Tea roses must be pruned often. I had to remove the "flowering wood" every few days so the spent blooms would not form seed. Seed production slowed new bud production considerably. The new roses, however, are self-cleaning and rarely produce seed, so there's no need for pruning except to head back a wayward sprig, but even that is optional.

Long before the TV show "The O.C." made Newport Beach, Calif., famous, I was a gardener on Balboa Island.


This built-up sandbar packed with beach houses has some of the most valuable real estate in Southern California. Back then, I tended my customers' roses, the old hybrid teas. They were particularly problematic at the beach, where the moisture made you work even harder for the flowers.


A recent visit to the island revealed a startling transformation: It's overflowing with heavily blooming roses. They are everywhere, growing large and floriferous despite an unusually cool, damp summer. These are not the tea roses I tended, but rather a whole new group that can make any yard look like a rosarium.


They're loosely deemed "shrub roses" because they resemble ordinary low-maintenance flowering shrubs. Wherever you might plant a shrub –– along foundations, in beds and borders or to break up fence lines –– these roses will function perfectly. So if you've always longed for a garden of roses but didn't know where to start, here are more specifics on how they differ from the teas.


Shrub roses vs. tea roses


Tea roses must be pruned often. I had to remove the "flowering wood" every few days so the spent blooms would not form seed. Seed production slowed new bud production considerably. The new roses, however, are self-cleaning and rarely produce seed, so there's no need for pruning except to head back a wayward sprig, but even that is optional.


I was forever spraying my tea roses with fungicide to keep mildew and black spot at bay, because once these diseases become established, they can be very difficult to control. There was no sign of this at Balboa, illustrating the in-bred disease resistance of this new group.


Every winter I had to hack the plants back to their framework wood and seal the tips against dieback. This is one of the most difficult parts of rose care to learn, and it’s why so many people shied away from growing them. The new roses require no winter pruning and only a general shaping in spring with hedge clippers.


Tea roses were heavy feeders, and I was continually dosing them to keep growth vigorous for new flower formation. The new roses ask only for an occasional dose of food. They are also suitable for organic gardens, since no chemicals are needed.


Here's a rundown on the best groups of new roses for your garden:


Flower Carpet groundcover roses were the first of the group, and the breeders had to re-educate the gardening world to these low-maintenance alternatives. This group is hardy to Zone 4 and remains under 3 feet tall, spreading about that wide. They make perfect domes of flowers to fill out beds and borders.


The upright roses are headlined by the incredibly popular Knock Out series, which is proving quite reliable even in high-heat climates. Cold hardy to Zone 5, these are true shrub roses that are as perfect in a large country garden as they are in a small city yard.


Drift roses were bred specially for small gardens like those of Balboa Island. Drift roses are hardy to Zone 4 and mature no taller than 18 inches, spreading just 2 to 3 feet wide. They're perfect for raised planters, pots and small beds.


There are other modern low-maintenance shrub roses. Use the winter months to research them online to discover which ones are ideal for your yard. Then, come spring, when they flood the garden center, you'll be able to select exactly what you want for a picture-perfect rose garden.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.