Native shrubs to replace roses

What do you do when the shrub you based your entire English-cottage-style garden upon dies? The rose, that fair-blossomed beauty, fell prey to an ugly disease which we’ve discussed here before, Rose Rosette Virus. You might begin to invest heavily in new native shrubs, choosing hardiness and diversity for your garden. If you want native shrubs, they aren’t that easy to find locally in Oklahoma. I can’t imagine why, but they just aren’t. Well, maybe I can think of a few reasons why.

Rosa 'Carefree Beauty'
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty,’ another one I still have.
  • Maybe it’s because plants native to the U.S. don’t grow in as tidy a fashion as smaller cultivars.
  • It could be because natives are often dioecious, needing both a male and female plant to produce fruit.
  • You also can’t trademark natives so there’s no money in them.
  • Some natives grow slowly too–not a good quality in a society used to gratification at the click of a trackpad or mouse.
Rosa 'Mutabilis' rose
Rosa ‘Mutabilis’ in better days. It’s still alive, but maybe not for long.

Replacing roses is complicated because most roses grow in the 3′ x 5′ range. Although my garden is large, it is comprised of small “rooms” laid out in a geometric design. A 3′ x 5′ shrub is the perfect size for these rooms. Some of the natives I’m replacing the roses with grow much, much larger. There is definitely some shifting going on at my household and in my garden. Also, I’m putting young plants in holes where fully-grown roses once resided. I think it all looks like a mishmash, but what’a girl to do? Losing the backbone of your landscape certainly gives you opportunities for personal and physical growth. In some places, I’m repeating existing shrubs like the non-native Pinus mugo in one of the diamond shaped beds. I still haven’t decided if I’ll plant another one on the stone’s other side or not. Mugo pines are good for year-round color.

As for the native shrubs, I had to buy most online, and they came in very small pots. It will be a while before they grow and look good, but I’m willing to take the time for a more natural landscape. Gardeners grow and change over time just like their gardens do, and I’ve become more interested in the birds, lizards, snakes–yes, even snakes–and pollinators than the plants themselves. That doesn’t mean the garden won’t still have its English cottage flavor. I’ve just evolved a bit, and as I wrote previously, I’m growing older. Taking care of 100 plus roses takes a toll each spring. Even though I’m sad about the roses, I’m also relieved. It’s forced me to do something I needed to do anyway–adding grasses and shrubs.

After reading The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, I want a garden rich in texture and built layer upon layer. Another good book on this subject is The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David Culp, the man behind some of my favorite hellebores. I don’t live in a climate similar to any of these authors. I am smack-dab in the middle of the Great American Prairie and the beginning of the deciduous forest. Each author encourages us to plant a very diverse landscape from tree canopy to the smallest forest plant or the grasses in a meadow clearing. If there is one thing I’ve learned from my experience with Rose Rosette Virus, it’s to never plant too many of any one plant again. Oh, and within that, I have a caveat. Daylilies don’t count. They are pretty easy to replace when necessary. Everyone has their soft spots. I’m told my garden will be on the regional daylily tour in 2017 so I’ve been buying newer cultivars and sending some of my older ones up to my church for their gardens. They’re still beautiful even if they aren’t the newest fashion.

The four B's to daylily garden zen
Zen Frog in Hemerocallis ‘Concorde Nelson’ daylily

My dear friend, Gail from Clay and Limestone has been the best help suggesting native shrubs to replace my sad roses. I’m so grateful for her knowledge. These are the native shrubs I’ve bought so far.

  • Ribes odoratum or R. aureum var. villosum, clove currant, which Margaret at A Way to Garden profiled. Gail also profiled clove currant here. I don’t know if it’s different from R. aureum or just a close relative, but either way, I’m excited about the scent. I love a scented garden and already have lilacs and Viburnum carlesii Korean Spice which aren’t native, but I’m not going native all the way. I’m also pleased that it will grow in a spot in the lower tiered bed. It can handle the wetter soil, and the leaf shape is pleasing.
  • Viburnum rufidulum, southern blackhaw or rusty blackhaw, which Gail calls the Mother Tree because it provides her with seedlings to grow elsewhere. I am so excited about this shrub because I’ve wanted one forever. They can be hard to find, but I was so excited when Dave Edwards, suggested rusty blackhaw in a talk he gave at the Oklahoma Horticultural Society meeting last winter.
  • Viburnum prunifolium ‘McKRouge’, Forest Rouge blackhaw so that, one day, I should get drupes (fruit) from my two blackhaw trees/shrubs. Both bloom and have beautiful fall color.
  • Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey tea is another shrub I’m trying in the garden. It is native to Oklahoma and many other states. I placed it in partial shade where I hope it will be happy.

I don’t have photos of most of these plants because they are so new here.

Celastrus scandens, American Bittersweet
Celastrus scandens, American Bittersweet

I also bought Celastrus scandens, American bittersweet vine, and placed it behind the two ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, also native to the U.S., on the side arbor. Plus, I got Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ honeysuckle for the other side of the main arbor. This is to replace one of the ‘Cl. Old Blush’ roses that died. On the other side of the same arbor will grow crossvine.

Bignonia capreolata, crossvine,
Bignonia capreolata, crossvine, in my friend, Cindy’s garden.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Tulsa to speak about Enchanting April at the Tulsa Botanic Garden. I hope to see you there.




  1. I’m really struggling to figure out how to replace the roses as they fall to RR. My problem is that I lined the roses ALL along the east side of my house in a very long line. Probably not very good design, even though I tried to at least make the edges of the bed into curving lines. But replacing the roses one by one means the whole theme is gone. I’m quite torn!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Robin, I wrote you this long, sympathetic comment, and then the internet ate it. Bad internet. I so understand your struggle with figuring out what to replace your roses with. I have been there, and I’m still there. May I suggest some hydrangeas? I love both the paniculatas which darken as they age to pinks or reds, and also, the beautiful arborescens. I don’t think much of mopheads in my climate, but I realize they perform better elsewhere. I would just replace the roses as they get the virus, so it could be a new theme of roses and hydrangeas, flowers that do like one another. I did that next to the deck when I replaced some plants. It’s a hard thing to change your garden mid-way through its life, but I remind myself that I could be living in California where even harder decisions are being made. Hang in there. Maybe some of the roses will live.

  2. While we don’t have rose rosette virus here, I am almost convinced that one day my drip irrigation system will konk out when I’m away during the summer, and I, like you, will have to replace most (if not all!) of my roses with natives. At least your natives are a bit more interesting than Scotch broom, thistles and olive trees!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      We find Scotch broom pretty exotic and like thistles, invasive here. I do think olive trees are pretty, but not quite the same. That’s for sure. You know, roses can handle quite a bit of drought so if your returned pretty quickly, all would not be lost. 😉

  3. What a great thing for your garden Dee…native shrubs are hard to find here and I have to buy small ones that either never make it through the winter or I can’t get the male and female or they are so small it takes forever for them to grow here in our short growing season. But I keep trying. Love your choices and that Zen frog is adorable.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Donna, some of my twigs are tiny too. One may have died. I do have the longer summer for them to get established as long as they have water. It’s certainly a lot of change, but I’m glad I have options. Thanks for the Zen frog comment. I do love those frogs.

  4. Kathy Sturr says:

    Two of my favorite books! I even was fortunate enough to have Doug sign my copy of the Living Landscape. I grow NJ Tea (although it’s struggling), Spicebush, Ninebark (which is actually a baby from Coppertina that I ripped out due to constant mildew problems – the baby is the true plant and is never mildewy), Cranberry Viburnum, and Flowering Raspberry (Rubus Odoratus) which has a wild rose-like dark pink/magenta flower and large Maple-shaped leaves. All of my purchased native shrubs have grown quite quickly! I could even send you a pot of Rubus. It does like to spread somewhat but I just snip the canes to the ground – the birds love it. It produces large berries which are edible but not the best tasting so I leave them for the birds. I am excited to see your new design and progress and you have reminded me I must do something about the white pine scale affecting my mugo!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Kathy, I don’t think I have Rubus odoratus. It sounds heavenly. I like aggressive plants for the most part because without them, I wouldn’t have a garden. LOL. If I find white pine scale on my mugo, I’ll scream. Just kidding. I so enjoyed both of those books, two of the best books written lately. Truly.

  5. Oh, yes, I’ve been meaning to get a copy of that David Culp book. Thanks for the reminder! It sounds like you have a great plan for replacing the roses. I don’t have many roses, but one that will always be in my garden is a shrub rose hybrid created by my great-grandfather. It’s a cross between a hardy native Minnesota wild rose and an English tea rose. The scent is unbelievable! I’m moving more toward native shrubs, too. Soon, we really need to get rid of some invasive, non-natives here that we inherited when we moved in. It will be expensive, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Thanks for adding ideas to my “potential shrubs” list. Many are native here, too.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Beth, that’s a lovely story about your great grandfather. What did he call his creation? It probably has that great scent because of its tea rose ancestor. I hate invasives. Yes, they need to go. Stupid plants growing where they shouldn’t. 😉

  6. mdestef says:

    Yes, sometimes I question if I should do away with my roses. So much disease ans pruning. Great idea with the natives. The bittersweet is invasive around me also, It spreads through the woods and onto peoples property choking out and pulling down trees it comes in contact with. Maybe its true all things happen for a reason.

  7. Phillip says:

    That is so sad to hear. I am always afraid of seeing it return to my garden but so far, fortunately it has not. Whatever you choose to replace them, your garden will be beautiful.

  8. Marilyn Stewart says:

    Liked this. Shrubs can be a tough thing because everyone wants something evergreen that blooms and attracts hummingbirds and can live in the sun AND the shade….. wish that Ilex glabra was in the trade more.

  9. Amber says:

    What you call crossvine is what my mom had and she always called it trumpetvine. She had a bench and had one on either side growing over the arch. I called it Firecracker because I loved to grab the blooms before they opened and squeeze them until they “popped.” The first summer I did this to just about every bloom and my mom couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her plants! Oops!

    The only problem is, in Ohio it took over and then started dropping seeds everywhere so we found baby trumpet vines all over the place! I think she has now removed it entirely and moved the bench.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Amber, Bignonia capreolata, crossvine, is a different plant from the invasive, but also beautiful, Campsis radicans, trumpet vine. Trumpet vine is probably what your mother had. My mom had one too in the back of the yard. B. capreolata is much more well behaved than trumpet vine. I would never plant trumpet vine here. Funny story. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  10. Such a smart choice! I’ve pulled many roses because I couldn’t combat the blackspot without using chemicals so out they went. I also replaced a few with shrubs and vines. I really love clove current and wish I had a spot for one. I hope yours pulls through.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      My clove currant appears to be feeling much better today. Thank you. We just have to evolve when we don’t want to spray, or something is killing our plants. Happy Spring!

  11. Greggos says:

    Sometimes, even when surprised in negative ways, change can be positive. It sounds like this change will be enjoyable for you, a little discovery.
    Recently I have found most of my natives at the annual native plant sale at Dycke Arboretum in Hesston, Kansas. Also I have purchased at Nebrasks Arboretum, Praire, and Prairie Moon Nurseries. And yes those plants are small. You definitely need to try Dalea purperea-purple prairie clover. Good luck!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Greggo, thanks for the suggestion of Dalea. I have tried it several times, but I can’t seem to get it to grow here. I’m not sure why other than I live in a wooded area, and my garden is wetter than a prairie garden. Yup, small plants, but I do adore native plants.

  12. mattb325 says:

    It’s a great post, and a great way that you have taken the challenge of replacing beloved plants with something different. More landscape designers should head the lesson – the problem with ‘uniformity’ and ‘swathes of identical species’ in the planting styles favoured by designers is that you end up with a mono-culture and that invites disease.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I agree that it’s a problem to plant many of the same plants, but I don’t think the garden was a monoculture. I did have many roses, but they were spread out all over the property and were never grown together as a grouping. I also thought landscape roses and hardy heirlooms interplanted with lots of perennials and annuals was the way to go. However, when your favorite plant gets rose aids, it’s time to change that thinking too. Have a great Easter Sunday!

  13. How sad about the roses. A garden never stays the same and your new natives will surely thrive. Good choices.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      It is sad, but gardens are living things, and sometimes, parts of them die. It’s okay.

  14. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have many natives in my garden. I have only one I don’t like and that is Obedient Plant. It is so invasive where I have it. It is not Obedient. A native Viburnum that does well in my garden is the Arrowhead. It has pretty leaves, blooms and berries. It gets tall 12′ or so and the wildlife love it.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lisa, I have a very disobedient plant too. I hate that plant. Hate it with a passion. It just wants to take over here. Bad plant. Bad plant. Chuckle.

  15. thequeenofseaford says:

    Knowing your area of the country, finding natives that are well suited isn’t easy. Love the choices you found (go Gail!) I am so challenged with deer and rabbits, natives have a better chance to survive. I look forward to seeing your new babies as they grow and mature.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Good morning! We have a lot of natives in this part of the country, but most definitely don’t require the same culture as roses. My soil is too rich for many. It will be a learning process. I like how you’ve met your challenges from deer and rabbits with natives.

  16. Gail says:

    A wonderful read, Dee. Your positive energy about embracing change is an inspiration! You are spot on about why native shrubs/plants are not more commercially available! Which is too bad, they make sense. I hope that more gardeners follow your most excellent example and plant native shrubs and perennials in their gardens.

    I am so excited to see how ‘Rusty’ and Clove Current do in your garden! I love them both! The fall color on the viburnum is better than Burning Bush! Cannot wait to see how well New Jersey does, too; it will help me decide if I should plant it! Thank you so much for your kind links to Clay and Limestone. xoxo

    1. Dee Nash says:

      So far, so good for Rusty. He settled right in. As for clove currant, it’s really sulking. I’m watching it closely because I’m excited about that shrub.

  17. Lovely post, Dee, and critically important for folks to think about monoculture growing. I’m sad you “learned that lesson” through roses, though. 🙁 Love that you are turning to natives. I had to look up crossvine, as it looked so much like my naughty, but much loved, trumpetvine. Apparently crossvine is better behaved. Have fun!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks for your sweet sympathy Kathryn, but I want to be clear that I never had a monoculture. I did have over 100 roses, probably 70 varieties that reflected the history of the rose, but they were spread out all over the garden and 7.5 acre property. They were also interplanted with over 200 daylilies and at twenty different varieties of trees, and I don’t know how many shrubs. I was a collector, but I never thought it was a good idea to plant roses by themselves. Since I cared for them organically, I didn’t have to spray, and they didn’t need to be alone. They were simply shrubs that formed part of the structure of the garden. I, too think monocultures are a terrible idea. They brought me tremendous joy throughout the years, and while I’m sad to see them go, I am moving onward and upward! Happy Easter!

  18. Cindy, MCOK says:

    It will be a different garden but it will be beautiful!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yup, it will, but life is all about change.

  19. Les says:

    It has been over two years since I was in retail, and I know that planting natives is now more on the forefront, but back then no one came in looking for natives, expect maybe a few spring wildflowers. Native trees, trees, and shrubs would sell, but not because of where they came from. If they were able to stand on their own in habit, form, flower, fragrance, or potential maintenance, then they sold.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Les, I think no one came in looking for natives because they aren’t advertised. They don’t have an ad budget. When I went to Tulsa, I did find a couple of native shrubs that were of a good size. I’m pretty excited about those.

  20. indygardener says:

    Great post, Dee, and what a hard lesson to learn… don’t plant too many of one thing. I am also changing as a gardener, and adding many plants which will provide fruit. We’ll see how it goes!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Carol, yes, one plant at a time.

  21. I don’t know how it behaves in Oklahoma, but in the Northeast, American bittersweet is almost as invasive as Oriental bittersweet, and gardeners avoid it if they can. I’ll be interested to see how it does for you.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kathy, it’s so hot and dry in Oklahoma that it just grows. Not aggressive or invasive at all.

Comments are closed.