Knockout Roses: Overrated or Garden Superstars?
Let me begin by stating right away that while I am not a fan, I can appreciate why people may be drawn to the Knockout rose. Poking around the internet on gardening forums and blogs, the majority of gardeners overwhelmingly give Knockout roses a big thumbs up, so I’m well aware I am in the minority. Please don’t hate me! This is my experience and opinion with three knockout rose bushes that I have been growing for the past six or seven years—okay, now just two bushes because I killed one (on purpose). I will also lay out some reasons why I believe the Knockout rose is over-rated.
William Radler—a landscape architect from Milwaukee and lifelong rose enthusiast—looked for ways to develop a rose that was resistant to disease, like the dreaded black spot, and was hardy and easy to grow. Radler worked tirelessly for years through much trial and error. In 2000, the Knockout Rose was introduced to the world with a red shrub rose that was touted as winter-hardy, disease-resistant, long-blooming, and self-cleaning. Despite the fact that the Knockout rose was fragrance free, it quickly took off.
Over the next decade, different colors and varieties, such as climbers, were added to satisfy those with a penchant for an easy peasy rose. The Knockout rose is currently the top-selling rose in the US.
Jumping on the Knockout Bandwagon
When a relative suggested I try the Knockout rose, I jumped right on the bandwagon and immediately bought three—two red and a pink double bloomer. A neighbor across the street had two flanking her front stoop, and from a distance, they were gorgeous for months. Our summers in south-central Pennsylvania can be very hot, and without a lot of shade from mature trees, they can get downright scorching. Color in the garden during the heat and drought of summer is always a welcome thing.
Tired by the inevitable black spot decimation of my traditional rose bushes, I plunked the new bushes around my backyard. My garden is zone 6 in full sun, and the bushes quickly took off—in fact they exceeded the size stated on the little sign at the nursery. Compact? Um . . . not so much. Self-cleaning? I’ll get to that. No pruning necessary? Not even close.
The Low Down on Knockout Roses
I want to address the attributes one by one from my personal experience. And those of my mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, and neighbor across the street. There are some things you may want to consider if you want a Knockout rose and haven’t taken the plunge yet.
Absolutely true. You won’t trouble yourself a bit with worrying about black spot or applying nasty powders and potions. However, these bushes are NOT pest resistant, and if Japanese Beetles are the bane of your existence every summer, they will find your Knockout roses and devour them.
No Pruning Required
False! In what world do other gardener’s live that they don’t have to whack this thing down with hedge clippers every year? Then there is the disposal of gangly thorny branches. Is it because I live a mere 8 miles from a nuclear power plant that my Knockout roses approach near gargantuan size? 3x4 compact my Aunt Milly. Mine have topped out at 5 feet easily and just as wide.
Remember the neighbors across the street? The ones with two bushes greeting visitors at the front door? Well the new neighbors who moved in hired someone to dig them up and haul them away. The sheer size forced one to turn sideways to fit in between without getting torn to shreds by thorns. Sure, they can take a hard pruning, but these babies grow fast!
True. You do not need to dead-head. What they don’t tell you, though, is that while the Knockout rose starts the summer off with a big bang, the blossoms will then disappear for several months only to bloom again in the fall. In fact, during that “dormancy” period of August and September, I find the shrub rather shabby and well, downright ugly.
Take a look around most shopping centers in the northeast and midatlantic states and you will see Knockout roses sticking up from a sea of mulch in parking lot islands. Landscapers have defaulted to planting Knockout rose/stella d’oro daylily duos in parking lots almost exclusively. Maybe it's just me, but I do enjoy variety and originality. Taking creative risks with grasses, herbs, and natives to attract pollinators can be both low maintenance, drought resistant, and stunning—not even close to ho-hum.
Speaking of ho-hum, are the blossoms themselves really all that beautiful? From a distance, I concede the colors can be striking, but if it isn't knocking my socks off up close and personal, I don't want it in my garden.
Knockout Roses Aren't for Me
I have removed one, and this may be the year that I remove the other two. For all of the reasons above, I have decided that the Knockout rose is not for me or my garden. My mother and sister-in-law have done the same in their gardens. There are other ways I have successfully dealt with color in the garden during the rough periods of high summer.
I don't exactly hate Knockout roses . . . wait, okay, maybe I kinda hate them. From now on when I get the urge to admire truly magnificent, fragrant roses, I will happily trod over to my local botanical or rose garden where people are paid to get old-fashioned roses to look dazzling and amazing.
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I'd love to hear your opinion and experience with Knockout roses whether you agree or disagree with anything I've said here.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Tracey