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How to Grow a Zephirine Drouhin Rose, 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.


Looking for a climbing rose that has all the beauty and hardiness of an heirloom rose and blooms all summer? Then Zephirine Drouhin is for you!

What is a Zepherine Drouhin Rose?

The Zepherine Drouhin rose was bred by a French rose breeder by the name of Bizot. He named the rose after the wife of a local rose enthusiast. Introduced in 1868, it is a Bourbon rose. Bourbon roses are crosses between Damask roses which bloom once a year in the spring and China roses which bloom all summer. It was a hit right from the start and remains one of the most popular climbing roses in Europe.

Zepherine Drouhin is an incredibly versatile rose. It can be grown as a climber attaining a height of 15’ to 20’ high, or it can be pruned and grown as a shrub rose. It can be grown on walls, trellises, arbors, fences or even around pillars. Pruned to 6’, it can be grown as a specimen plant or massed into a hedge.

The flowers are dark pink and 4 inches across with up to 20 petals. They appear in May like other heirloom roses, but then continue blooming until frost. Remove flowers that are past their prime to encourage new blooms. The fragrance is very strong and has been described as resembling raspberries.

The foliage is purple when young, darkening to green as it ages. The stems which are nearly thornless are also purple and can create winter interest in your garden after it sheds its leaves. The fact that it is nearly thornless makes it an excellent rose to grow if there are children in your family who might injure themselves on the thorns. In fact, it is often called the “Thornless Rose” although it is not truly thornless.

How to Grow a Zepherine Drouhin Rose

Zepherine Drouhin is hardy from zone 5 through 9. In zone 5, it should have winter protection. Give it a thick layer of mulch around the crown to protect your bush from the cold and to prevent heaving. Heaving is when a plant’s roots rise out of the ground during alternating periods of cold and warmth in the winter. If your bush does heave, gently step on the root ball to push it back into the ground. The roots should not be exposed to freezing temperatures or they will die.

The bush grows best in full sun but can tolerate light shade. It is known as a so-called shade rose but my experience growing it is that it doesn’t tolerate much shade. It grows and flowers very poorly if it is in the shade for more than half of the day.

It will grow in normal to poor soil, and likes to be well-watered. Water in the mornings at the roots. Avoid watering from overhead which can encourage disease such as black spot. A watering wand which is a nozzle with a long handle that will allow you to water at the roots is handy.

Your bushes should be fertilized twice a year. The first time is in the spring before they bloom. Use a fish emulsion and compost. Fertilize again after they bloom. Do not fertilize later in the season or in the fall. Fertilizing your bush will encourage it to grow. You want it to be going dormant in the fall so that it can survive the winter.

In the fall, dead leaves, branches and other brush should be removed from under your bush to prevent the spread of insects and disease.

The flowers grow in clusters, rather then singly.

The flowers grow in clusters, rather then singly.

How to Prune a Zepherine Drouhin Rose

Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring. Prune away any dead canes. Then prune the upright canes by ⅓, any side canes by ⅓ to ½. This will encourage new canes to grow in the spring.

Occasionally your will notice that your bush is not growing or flowering well. This means that the canes are old and need to be replaced. This type of pruning is called rejuvenation pruning. Rejuvenation pruning removes the old canes gradually over a period of years. The first year, remove ¼ of the oldest canes. The following year, remove another ¼ of the old canes and so on until all of the old canes are gone and new vigorous canes are growing.

How to Grow a Zepherine Drouhin Rose From Cuttings

New plants can be grown from cuttings taken either in the spring or fall. Cuttings taken in the spring are called softwood cuttings because the branches are growing and pliable. Cuttings taken in the fall are called hard wood cuttings because the branches are dormant and stiff.

Make a 4 to 6 inch cutting from your bush and remove the bottom leaves. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone to promote root growth then gently press the cutting into the soil in a container or even directly into the ground outdoors. Rooting hormone is not necessary. It just speeds up the process. When you see new leaves growing on your cutting, you will know that it has roots. Plants that have no roots cannot grow new leaves.

Questions & Answers

Question: If growing up a wall, does it need some kind of support or attachment?

Answer: If you want to grow your Zephirine Drouhin rosebush up a wall, you will have to provide some kind of support such as a trellis. The rose "climbs" because its canes are so tall. It does not twine around supports like some beans nor does it have specialized structures that grasp or, in some cases, glue the canes to a wall. You will need to provide a trellis and you may even have to lightly tie the canes to the trellis with twine until they are thick enough to support themselves.

Question: Can this rose be grown in large containers?

Answer: Large heirloom roses are usually not suitable to be grown in containers. Zephirine Drouhin, however, can be kept pruned to only 6 feet tall so it could possibly grow in a container.

Question: How long do they take to mature?

Answer: It depends on the rose, but most reach their full size within 3 years. They grow very quickly.

Question: Can this rose be planted in the summer or just in the fall?

Answer: It not advisable to plant or transplant any plant during the heat of the summer. Heat stresses plants. Newly planted/transplanted plants are already stressed from being moved and heat could kill them. It is always best to plant/transplant during the cool weather of the spring and fall, preferably on a cool overcast day. I like to plant/transplant when rain is forecasted for later that day or the next day so that the plants get a good watering in addition to the water I give them.

Question: Can this rose be grown from seeds?

Answer: All heirloom roses can be grown from seed however it takes several years for them to grow large enough to bloom. If you have the patience to wait for years, you can indeed grow this beauty from seed.

© 2014 Caren White


Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on September 17, 2014:

I do have a beautiful pink rose growing up the wall near the front entrance, not sure what kind it is except to say that it is single pink and old fashioned, nothing like a modern rose at all. I love it because it flowers so prolifically.

Caren White (author) on September 17, 2014:

The nice thing about climbing roses is that they don't need a lot of space. They can be trained up a trellis or a wall. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on September 17, 2014:

OldRoses - I would never have the space for one of these but I guess I can admire them from afar.

Caren White (author) on July 06, 2014:

My favorites are the heirloom roses with their wonderful flowers and fragrances. Since they are so hardy, they are also easier to grow and maintain than the fussier hybrid tea roses. Thanks for reading and commenting, bac2basics!

Anne from United Kingdom on July 06, 2014:

I was going mad for one of these climbers when I lived in the UK. I never did get one, but probably will when I eventually move back. I do love Roses, especially the more informal fuller flowered types.

Caren White (author) on July 05, 2014:

Thanks, Flourish! They are very popular in Europe.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 05, 2014:

These are beautiful. I think I saw these at Giverny climbing a trellis.

Caren White (author) on July 05, 2014:

I agree, tobusiness! I've always wanted to grow this rose but never had the space.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on July 05, 2014:

Simply gorgeous!!