Rugosa roses are an easy to grow rose known for their large hips used in food and wellness recipes. We answer the most common questions for growing rugosas, as well as share the most common ways we use them.
Rugosa roses are a main feature of our medicinal and edible herb garden. To learn more about planting your own medicinal herb garden, be sure to check out our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. With over 400 pages of homesteading information, DIYs and tips on a variety of subjects presented in four different levels of experience, you’re bound to find something useful! If you’d like a free sample from our Homestead Garden section, simply email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com and I’ll get you set up.
I Hate Roses
Well, let me clarify – I hate growing roses. A decorative rose (grown for cutting to put into floral arrangements) is like a pretty woman; high maintenance and bossy in the garden. Now before you prize rose growers start jumping all over me, let me just say that I love rose blooms.
I just don’t want to have to grow roses. I’m too busy and too practical to grow a rose unless it’s making my life better in some way. That’s why I love rugosa roses, or rosa rugosa.
My Favorite Things about Rugosa Roses
What are my favorite thing about rugosa roses? Here are five things.
Rugosa roses grow like weeds.
Really. We originally planted ours because they’ll get six feet tall and as wide, forming a living fence to keep out the unruly teenage boys that walk our street on the way home from school. There was no way I was going to kiss the feet of my city in order to get a fence permit and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay for a fence anyway.
As long as I keep the rugosas under control with heavy pruning, I’ll have a lovely, fragrant fence. The thorns will keep careless youngsters from trampling my herb garden, too.
Rugosa roses aren’t too picky about soil, either. I’ve grown mine in dark, brown soil and nasty clay. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help them grow better, though:
- Rugosas benefit from balanced nutrition and will yellow if they’re starved altogether.
- However, several inches of rich compost once or twice a year should do the trick.
- You can also use traditional rose food if you really feel your plant is struggling. I favor compost as plant food simply because I have a barn full of straw and poop that needs to be put to use.
- Do not over-fertilize as this can actually stress your rugosa.
- To have a good harvest of blossoms and hips, the roses will need 6-8 hours of sunlight. However, they will grow in part shade with fewer blooms and hips resulting.
Rugosa roses grow in nearly any climate.
I bought my rugosa roses from Raintree Nursery, where I buy a lot of my nursery stock and you can follow their link in order to read up on how to grow them.
- rugosas will pretty much grow in any zone (usually rated down to zone 2 or 3)
- and any soil (though light and loamy will be best)
- and in nearly any amount of light
You usually don’t need to fertilize them, either. In fact, over fertilizing them can cause them to stress out. Here are a few more tips:
- Do be sure to mulch them and keep them evenly moist – something I recommend for nearly every plant except desert-flourishing ones.
- As I said the roses will produce more blossoms, and therefore more hips, in direct sun (6-8 hours a day), but they will flower in part shade.
- In the hottest climates, you will probably want to give them a bit of afternoon shade.
Rugosa roses are easy to maintain.
Rugosas aren’t finicky like other roses but:
You DO need to PRUNE rugosa roses heavily, so don’t plant them if you’re not going to do that.
USE GLOVES for pruning and harvest!
Do not try to harvest these rugosa rose hips without the help of a good, thick pair of gloves because rugosa rose thorns are thin, amazingly sharp and they cover (yes, cover) the stems of the plant.
Be aware that rugosa roses self-propagate prolifically with underground runners, which I happen to love about them because I love getting new plants for free. However, here are some recommendations for dealing with their vigor.
- If you don’t want the rugosas self-propagating via runners, use a sharp shovel and cut ambitious runners at least two feet from the outside perimeter of the plant. You may dig up the baby plants and relocate them or give them to friends.
- If you only want to kill the baby plants, wherever you see new rugosa runners popping out of the soil cut them off several inches under the soil line and chop them up. This won’t prevent the rugosa from sending out more runners, but the plants are easily controlled using this method of runner decapitation.
- Again, watch for thorns as you clean up.
Reminder to self: We do not grumble that rose bushes have thorns but are grateful that thorn bushes have roses. And hips.
FYI, if you’re looking to add some other red/pink flowers to your garden to mix with rugosas, Joybilee Farm has a great post on such flowers with the added bonus that they attract hummingbirds!
Rugosa roses smell and taste divine.
The petals of the rugosas range from dark pink to light pink to white as there are a few different cultivars you can choose from. All of them are very fragrant and will attract pollinators and neighborhood admirers alike.
Use the petals to make Rose Petal Ice Cream – click this link.
You can also learn to make rose sugar with these petals (another tip that’s outlined in The Do It Yourself Homestead.).
Those lovely petals can also be used in special beauty recipes like this one from Nitty Gritty Life – Rose Facial Mask.
And please, don’t miss the opportunity to use your rugosa roses to make this decadent Rose Petal Dark Chocolate Bark Recipe from Simply Beyond Herbs.
Rugosa Roses produce large, delicious hips.
The best thing these rugosa roses do is produce the most large and luscious hips you’ve ever seen on a rose. Plus, the rugosa rose hips are very sweet. Here are a few things to know about rugosa rose hips:
- The hips ripen at the end of fall and there are subtle differences amongst the varieties.
- Some hips are bright red when ready to harvest and some are more orange. You’ll get used to how yours look when ripe.
- You can also feel them for ripeness. When they’re soft, they’re done.
- Rugosa rose fall foliage is lovely to behold as well, and once the leaves start turning, the hips should be about ready.
- The hips typically ripen in bunches, and I usually just pull of a bunch in one handful.
So far I’ve harvested two 5-gallon bucketfuls off of about ten plants (2 yrs old) and I’m still not done. I dry them on open air racks for the most part because my dehydrator is in use almost 24/7 at this time of year.
Other Rugosa Rose Questions Answered
Is Rosa Rugosa Invasive?
Good question and the answer is that it can be. If your climate is just right, rugosas can multiply easily which they do via underground root runners. Even if your climate is only mildly supportive of their growth, the plant will sucker.
This is why rugosas make an excellent hedge or fence rose.
How Do I Stop My Rugosas from Spreading?
Rugosas have gained in popularity of the last years, especially amongst gardeners or the sustainable or permaculture variety. Herbalists love them, too.
If you’re blessed to have to many rugosas, learn to pot them up and sell them for a sweet and easy homestead side hustle. If you can beat the prices for rugosas at the online garden catalogs, you’ll have a very loyal customer base.
Ten years ago, I was paying around $3 for one rugosa plant; now I’m paying $25!
If you don’t want to sell your extra rugosas, take a sharp shovel in the fall and simple cut away the baby rugosas that are popping up in various places around the mother plant.
Be sure to check with your local gardening friends first to see if they’d like to come harvest the plants before you kill them.
Should Rugosa Roses be Deadheaded?
That depends on whether you want rose hips. If you want hips, don’t deadhead because the base of the flower will turn into the hip (which is actually the plant’s seed pod).
If you don’t want rose hips, or as many rose hips, you can try to keep up on deadheading rugosas. They bloom vigorously, so good luck with that.
How Fast Do Rugosa Roses Grow?
Rugosas follow the general rule of all perennial plants, especially the flowering ones. This rule is:
- The first year they sleep.
- The next year they creep.
- The third year they leap!
Perennials spend their first year developing the root system that will sustain their long life. In fact, if I have a rugosa that tries to flower in its first year, I usually cut off the bud. Producing a flower requires a lot of energy that pull from root production.
The second year of a perennial’s life finds them with stronger root systems but their growth is still pretty measured.
The third year, it’s like they explode! Rugosas are especially like this. One day you have a nice green bush, and the next you have a gorgeous rose covered mass that’s drawing pollinators like crazy!
What to Do with the Rose Hip Harvest
Food Stuff with Rugosa Roses
Practical Self Reliance can help you explore lots of ways to eat roses, not to mention other things you can do with them – anyone for Rose Cordial?
I still haven’t tried making jelly, but that’s the traditional thing to do with rose hips. Here’s a recipe from Fat of the Land – click here to read that. If you’re handy in the kitchen, here’s a recipe for Rose Garden Tea Jam. For great general jams and jellies information, including fantastic recipes, be sure to check out Homespun Seasonal Living’s book below.
The Herbal Academy has a great post on the how rose hips are Super Food!! Just click here to read that. To learn more about the medicinal properties of many plants, please visit The Herbal Academy. There are a lot of different levels to choose from with their online courses.
Non Food Stuff with Rugosa Roses
The bulk of my harvest gets fed to my goats, especially throughout the winter. However, I also save some for the humans and make tea or grind them and add them to our herbal vitamin. To make a delectable tea, click here.
Pistachio Project has both a bath bomb and a Rose Cardamom Bath Salt recipe on her site – what great gifts those would make. Even the kids could do those!
Get Green Be Well has an article detailing a Rose and Eucalyptus Potpourri recipe that would be simple to put together.
Need help foraging for hips?
If you aren’t growing your own rugosa roses and need some help learning how to forage for them, be sure to check out our post with several experts’ tips on foraging successfully and ethically – click here.
I had a great, great aunt Bertha (whom everyone called Bert) who could be found harvesting rose hips along the Bay area’s bountiful hillsides back in the day. I think of her a lot when I’m out there working my roses, though I didn’t know her personally. But I’ve loved hearing stories about her and her no nonsense ways. It’s good to know I come from hardy gardening stock.
All the same, where are my gloves? I need to beat the snow and get the rest of my rose hips!
Just an FYI, if you really start to see the benefit of healing plants in the garden, be sure to visit this article from Nitty Gritty Mama on other medicinal trees and shrubs for your landscaping. Roses are on this list but so are nine other suggestions – a must read!
Don’t forget to email me for your free sample from our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. We hope the book will be useful to you, but don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what author and herb gardener Christine Dalziel had to say about the book: