Heirloom Roses: Seven Sisters Rose
Heirloom roses can grow to be enormous bushes. If you only have room for one, I recommend the Seven Sisters rose. It is called that because the flowers are borne in clusters and change colors as they age. The buds open pink and then darken to red and then purple. As the flowers age, they fade to a cream color. Plant the Seven Sisters rose and you won’t have to settle for just one color!
The Seven Sisters rose is native to China. It was introduced in Britain in 1817 by Charles Greville. Because it can tolerate poor soils and a little shade, it quickly gained popularity. Very soon it had found its way across the ocean to America and then spread across the continent as the West was settled.
The Seven Sisters rose is hardy through zone 6. It is sensitive to the cold and prefers shelter from the wind. It is a large rambler or climber with canes that can reach a height of 20 feet but usually only grow to 13 feet. They are usually grown up walls or trellises but will produce more blooms if trained horizontally along a short fence.
They bloom once a year in the late spring. Once the spring flush of blooms is finished, remove them. Sporadically through the summer and early fall, your bush may produce more flowers though not as abundantly as in the spring.
The flowers are small, measuring 1” to 2” across, and are heavily double. As noted above, they open dark pink, then darken to purple before fading to cream as the flowers die. Because it flowers in clusters, it can have flowers in different stages and different colors at the same time. Hence the name, seven sisters.
After the blooms have faded, if they are not removed, in their place in the fall will be bright red rosehips that are also attractive.
Seven Sisters is disease resistant and is easily propagated from cuttings.
No pruning is necessary for plants that are less than three years old. Climbing roses need three years before they are large enough to flower. Pruning too early will prevent them from ever flowering.
Once your bush is old enough and large enough, an initial pruning can be done in late winter, removing dead and diseased canes only. Any dead leaves, branches or other brush should be removed from under your bush to prevent the spread of insects and disease.
After your bush has finished blooming you may give it a more extensive pruning. On mature plants with many canes, cut down one third of the oldest and largest canes and then prune the remaining canes by one third. If your bush has only a few canes, you can forgo removing any and just prune their length by one third.
It is important to wait until after your rosebush has finished blooming to prune green growth. Seven Sisters blooms on old wood which means that this year’s flower buds were formed last year. If you prune off the green growth in the spring prior to blooming, you will be cutting off the buds for this year’s flowers.
Always use clean, sharp pruners. Cleanliness is important if you have more than one rosebush. Disease from one plant can be transferred to other plants if you do not clean and sterilize your pruners in between. Dull pruners will crush, rather than cut branches. Crushing them will damage the branches, inhibiting growth. Cuts should always be made at a 45 degree angle away from the last bud.
© 2014 Caren White