bushes as they cruise for nectar?
- Create the ultimate cutting garden in your own backyard. Opt for long-lived, bouquet must-haves.
- Add structure with evergreen shrubs such as boxwood, senecio, sweet box or holly. Even herbs like sage, artemesia, rosemary and lavender help to shape a space.
- Exude charm and romance by under-planting with rambling vines like clematis, or by allowing your favorite rambling rose to clamber up a tree.
- Get the blues (the one color roses don’t offer) by planting sky-hued beauties like delphinium, veronica, iris and bluebeard (Caryopteris).
- Go organic with help from popular herbs. Pungent and potent, good old garlic, geranium, and mint send pests packing.