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. In their final phase, the flowers fade to a cream color. Plant the Seven Sisters rose and you won’t have to settle for just one color!
What is the Seven Sisters Rosebush?
The Seven Sisters rose is a multiflora rambler rose that is native to China. It was introduced in Britain in 1817 by Charles Greville. It is often called “Grevillei” in honor of him. Because this rose 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. Settlers who moved west brought seeds and cuttings of their favorite plants from their old homes to their new homes.
How to Grow a Seven Sisters Rosebush
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 customarily grown up walls or trellises but will produce more blooms if trained horizontally along a short fence because the canes will be exposed to more sunlight when grown horizontally rather than vertically.
They bloom once a year in the late spring. Once the spring flush of blooms is finished, It's best to remove them. If you do that, 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. Heavily double means that there are more petals than is usual for a double flower. As noted above, the flowers open dark pink, then darken to purple before fading to cream as the flowers die. Because it flowers in clusters, the bush can have flowers in different stages and different colors at the same time. It was nicknamed “seven sisters” because like sisters, the flowers look similar but change as they mature.
After the blooms have faded in the fall, if they are not removed, in their place will be bright red rosehips that are also attractive.
Like most heirloom roses, Seven Sisters is disease resistant and is easily propagated from cuttings.
How to Prune a Seven Sisters Rosebush
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. Keeping your pruners sharp is important because 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.
How to Propagate a Seven Sisters Rosebush From Cuttings
Woody cuttings, i.e. cuttings made from plants that have woody stems such as shrubs and trees, are notoriously difficult to root. Roses are an exception. They root very easily from cuttings.
You can take a cutting in the spring which is known as a soft wood cutting because the branch is actively growing or you can take a cutting in the late fall or early winter, which is known as a hard wood cutting because the branch is now dormant. Strip off the leaves on one end of your cutting, dip the cut end into rooting hormone and then press it down into the soil in a container or even directly into the soil in your garden. The rooting hormone just speeds up the process of root formation. It is not necessary if you don’t have any or prefer not to use chemicals. When you see new growth on your cutting, you will know that roots have grown.
How to Propagate a Seven Sisters Rosebush Using Layering
Another technique that is often used to propagate roses is called layering. After your bush has finished blooming, take one of the branches and bend it down until it touches the ground. Anchor It in place and cover the middle with soil. Don’t cover the entire branch with soil. Just the middle where you want roots to grow. Keep it watered and when you see new growth on the tip of the branch, you will know that roots have formed. Now you can sever the branch from the bush. Carefully dig up the newly formed root ball and transplant it to its new home elsewhere in your garden.
Questions & Answers
Question: How old do Seven Sisters rosebushes get?
Answer: Heirloom rosebushes can live up to 50 years. Be aware that beyond about 10 years, the older they get, the fewer flowers they will produce.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: Where is the best place to buy the Seven Sisters rose?
Answer: It's always best to buy plants from local nurseries that grow their own stock so that you are buying plants that have been raised in your climate conditions. However, some plants like heirloom roses are not readily available so you have to turn to mailorder catalogs or the internet. I have had good luck purchasing from Jackson & Perkins rose catalog and from the website heirloomroses.com.
Question: How do you plant a Seven Sisters rosebush?
Answer: 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.
Question: Why does the seven sisters rose lose its leaves?
Answer: 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.
Question: How much sunlight do Seven Sister roses require?
Answer: 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.
Question: Why doesn't my Seven Sisters rose never bloom? It's at least 5-6 years old, gets 7 hours of sun, fertilized, and its canes are cut in the spring.
Answer: You may be pruning too early. Seven Sisters blooms on old wood which means that this year's flower buds were formed last year. If you prune your rosebush before it blooms in the spring, you are cutting off all of the flower buds. You need to wait until after your rosebush has bloomed to do your pruning.
Question: How do you propagate Seven Sisters roses?
Answer: 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.
Question: I have a miniature seven sisters & I have other miniature rose bushes, this is the first & only one of these I have. We can only have potted flowers on our porch. Can they do well or even grow in a miniature pot like my others?
Answer: I have never heard of a miniature Seven Sisters. The only one that I know of is full sized, growing 13 to 20 feet tall. It will not grow in a pot. It is much too large.
Question: How do you fertilize a seven sisters rose bush?
Answer: I am an organic gardener and only use compost to fertilize my plants, including my roses. I apply a 1 to 2 inch think layer of compost in the spring and then again after they finish blooming. Some gardeners use a fish emulsion in the spring.
Question: I have an Heirloom Rose plant that needs to be relocated. When can I do this?
Answer: Perennials can be transplanted in the spring or the fall. Since heirloom roses bloom in the spring, I prefer to transplant them in the fall. If you transplant in the spring, the flowers may either be delayed or there may not be as many.
Question: My Seven Sisters rosebush is two years old and gets plenty of sun, but it has yet to flower. I've cut back any large suckers, and fertilized it, but nothing. What can I do?
Answer: You did not mention pruning. It's important with heirloom roses to prune away any dead or diseased branches in the early spring. All other pruning should be done after the shrub has bloomed, or in your case, in early summer. It may also be the case that your rose is too young and too small to bloom. It may have to reach a larger size before it begins to bloom.
Question: I also have a Seven Sisters Ramblin Rose and I am now up in zone 4A. I brought it up last year from Zone 5. It blooms beautifully up here. Why is this?
Answer: You are very fortunate. Your rosebush must be growing in a protected area.
Question: What is the best soil Ph level for seven sisters rose?
Answer: All roses grow best in slightly acidic soil, pH 6.0 - 6.5.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on May 27, 2020:
If it was blooming when you recieved it, then it is a mature plant. Try pruning it this year. 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. This will stimulate new growth (canes) which should bloom for you next year. Once the bush starts blooming, always remember to do any pruning AFTER it stops blooming. The buds for next year's flowers form this year. If you prune before it blooms, you will cutting off the buds.
Anne H on May 22, 2020:
Hello. I purchased my seven sisters last march and it arrived about 3ft with a tiny flower on it already. I thought that it having a flower was odd but, didn't pay much mind to it and looked forward to next year. Well spring is moving along and I haven't seen any signs of flowers on my rambler yet as of may. Not on bud forming for June. The rambler is quite large not. Over ten feet with canes draping over and hanging to the ground nearly. I do not know how old it was when it arrived to me, however, I was really looking forward to roses this year. Is it normal not to have flowers? Zone 9. Thanks.
Caren White (author) on October 23, 2019:
The fall is the best time to plant roses. Just plant it where you want it to grow and give it a good watering. then just leave it alone. Your rose will be busy settling into its new home, growing new roots.
The leaves will fall off as the plant becomes dormant in the winter. Don't worry, this is perfectly normal. It will grow new leaves in the spring.
Maribeth lacasse Salo on October 23, 2019:
Just given a Sevev Sister Rose this fall. How do I prepare it for winter?
Caren White (author) on July 25, 2018:
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.
gary pitts on July 25, 2018:
can you root a cutting of a seven sister rose bush and tell me how
Caren White (author) on July 22, 2018:
Judy, Jackson & Perkins is a reputable catalog and has a good selection of roses.
judy pitts on July 22, 2018:
where can I order a rose bush