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How to Grow The Fairy, an Heirloom Rosebush

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

The Fairy Rose growing in my garden. I planted it so that it would spill over a wall along my driveway.

The Fairy Rose growing in my garden. I planted it so that it would spill over a wall along my driveway.

Most heirloom roses are huge bushes. You need a lot of room to grow them. One striking exception is The Fairy Rose. It is a tiny shrub rose with tiny blossoms that is just the right size for a fairy garden or a container.

What Is The Fairy Rose?

The Fairy Rose was introduced in 1932 in England by the famous rose breeder, J.A. Bentall. Many roses have been bred from it but The Fairy remains popular and is still used extensively.

The Fairy is a polyantha rose. Polyantha roses produce their flowers in sprays or bunches rather than as single flowers. Unlike a lot of heirloom roses that only bloom once a year in the spring, The Fairy blooms continuously from spring until fall. The flowers are tiny, only 1 inch in diameter. They open pink but fade to near white in the heat of summer. The blossoms have a light apple fragrance. Deadhead by removing the spent flowers to keep the bush healthy and encourage blooming.

This rose will grow to a height of only 2’ to 3’ with a spread of 3’. It is spreading, rather than upright, making it ideal to spill over the edge of a large container or a raised bed. It can also be used massed along a walkway. I grow it along my driveway.

It is hardy from zones 4 through 9 and like most old roses, disease resistant. Unlike most roses, old and new, it can be grown in full sun or part shade. It does best in well-drained soil.

The flowers turn white as they mature.  Removing dead flowers will make your bush look less messy and encourage more flowers.

The flowers turn white as they mature. Removing dead flowers will make your bush look less messy and encourage more flowers.

How to Prune The Fairy Rose

In the late winter or early spring before the foliage emerges, remove all dead and broken canes. Then cut back the remaining canes by one quarter to one third to maintain the shrub’s shape. Spring pruning will not affect the flowering. The Fairy blooms on new wood which is the current year's growth.

Remove any side shoots completely. This is also a good time to do a little housecleaning and remove any dead leaves or weeds from under your rose.

Renovation pruning which is a way of rejuvenating an older bush that is not blooming well. It is done by removing one third of the oldest canes the first year and then one half of the remaining old canes in the second and third years. This will result in the bush sending up new canes to replace the old canes you have removed. The new canes will have more flowers than the old, tired canes.

How to Grow The Fairy Rose From Cuttings

Propagation by cuttings can be done in the spring or the fall. In the spring, you want to propagate with soft wood cuttings. In the fall, you want to propagate with hard wood cuttings.

Soft Wood Cuttings

Soft wood cuttings means that you make a cutting from an actively growing branch. This is best done in the spring or early summer when the branches are still soft, hence the term "soft wood cutting". Take a cutting that is 4 to 6 inches long and 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.

Hard Wood Cuttings

Hard wood 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. Take a cutting that is 4 to 6 inches from the soft, green end of the branch. Then cut small slits in the other end to expose the interior cambrium 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 soft wood cuttings in the spring. Cuttings grown indoors can be transplanted outdoors in the spring after your last frost. Cuttings grown outdoors won't be ready to transplant into their permanent homes until the following fall.

© 2014 Caren White


Caren White (author) on August 05, 2015:

Yes, I grew it successfully in my partial shade yard.

Jill Townley from Portland, OR on April 02, 2015:

The Fairy truly is a great small rose bush. My neighbor has one and it blooms all summer. It looks charming between her daphne and hydrangea, which also show that Fairy doesn't require as much sun as most roses.

Caren White (author) on September 01, 2014:

Pawpaw, the fragrance of heirloom roses is incredible. They all smell different. I used to have about 2 dozen different heirloom roses and each one had a unique fragrance. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Jim from Kansas on September 01, 2014:

Sounds like a very interesting rose to try. The fragrance sounds interesting.

Caren White (author) on August 22, 2014:

Heirloom and species roses only bloom for a few weeks once a year. I think that they are worth it, though. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Caren White (author) on August 22, 2014:

Audrey, one of the biggest reason why I love heirloom roses is because they are so tough unlike the modern fragile hybrid tea roses which are so popular. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 22, 2014:

We have roses that look like this growing wild around here in June every year. I love them. This reminds me of them. They don't last long, though.

Audrey Howitt from California on August 22, 2014:

I have a pink one of these that I just love. It seems to do really well no matter how much I neglect it

Caren White (author) on July 21, 2014:

Hi Moonlake! Have you ever tried the Explorer series of roses( They were bred specifically for colder regions. They are hardy through zone 2, I think. Thanks for reading and voting.

moonlake from America on July 21, 2014:

Beautiful rose wish it grew in my zone. I have a few roses here that have come up every year after our long winters, but not many. Thanks for sharing voted up.

Caren White (author) on July 20, 2014:

Thanks for reading, Marie. I adore heirloom roses for their history and their wonderful fragrance.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on July 20, 2014:

A sweet, to-the-point article. Who doesn't love roses? The little ones you describe are charming and loved because of their long blooming activity.

Other roses that fascinate me are the unusual colored ones--lavender, yellow streaked with pastel green, and the deep, deep, nearly black ruby. Tulips have their fascinating shades, too.

I have taken manufactured supplements containing rose hips for the vitamin C, drank hibiscus teas containing rose hips, and have used essential oil of rose (aahh, marvelous!).

Thank you for sharing.