Peggy Rockefeller Rose
The New York Botanical Garden, John Peden

Good Companions

Plants, like people, are searching for partners that will bring out their best qualities and share limited space with balance and grace -- neither overpowering nor paling in comparison.

Editors' Note: We're excited to be sharing expert advice from our friends at The New York Botanical Garden. Check back regularly for more inspirational gardening ideas from them.

Bench surrounded by lavender
Home Gardening Center at The New York Botanical Garden

Planting Particulars

Texture, color, and form are all important in the aesthetics of companion planting.

Plants with tall spires complement the wide, cup-shaped flowers of roses, while perennials and shrubs with pale green, silver, or purple leaves accentuate the sumptuous rose blossoms.

Companion shown here: lavender

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Hiding Their Legs

While the tops of roses are nice and lush, the bottoms can become leggy and sparse. Good companions are those that hide their bare legs.

Traditionally, lavender (Lavandula), catmint (Nepeta), lady's mantle (Alchemilla), and tall growing pinks (Dianthus) all make useful partners.

Good companions also act as living mulches -- suppressing weeds and lightly shading the soil, keeping their roots nice and cool.

Companion shown here: catmint

Jackson & Perkins Rose Companions
Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Rose Resource

Formerly rose curator at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Stephen Scanniello offers expert advice on how to create a stunning garden with roses and companions plants, or, as he says in his introduction, "how to get roses to play well with others."

Jackson & Perkins Rose Companions
Available at NYBG Shop

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Enjoyable Growing Conditions

Good companions should enjoy the same growing conditions but not compete too aggressively with the roses. Roses do best in full sun and well-drained soil, and so should their companions. Plants that are too aggressive may crowd the roses and absorb too much water and nutrients from the soil.

Many sun-loving annuals such as heliotropes (Heliotropium), summer-snapdragon (Angelonia), lantana (Lantana), verbena (Verbena), and million bells petunia (Calibrachoa) hold up well throughout the summer and fill the space among roses nicely.

Companion shown here: lantana

Garden gloves
Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

1 Foot Away

Plant companions 1 foot away from your rose so that you do not disturb their roots. Rose gloves will come in handy when working in your garden. The thorn-resistant kidskin leather molds to your hands, and stress points at thumbs and fingertips are reinforced for long-lasting wear.

Victorian Rose Gauntlet Gloves
Available at NYBG Shop

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Protecting From Harm

Good companions are said to enhance one another's growth or, in some way, protect each other from harm. Some companion plants may help discourage pests without the use of chemicals because there are natural substances in their leaves, flowers, or roots that repel insects.

"Roses love garlic" is a popular expression. In fact, members of the onion family -- such as chives, ornamental alliums, and edible onions -- are rumored to increase the perfume of roses, ward off aphids, and prevent black spot.

Companion shown here: chives

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Aromatic Plants

Scented geraniums (Pelargonium), rue (Ruta), feverfew (Tanacetum), parsley (Petroselinum), and thyme (Thymus) all may help ward off Japanese beetles and aphids. Marigolds (Tagetes) may also repel pests and encourage growth.

Try ornamental and culinary sage (Salvia), anise-hyssop (Agastache), Russian-sage (Perovskia), lavender (Lavandula), yarrow (Achillea), oregano (Origanum), catmint (Nepeta), and calamint (Calamintha).

Four-o'clocks (Mirabilis) and larkspur (Consolida) are said to act as decoys by attracting rose-loving Japanese beetles to eat their poisonous leaves. Yarrow (Achillea) may attract ladybugs, who in turn feed on aphids.

Companion shown here: marigolds

Pruning tools
Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Healthy Structures

Create a healthy open structure with good pruning practices. Small bypass pruners are particularly effective for roses and shrubs.

Small Bypass Pruner
Available at NYBG Shop

Rose garden at the New York Botanical Garden
Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden

Air Circulation

Always maintain good air circulation around your plants. This will help prevent attacks from pests and diseases. With proper care of your roses, you will be able to surround them with many interesting companions.

-- Sonia Uyterhoeven, garden expert, The New York Botanical Garden

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