A Guide to Rose Growing Habits

If you’ve ever tried to tell apart the many different categories of roses, you know it can be a little, erm, confusing.

Not to get into the weeds here (who are we kidding, I could talk about roses all day!), but when a rose is hybridized, it is by a breeder or nursery registered with the American Rose Society.

The breeder determines how to classify the new plant, usually classified in the same category as one of the parents.

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The official classifications according to the American Rose Society are species (or wild), Old Garden (or antique), modern, hybrid tea and grandiflora, floribunda and polyantha, miniature (or miniflora), climber and shrub.

Therefore a hybrid made from a tea and a floribunda can be classified as a tea, because that is what the individual breeder has chosen. But it may actually have more properties that are common to a floribunda type.

As a result, we have a somewhat chaotic classification system in which these plants are not classified through any sort of structured method.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Some growers and hobbyists group them based solely on their growth habit. Some are climbers while others stay low to the ground, where they spread wide rather than tall. Others grow in that familiar bushy shape you see in gardens around the world.

These are not official classifications, but they are certainly easy to understand and they give you a better idea of ​​how the plants will perform in your garden, which I would argue is more important in knowing whether it is a hybrid tea or an antique. is important.

While we’re talking taxonomy, note that a given taxonomic group does not necessarily indicate growth habit. Climbing, ground cover and shrub hybrid teas all exist, for example.

Next, we’ll talk about the different growth habits these plants can have, and I’ll tell you about some of my favorites for each.

So without further ado, let’s learn about the different growing habits. Knowing the difference will help you figure out which style will work best in your space.

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Then, if you want to narrow down your choices further, you can visit our guide on rose classification.


If you want to cover an arbor, gazebo, or unsightly pole with a plant that won’t be invasive (I’m looking at you, wisteria), a climbing type is perfect.

Roses with a climbing habit typically reach 20 feet high and three feet wide. Climbers are often hybrid teas, floribundas, polyanthus, or species, although I’ve seen old garden climbers out there as well.

Climbing types don’t have tendrils or any other way to “hold” onto a structure, so you’ll have to do this for them. You can either loop the canes around a support, or tie them using a flexible material like rubber.

ground cover and drift

If you’re looking to replace your grass lawn or cover an area with vibrant blooms, ground cover types are the answer.

Photo by Christine Lofgren.

As you can imagine, these are low-growers that tend to spread rather than grow upward. They usually stay under a foot, but compensate for their short stature by spreading far and wide.

You will sometimes see them called drift or carpet roses.

Drifts are a cross between a ground cover and a miniature rose. They are generally considered a tougher and disease-free option, so pick one of these if you’re new here and want to dip your toe in the rose water.

‘Apricot Drift’

‘Apricot Drift’ is a particularly attractive choice. It has double blossoms in pinky orange. It is a continuous blooming variety with resistance to many diseases.

Bare rooted plants are found from burpees.

‘Sunshine Happy Trails’ has fruity, fragrant yellow-gold flowers.

‘Sunshine Happy Trails’

It spreads up to 30 inches above the ground with blooms from spring through fall.

Plants in #2 containers are available from Nature Hills Nurseries.


Some people group the walking and climbing types together, but they have some differences, so I’m making a working decision to call them separate.

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Wanderers tend to be bushier and are more vigorous than climbers. If you want something to cover the side of your garage, choose a rambler and reserve the climbers to adorn a trellis.

Ramblers can grow up to 20 feet tall, but most stay 12 feet or less. They can span up to six feet without training.

‘The Lady of the Lake’ is an English rambler with pale pink semi-double flowers that have a wonderful citrus scent. When they fully open, you can glimpse their golden stamens.

shrub or bush

This category can be a bit confusing, as the word “shrub” is also an official classification. But it is also a way of referring to Growth Habit.

Photo by Christine Lofgren.

The shrubs typically grow anywhere from one to six feet tall and one to 10 feet wide. No support is required to keep them straight.

Some have a more sparse growth habit, while others are bushier and can be used as a privacy hedge.

Hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, and polyanthus often, but not always, grow in a bushy habit.

You can find hybrid tea climbers and floribunda ground covers, so don’t assume that a rose classified as one of these will definitely have a bushy habit.

One of my favorites is ‘Osso Easy Italian Ice,’ a self-cleaning plant that features pink petals on the exterior that gradually transition to yellow on the interior. Self-cleaning means it doesn’t require deadheading.

‘Oso Easy Italian Ice’

This is one of those varieties that is hard to kill, even if you neglect it.

Burpee carries these plants so you can add one to your garden.

‘Easy on the Eyes’ has semi-double blossoms that come in multiple colors on a single plant. Some blooms will be lavender, some will be peach, and all will have deep magenta centers.

‘Easy on the eyes’

As an added bonus, it has an intoxicating citrus scent and is tough enough for a beginner to master.

#2 Pick up one of these standouts at Nature Hills Nursery in Containers.

Read more about shrub roses here.


The tree type (also called standard) does not naturally grow into a tree shape, having a main stem with an canopy of leaves and flowers.

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Instead, they are grafted using a single cane with no foliage, such as a hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, or shrub top.

As you can imagine, they look like miniature trees and they are ideal for containers, along doorways, or as center pieces in a garden.

Most of them need extra support when they are young, and I have had some that refuse to grow straight even after years and years.

They don’t do as well in windy areas and tend to bend to reach the light if they aren’t in full, direct sunlight.

As an aside, don’t confuse tree types with varieties that grow as tall as a tree. There are some cultivars and hybrids over 10 feet, but these are climbers, ramblers or shrubs, not trees. Plants grown in the tree habit usually do not exceed three or four feet in height.

Some of the most popular tree types come from breeder David Austin, but renowned Knock Out® breeders have also created their own trees.

knock out

Hardy in Zones 5-10, they are drought tolerant and fragrant.

You can buy them from Home Depot with yellow, red or pink flowers.

How do your flowers grow?

Knowing how a plant will grow in your garden is essential to selecting the best one for you.

After all, it won’t do you much good if you want a centerpiece for your cutting garden, but instead of a shrub you pick a ground cover.

Now you’re armed with the knowledge that will get you in and out of the nursery without feeling bogged down about different developmental habits. Tell us your picks in the comments section below!

If this guide helped you learn a little more about roses, check out these further articles:

Photos by Christine Lofgren © Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, Home Depot and Nature Hills Nursery. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.