Polyantha rose – The classic bedding rose

An old-fashioned cluster-flowered rose, the polyantha is an excellent bedding plant as it bears abundant flowers from early summer until the first frosts.

It is also easy to grow and comes in a wide range of colours.




Prune by removing last year’s flowering stems and any dead or weak growth. Cut back growing tips.

Feed with rose fertilizer.



Flowering season begins. June-August:

Deadhead (remove faded flowers) to encourage continued flowering. Water if conditions become very dry.



Flowering continues until the first frosts.


The best time to plant bare-root roses. Container-grown roses can be planted at any time provided the conditions are favourable.



Most varieties are frost hardy. However, if your area has extreme weather conditions, mound earth up around the roses and cover the soil around their roots with conifer branches. This will protect the roots from the cold.


Variety, Colour ‘Happy’, ‘Boys Brigade’, ‘Paul Crampel’, ‘Edith Cavell’, red ‘Gloria Mundi’, ‘Gloire du Midi’, scarlet ‘Margo Koster’, salmon ‘The Fairy’, ‘Nathalie Nypels’, pink ‘Baby Faurax’, violet ‘Yvonne Rabier’, ‘Katharina Zeimet’, ‘Little White Pet’, white


To get the rose off to a good start, dig the site over deeply 6 weeks before planting. Mix in plenty of well-rotted compost or coconut fibre.

Polyantha hybrids are valued in northern Europe for their ability to stand up to hard winters and their long flowering season. They deserve to be more widely grown in Britain.

With its tight clusters of small, pompon-like flowers, it is easy to see that the polyantha rose is the forerunner of the modern cluster-flowered rose. Until the early 1940s, the dwarf polyantha reigned as the supreme bedding rose. It was originally bred from a multi-flowered Japanese rose introduced into Europe in the mid 19th century.

The polyantha tends to throw sports (genetic mutations) causing colour changes. These have often led to new varieties. Some older varieties are prone to mildew. This is less of a problem today with modern fungicides.

Planting schemes

The favourite use for polyanthas is a massed display in a bed. Standard roses (on a tall trunk-like stem) are often planted with them to provide a focus.

But polyanthas are much more versatile. They also look good interplanted with herbaceous perennials. Take care to choose herbaceous plants which do not dominate these small roses.

Use polyanthas as interesting edging plants for a shrub or herbaceous border, to make a colourful small hedge, or plant them in containers. For example, ‘The Fairy’ makes a lovely patio feature in a pot.


Choose a site where no rose has grown for at least 2 years, or plant the new rose in soil from such a site. This prevents rose sickness.

Dig a hole wide enough to allow the roots to be spread out but no deeper than required to cover the base of the stem.

Thoroughly soak a plant with dry roots if it looks shrivelled or if planting is delayed for more than 10 days after purchase. If planting a container-grown rose, cut away the container gently once it is placed in the hole. Take care not to disturb the root ball.

Fill in the hole with soil mixed with a handful of bone meal and some moist coconut fibre. Tread the soil down around the stem gently but firmly. Water the plant well.


The characteristics of the original polyanthas have become modified in the breeding process. Some of the popular varieties, such as ‘Happy’ and ‘Boys’ Brigade’, are classified as cluster-flowered, dwarf or compact cluster-flowered, or patio roses, by some garden centres and nursery catalogues.

Mail order nurseries specializing in old types of roses are a good source for the older and less widely available hybrids.

Polyantha rose


Full sun in the morning and partial shade during the hottest midday sun is ideal. Do not plant in full shade. An open site is also best to help prevent mildew.


Prefers a fairly neutral soil (around pH6.5) that is not waterlogged. Incorporate plenty of organic matter before planting to aid drainage.


In spring, feed with a rose fertilizer and prune lightly. Water in dry weather. Apply a mulch (ground cover) of organic matter in autumn.


Mildew can be a problem with the older polyantha roses and hybrids. Help prevent it by giving the bushes an airy situation and planting no closer than 50cm apart. Feeding with fertilizer and ensuring the roots do not dry out will also contribute to preventing mildew.

Inspect the roses regularly. If the white powdery mould of mildew appears on leaves, buds or stems, apply a preventative spray of fungicide every 3^I weeks during the growing season.

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