Heirloom Roses: Seven Sisters Rose

Updated on May 3, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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!

Seven Sisters Rose
Seven Sisters Rose | Source


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.

Questions & Answers

  • How do you plant a Seven Sisters rosebush?

    That depends on how you buy it. If you buy a potted rosebush, just dig a hole the same size as the container. Remove the root ball from the pot and place it in the hole. Water well.

    Rosebushes are also sold as bare root plants meaning you get the plant without a container. The roots are bare. Soak the roots for 12 hours before planting. They dry out when they are not in soil. Dig a hole that is large enough to accomodate the entire root system. Then shovel some soil back forming a mound in the middle of the hole. Spread the roots over the mound. This will support them as you fill in the hole. When the hole is half filled, give it a good watering. Finish filling the hole and water again.

  • How much sunlight do Seven Sister roses require?

    Seven Sisters roses can tolerate semi-shade, which is 3 to 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you plant it in a spot that gets morning or afternoon sun, it should be okay. It grows best in full sun, 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Lots of sunlight will prevent fungal disease which is more likely to develop in shady situations.

  • Why does the seven sisters rose lose its leaves?

    Heirloom roses are unfortunately susceptible to black spot which results in defoliation of the plants. My experience growing heirloom roses taught me that the plants look lovely in the spring when they are blooming and have all of their leaves, but by summer both the flowers and the leaves are gone, and they turn into ugly bare bushes. Fortunately, heirloom roses are extremely tough and survive the black spot and consequent defoliation each year to return in the spring, larger and with more blooms.

  • Can you help to identify the rose bush that I have? I have an old white rose bush that was my grandmothers, and I transplanted it to my house. It has seven small blooms on one stem. Can you tell me what the name of it is? I also want to prune it as it has some very old branches that I probably need to cut off. They are pretty large in diameter. I don't want to kill it. Can you help me with this?

    Your best bet to ID your rose is to look at photos, and descriptions on online heirloom rose catalogs such Antique Rose Emporium and Heirloom Roses.com. You don't need to prune branches if they are large. The only pruning you need to do is to remove any dead branches.

  • How do you propagate Seven Sisters roses?

    Propagation can be done in the spring or the fall. In the spring, you want to propagate with softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings mean that you use the middle part of a branch. Cut off the ends that are woody near the plant and at the other end of the branch where it is soft and green. You want to use the middle part that is neither woody nor green. Remove all the leaves from one end and dip that end in rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Insert your cutting in a container filled with soilless mix. Roots should start to develop within just a few weeks. When the roots start to grow out of the bottom of the container, your cutting is ready to be transplanted outdoors.

    In the fall, you want to propagate with hardwood cuttings. Hardwood cuttings are taken during the late fall through early winter when the plants are dormant. Ideally, you want to take your cuttings right after your rose has dropped its leaves in the fall. Cut off the soft, green end of the branch. Then cut small slits in the other end to expose the interior cambium layer where the roots will develop. Dip that end in rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Then you can either place the cutting in the ground outside or root it indoors like you did the softwood cuttings in the spring. The outdoor cuttings won't be ready to transplant until the following fall.

© 2014 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      7 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Yes, you can easily root cuttings from a Seven Sisters rose bush. Cut off a branch of your rose that is green and healthy. Strip off all of the leaves from one end and dip that end into rooting hormone. Then you can stick your prepared branch in a container of soil-less mix or directly into the ground in your garden. The rooting hormone will encourage the cutting to develop roots quickly, but you can also just stick the branch into the ground and keep it moist until it develops new roots.

      Taking cuttings in the spring is known as soft wood cuttings because the branches are actively growing. You can also propagate your roses in the late fall or early winter using the same technique. In this case, it’s known as a hard wood cutting because the plant is dormant in the late fall and winter.

    • profile image

      gary pitts 

      7 months ago

      can you root a cutting of a seven sister rose bush and tell me how

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      7 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Judy, Jackson & Perkins is a reputable catalog and has a good selection of roses.

    • profile image

      judy pitts 

      7 months ago

      where can I order a rose bush


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