According to Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, a rose bush can teach us an important lesson. To reduce our suffering, we must accept that much like a flower, all things and people we value are impermanent. What is born will die.
If you want to know how long rose bushes live, the answer depends on the variety and growing conditions.
Range of Rose bush Lifespans
Rose bushes can live a lot longer than you might expect.
Reportedly, the world’s oldest rose bush is the Rose of Hildesheim, which has been growing on the apse of a German cathedral since the year 815 C.E. It was bombed to oblivion during World War II, but the roots survived, and it regrew. It is currently around 70 feet tall.
You can’t assume your rose bush will last that long, but these ancient roses disprove the common online claim that a rose bush’s lifespan is about a decade. The average gardener may either accidentally kill or intentionally dig up a rose bush after a decade. Still, there is no real evidentiary basis for assuming that a decade is a rose’s natural lifespan.
In my experience and that of other master gardeners, a well-cared-for rose bush can live for well over thirty years. Under optimal growing conditions, your rose bush could easily outlive you.
How Long Do Rose Bushes Live?
Of course, not all rose bushes will live that long. A particularly hard winter could kill off young and old rose bushes alike. And if you are a “plant it and forget it” type of gardener, you can expect your roses will become spindly and less productive after 10-15 years.
Rose Species Variation
Different types of roses have different expected lifespans. Some species are susceptible to certain diseases and pests. For example, hybrid tea roses are particularly vulnerable to powdery mildew and black spot, as are many antique roses.
Other modern hybrid roses tend to be bred with disease resistance in mind. Also, some heirloom roses, such as gallicas and rugosas, are quite hardy and disease resistant. Landscape roses (also known as “shrub” roses) are also typically resistant to black spots, powdery mildew, and rust.
Rose Environmental Variation
Where you plant your rose bush can have a significant impact on its lifespan. For example, a potted rose bush is unlikely to live longer than a decade due to nutrient depletion, root overcrowding, etc. As long as you don’t wait until it is sickly, you can transplant it into the ground to extend its life.
Planting rose bushes in shade, poor soil, or poorly draining soil can weaken them and shorten their lives.
In addition to the location of your plant, the location of your home makes a difference. Nearly any rose can grow well in USDA Zones 7-10. However, some particularly cold-hardy cultivars can be grown up to Zone 3. It is essential to pay attention to the hardiness rating when deciding which roses to plant in your region.
Ten Tips to Extend A Rose Bush’s Lifespan
- Plant in full sun. Full sunlight encourages vigorous growth and dries leaves after rainfall.
- Avoid wet leaves. If you irrigate your roses, do it in the morning. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses, or carefully water near the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves.
- Keep it pruned. At a minimum, remove any diseased or damaged branches (be sure to sterilize your pruning shears). You can open your rose bush up to ensure good air circulation or even prune it down to the ground and start over.
- Address insects and plant diseases promptly. Pests or diseases will weaken your rose bush, so don’t let them linger.
- Test your soil. Send a soil sample to an Extension Office approved lab to learn the pH of your soil, your soil type, and your fertilizer needs. These tests are cheap, easy, and you can even ask for rose-specific recommendations for soil amendments.
- Correct your pH. Rose bushes prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil (5.5-6.5). Use a ph meter and amend with either lime (if too acid) or sulphur or aluminum sulfate (if too base).
- Fertilize appropriately. Roses are heavy feeders. Compost or aged manure are ideal amendments for long-term soil health. In the shorter term, blood meal, bone meal, and fish emulsion work. Pay attention not only to NPK but to essential secondary and trace micronutrients.
- Clean the bed. Remove leaf litter, weeds, and other and other debris from around the plant. Don’t allow weeds or other plants to crowd the rosebush and compete for water and nutrients.
- Mulch for protection. Spring mulch will suppress weeds, and autumn mulch will protect your rose’s roots all winter. Compost, aged manure, grass clippings, straw, or shredded leaves are great choices.
- Mulch for aesthetics correctly. You can use wood chip mulch, but be careful not to pile it up around the plant. Wood mulches use up soil nitrogen as they decompose, so avoid touching the plant, stick with a thin layer, and use extra fertilizer.
The Thorny Truth About Rose Bush Longevity
While a rose bush on its last legs can be revitalized with fertilizer, pruning, and a lot of attention, sometimes it’s best to accept the plant’s impermanence. There are so many great varieties of rose bushes available. If yours peters out after a decade or two, it might be time to let it die with dignity and plant a new rose bush.