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Companion Planting with Roses

When it comes to mixing roses with other plants, there are many that make great companions. This may be because of aesthetics (plants with flower spikes or strong architectural foliage provide contrast to the looser form of roses) or garden diversity (mixing different plant types may attract beneficial insects and birds to your yard and help control pests naturally). Hummingbirds, for example, will gladly eat the aphids off your rose bushes if you provide suitable habitat for them. Look for well-behaved annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses or shrubs with similar growing requirements to pair with roses.

Using roses in a more naturalized setting opens the door to creative combinations of textures and colors. The idea of companion planting frees the gardener from the formality that so many rose gardens are subjected to; immaculate, symmetrical displays that rarely resemble the average homeowner’s yard. It is refreshing to remember, after all, that roses are simply deciduous flowering shrubs that can be incorporated into the landscape as would any lilac, mockorange or hydrangea. The list of possible planting companions and combinations is virtually endless: bold blades of New Zealand Flax, airy spires of Catmint, or the soft, grey foliage of Lamb’s Ears can provide additional interest in the rose garden.

Roses have long-established relationships with many plants, such as boxwoods (for hedging) and herbs (sage, thyme, artemesia, rosemary, lavender). Whole books have been written about companion vines (“The Rose and The Clematis”) or members of the onion family (“Roses Love Garlic”). Even the largest members of the landscape can be friends; climbing or rambling roses provide blooming accents to many deciduous or coniferous trees.

Naturally in the world of plants, some get along and some do not. Roses do not generally like to compete for water, nutrients or sunlight, so avoid plants that might crowd your roses or provide too much shade. Look for clumping-type perennials or grasses that stay contained instead of spreading aggressively beyond their boundaries.

Purple Geranium with Hybrid Tea Rose 'The Bride'

A loose cloud of purple geranium provides the perfect backdrop for the hybrid tea rose ‘The Bride.’ Long-blooming perennials extend the bloom season in the rose garden, provide color interest and different textures.

David Austin roses with Eglantyne

‘May Night’ Salvia, Yellow Pincushion Flower and Boxwood compliment the David Austin shrub rose ‘Eglantyne.’

Companion planting can have different goals. You may be growing roses mainly for floral arrangements, for example; consider planting other long-lasting cut flowers to increase the diversity of your bouquets. Evergreen shrubs such as Senecio, Sweet Box or Holly easily compliment roses and provide much needed year-round structure in the rose garden. Long-blooming perennials can be used to extend your flowering season and fill in the gap between rose bloom cycles. Or sometimes rose gardeners just have the blues; or more accurately, a lack of blue, since this is the one essential garden color the rose family is without. Blue-flowered beauties like Delphinium, Veronica, Iris and Bluebeard (Caryopteris) are often paired with roses to punch up the color. For the most success with companion planting with roses, consider these tips:

  • Plant companions 12-18” away from roses to avoid disturbing roots.
  • Choose companion plants with similar growing requirements, in terms of water, fertilizer and sunlight. For example, lavender is often listed as a companion of roses, but may need a drier environment to be truly happy. Similarly, rhododendrons or other acidic-loving plants may not thrive in the neutral-pH soil roses desire.
  • Avoid aggressive plants that may crowd out your roses or compete for water and nutrients.

Examples of Roses with Companion Plants

From left: blue geraniums and yellow daylilies mix freely with Rugosa Roses; the dainty, pink flowers of Paul’s Himalayan Musk provide contrast to coarser Horsechestnut leaves; and Coralbells provide an airy backdrop for a pink shrub rose.

Rose and Companions BouquetConsider planting floral greenery or other longlasting cut flowers as “bouquet companions” for your roses. In this arrangement, iris, asters, oriental lilies, peruvian lilies, sword fern, bear grass and leatherleaf contrast nicely with red hybrid tea roses. Growing perennials like these among your roses provides much-needed garden color between flushes of rose blooms.

 

What About Groundcovers?

At Heirloom Roses, we are often asked about groundcovers and which, if any, are suitable for planting around roses. Groundcovers are an inherently attractive idea for covering up the bare lower stems of roses, particularly hybrid teas which tend to lose their lower leaves. However, many groundcovers are simply too aggressive to be compatible with them. Groundcovers may also be in direct conflict with some of our most basic rose care, such as raking up leaves or deadheading.

Rose Companions for Groundcover

Clockwise from upper left: Veronica, Lantana, Alyssum and Labrador Violet all make excellent groundcovers beneath roses.

Consider your rose maintenance when choosing groundcovers to ensure a good match. Do you regularly remove spent blooms during the summer? Some groundcovers resent being trampled on. Those that take light foot traffic, such as the “Stepables” varieties, will perform better in this situation (violets, sedums, strawberry, etc). Prostrate, ground-hugging companions like Woolly Thyme, Corsican mint, or Blue Star Creeper, along with tough growers like Dwarf Mondo Grass, should withstand some raking.

As an alternate, annual groundcovers can be a great choice during the main growing season without getting in the way of more serious fall cleanup or mulching activities. Examples of suitable annual groundcovers include Alyssum, Lobelia, Lantana, Petunias, Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia), Million Bells (Calibrachoa), Verbena and Pinks (Dianthus).

Companions for Pest Control

True companion planting, of course, is rooted in permaculture and vegetable gardening; most organic growers know the secrets that marigolds, geraniums, basil, and mint hold in repelling pests, along with the aforementioned garlic (as well as chives, ornamental and edible onions). In fact, members of the Allium family are reported to increase the perfume of roses and help prevent black spot in addition to warding off insect pests.

Rose Companions to Combat Garden Pests

Clockwise from upper left: Ornamental Allium, Basil, Catmint and Marigold are some of the more popular companion plants used to repel insect pests.

Many plants are companions from this organic point of view. The following may be helpful when growing roses:

  • Onion – repels aphids, weevils, borers, moles
  • Garlic – repels aphids, thrips and also helps fight black spot and mildew (for the best results you may need to keep the garlic planted with roses for several years)
  • Chives – also repels many pests
  • Basil – repels aphids, mosquitoes, moles
  • Geranium – repels Japanese beetles, aphids and rose beetles
  • Marigold – discourages harmful nematodes, repels pests and is a trap plant for slugs
  • Parsley – repels rose beetles
  • Mint – deters ants and aphids
  • Tansy – deters flying insects, Japanese beetles
  • Tomato – helps protect roses from black spot
 

Companion Plants for Roses

Long-Blooming Perennials

  • Aster (Aster)
  • Bellflower (Campanula)
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Cone Flower (Echinacea)
  • Cornflower (Centaurea)
  • Evening Primrose (Gaura)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris)
  • Garden Phlox
  • Giant Hyssop (Agastache)
  • Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla)
  • Lavender (Lavandula)
  • Lilies
  • Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)
  • Pinks (Dianthus)
  • Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
  • Red Valerian (Centranthus)
  • Sage (Salvia)
  • Sea Thrift (Armeria)
  • Speedwell (Veronica)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum)
  • Tickseed (Coreopsis)
  • Violets (Viola)
  • Yarrow (Achillea)

Grasses or Spiky Foliage

  • Blue Oat Grass
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Fountain Grass (Pennisetum)
  • Iris (Japanese, Bearded)
  • Montbretia (Crocosmia)
  • New Zealand Flax
  • Ornamental Sedges (Carex)
  • Silver Grass (Miscanthus)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum)

Vines

  • Arctic Beauty Kiwi Vine
  • Black-Eyed Susan Vine
  • Bleeding Heart Glorybower
  • Clematis
  • Mandevilla
  • Moonflower Vine
  • Passion Vine (short varieties)
  • Rose Jasmine
  • Sweet Peas
  • Variegated Porcelain Vine

Long-Lasting Cut Flowers

  • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila)
  • Bellflower (Campanula)
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Carnation
  • Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Coralbells (Heuchera)
  • Cosmos
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Japanese Anenome
  • Larkspur (Delphinium)
  • Lilac
  • Peony (Paeonia)
  • Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria)
  • Shasta Daisy/Mums
  • Speedwell (Veronica)
  • Stock
  • Yarrow (Achillea)

Bouquet Greens

  • Camellia
  • Eucalyptus
  • Evergreen Huckleberry
  • Ferns (numerous varieties)
  • Japanese Euonymus
  • Salal (Gaultheria)
  • Sweet Box (Sarcococca)
  • Variegated Pittosporum

Evergreen Shrubs

  • Buxus (Boxwood)
  • Lonicera nitida
  • Lonicera pileata
  • Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo)
  • Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly)
  • Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Boy’
  • Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’
  • Taxus (Yew)

Annuals

  • Alyssum
  • Angelonia
  • Heliotrope
  • Lantana
  • Lobelia
  • Pansies
  • Petunias/Million Bells
  • Scented Geranium
  • Snapdragon
  • Verbena

Colorful/Contrasting Foliage

  • Artemesia ‘Guihzo’
  • Artemisia ‘Silver Mound’
  • Black Mondo Grass
  • Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’
  • Cimicifuga ‘Brunnette’
  • Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’
  • Dusty Miller
  • Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’
  • Euphorbia ‘Purpurea’
  • Fancy-Leaved Geraniums
  • Heuchera ‘Crimson Curls’
  • Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’
  • Hostas
  • Lamb’s Ears (Stachys)
  • Lavender Cotton (Santolina)
  • Lobelia ‘Queen Victoria’
  • Physocarpus ‘Diablo’
  • Russian Sage (Perovskia)
  • Sambucus ‘Black Beauty
  • Senecio greyii
  • Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’
  • Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’
  • Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’
  • Smokebush (Cotinus)
  • Spiraea ‘Goldmound’

Attract Hummingbirds

  • Beardtongue (Penstemon)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Flowering Currant (Ribes)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Fuschia (annual and hardy)
  • Hollyhock (Alcea)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
  • Larkspur (Delphinium)
  • Lupine (Lupinus)
  • Montbretia (Crocosmia)
  • Rhododendron/Azalea
  • Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
  • Sage (Salvia)
  • Salmonberry (Rubus)
  • Trumpet Vine (Campsis)
  • Weigela (Weigela)

Playboy (Floribunda)
Clematis (vine)

Darlow's Enigma (Hybrid Musk)
Coreopsis (annual/perennial)

Mary Rose (Shrub/Austin)
Dianthus (annual/perennial)


Cornelia (Hybrid Musk)
Echinacea (perennial)