Rose Magazine calls shrub roses "the most underrated plant in the landscape." They range from ground hugging varieties to large hedges and are winter hardy to zone 4. Shrub roses are disease- and pest-resistant. Pick one that will be happy in your climate. Check with local nurseries to see which shrub rose varieties they carry.
Rose fossils date back 35 million years. Humans domesticated wild roses 5,000 years ago and began improving on them by creating new varietals like shrubs. The Chinese were the first humans to cultivate roses after they found medicinal uses for the plants. Romans grew them for their perfume and made confetti from their petals. Napoleon's wife Josephine planted every known variety at her palace Chateau Malmaison in France.
Often single-petaled, shrub roses are hardy and frequently fragrant. More modern cultivars have reduced the number and size of thorns and increased the size and number of flowers. Shrubs are naturally resistant to the diseases and pests that plague more delicate hybrids.
According to the New Brunswick, Canada, Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture, shrub roses are an easy-care alternative to hybrid tea or floribunda roses. They adapt to a variety of locales from foundation to specimen plants and have decorative foliage as well as large flower displays. Easy-care types include Knockout Roses, Carefree Wonder Rose and the Ballerina Rose. Easy Elegance Roses are low maintenance, disease- and insect-resistant, own root roses that don't need chemicals or winter protection. An old style, easy-care shrub is the Rugosa, which is fragrant, single-petaled and completely disease free.
Preparing the rose beds before planting is the hardest part of growing a shrub rose. Dig the soil a foot deep to loosen it and mix in a 2-inch layer of peat moss with compost or well-rotted manure and a handful of bone meal per plant. The peat will keep the soil loose and well-drained, while retaining moisture and nutrients from the compost or manure. Provide six hours of sunlight a day and water regularly.
Urban landscapers use shrub roses for city parks and boulevards because of their easy care. Many have impressive displays of bright red rose hips in the fall.