How to Plant, Grow and Care For Lady Banks Rose
Those fortunate enough to see a Lady Banks Rose in full bloom know that it puts on a show like no other. If you’re considering adding this beloved rose to your garden, you’ll want to give it the best start. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood outlines key tips for planting and care of Lady Banks Rose.
Seen growing abundantly in neglected spaces as well as beautifully manicured gardens, Lady Banks is an easy-care rose. Easy, if you don’t mind its enormous size. Lady Banks reaches on average, 20 to 50 feet tall, and nearly as wide. Gardeners considering growing Lady Banks must first ensure they have enough space.
If you want a large privacy screen (at least through the summer), want to cover an unsightly area, or just crave buckets and buckets of charming roses, Lady Banks might be what you’re looking for. A rambling rose that is often the first to flower in spring, it blooms only once per year. Like many perennials, the wait is worth it, and her flush lasts 3 to 5 weeks.
This formidable flowering climber even has a museum dedicated to it. A Lady Banks rose planted in 1855 in Tombstone, Arizona, has now reached 8,000 square feet, making it the world’s largest rose. Visitors flock to the site in spring to experience the unrivaled beauty and fragrance of this awe-inspiring specimen!
If you want a rose with outstanding vigor, health, and beauty, Lady Banks is a fantastic choice. Read on for tips to give this heirloom rose optimal care for the best outcome in your garden.
Lady Banks Rose Overview
Plant Type Perennial
Native Area China
Hardiness Zone 6-11
Exposure Full sun to part shade
Plant Spacing 30 feet
Planting Depth 16-24 inches
Height 20-50 feet
Watering Requirements Deep, infrequent
Pests Aphids, Thrips
Diseases Black Spot, Powdery Mildew
Maintenance Low to Moderate
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH (6.5) Acidic, neutral
Plant With Nepeta, Lavender, Coneflower
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Birds
About Lady Banks Rose
Early-flowering, nearly thornless, and smelling of violets, Lady Banks Rose is unmistakable and adored. It grows wild in Western and Central China, where Lady Banks and subsequent variations have been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries.
Lady Banks was introduced in Europe in 1807 by plant hunter William Kerr. He was sent on assignment by Sir Joseph Banks, a botanist famed for accompanying Captain James Cook on his exploration of New Zealand. The beautiful double-flowered white variety was named for Dorothea Lady Banks, Sir Joseph’s wife.
This type of rose does well in zones 6-8, and is even evergreen in the warmer climates of zones 9-11. It is considered an old garden rose, classified so due to being introduced prior to 1864. Though Lady is a once-flowering rambler, it can produce up to 50,000 flowers per season!
They have large, eye-catching bloom clusters made up of small flowers that reach .5 to 1 inch across. It has slender arching canes and glossy green foliage.
Sometimes called a “house swallower”, Lady Banks needs lots of room and some strong support to grow well. This rose is stunning when trained over a sturdy arbor or allowed to climb up a tree for a wilder look.
Once established, Lady Banks is drought-tolerant and rarely bothered by pests or disease.
Though the yellow, double-flowered version is the most popular, there are several other varieties worthy of attention. Several hybrids have also been introduced to the market, including ‘Fortuniana’, often used as rootstock for less vigorous roses.
Rosa banksiae ‘Normalis’
This is the original wild version of Lady Banks rose, with 5-petaled open blooms. ‘Normalis’ is the most fragrant of all varieties, and perfumes the garden with an intense violet scent.
Rosa banksiae ‘Banksiae’
‘Banksiae’ is the double-flowered version of ‘Normalis’. Originally cultivated in Chinese gardens, it’s covered in clusters of fluffy white rosettes.
Rosa banksiae ‘Lutescens’
Thought to be a natural mutation of the wild ‘Normalis’, ‘Lutescens’ has single blooms with pale yellow rose flowers and pretty golden stamens.
Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’
The most popular of the Lady Banks varieties, ‘Lutea’ has lovely butter-yellow double flowers. It is the least scented of the bunch but does carry a mild violet fragrance.
The most important factor when planting a Lady Banks Rose is choosing your site. This rose, when left untrained, grows into a giant, thicketed fountain with a center of upright canes that fan out at the top. Even if trained to grow over an arbor, it’s best to give this rose 10-20 feet of horizontal space to spread.
Another consideration is sunlight. Lady Banks prefers 6-8 hours of direct sun, with some afternoon shade. Left in the scorching sun all day, the rose will bloom less and suffer the browning of its petals.
Though Lady is vigorous enough to persevere in less-than-ideal conditions, consider a spot with some afternoon cover for the best performance.
The best time to plant a new Lady Banks rose is early spring after all danger of frost has passed, or in fall, at least 6 weeks before your first frost date. This will allow it to get established before it has to weather extreme temperature fluctuations.
Once you’ve determined the right time and spot, you’re ready to dig!
Know These Key Plant Parts
Roses have thick, woody stabilizing roots, and smaller feeder roots. They collect and store nutrients from the soil and form a mass directly below the rose’s stem called the root ball.
Lady Banks Roses are grown on their own roots. The bud union is the knuckle-like knob just below where the canes flare out from the stem base.
Canes are the branches that develop the leaflets and buds of the rose. Lady Banks’s main canes form the essential structure of the plant, and will grow thick and upright. Lateral canes will produce the most flowers, and grow outward from the main canes. Their canes are nearly thornless.
Lady Banks roses develop leaflets, typically in sets of 5. A deciduous plant in zones 6-8, the leaves will fall in autumn. In zones 9-11, they will remain and stay evergreen.
Bud eyes refer to the small swollen nubs on the canes where new growth emerges. They show up where leaflets connect to the stems.
Prepare your hole
Dig an irregularly shaped hole, encouraging little cracks and tunnels for the roots to spread out. The hole should be 6-8 inches deeper and at least as wide as the container your rose came in. For bare root Lady Banks, dig 6-8 inches beyond the root depth.
Bury the bud union
This is a highly debated topic, but I always bury the bud union to prevent damage from destabilizing winds and die back from frosts. If you live in a very mild climate, you can consider leaving the bud union exposed.
To plant, turn the rose container upside-down and gently slide it out. Give the outer roots a slight massage to loosen them a little. Finally, place your rose into the prepared hole, canes upright and roots facing down. The bud union should be below soil level.
Fill the hole with your native soil. You can mix in some organic compost or mycorrhizal fungi if you’d like, but there are no needed fertilizers at the time of planting. In fact, fertilizer can burn the roots of a baby rose.
Tamp down the soil, water thoroughly, and mulch the top with leaves, straw, wood chips, or bark. This will conserve moisture and stabilize soil temperature.
How to Grow
Lady Banks is a strong, woody perennial that thrives on neglect. It’s highly disease and pest resistant and won’t need much tending from you for most of the year. Training and pruning its long canes to control size and growth habits will be the biggest challenge, but it doesn’t need to be done often. Let’s look at the steps for success when growing this type of rose in your garden.
As mentioned, Lady Banks prefers 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal health and abundant bloom clusters. However, a spot that provides a bit of afternoon shade is ideal, as this rose doesn’t like to sit in the strong afternoon sun.
The dappled shade of a tall tree is a great partner for your new rose, but make sure it gets at minimum 4 hours of bright light.
In the first two years or so, water deeply, once or twice per week. Provide 2-3 gallons each watering session, aimed at the base of the rose. Soon your Lady Banks will be too tall to overhead water, but avoid it even at the beginning, as wet foliage invites diseases like black spot and powdery mildew.
If they are planted far from your water source, you may want to set up a drip irrigation system. You can also just give it a good soak twice a week by leaving your hose to trickle at the base for 15-20 minutes. Don’t overwater.
They like the soil to dry out before being hydrated again. Check your soil to make sure the top few inches are dry before watering.
After a few years, Lady Banks will have developed strong roots and main canes. It will also begin to develop some drought tolerance. The spring rain may be all it needs, but if your region is arid, you will still want to water it once a week or whenever it shows signs of stress.
Lady Banks is very forgiving when it comes to soil quality. Nutrient-poor, sandy, or clay, she can handle them all as long as there’s decent drainage. If you have heavy clay and struggle with drainage, amend with organic compost or matter from your garden, like leaves and wood chips, to create air pockets.
All roses prefer a soil pH between 6-6.5. If you’re worried about the nutrient content or acidity of your soil, you can order a soil test and amend as necessary to improve your specific conditions. You want to avoid altering the soil or pampering this rose too much if there’s no need for it.
Lady Banks roses generally perform well without fertilizer. Wait one full season before providing any additional nutrients outside of compost.
However, if you’d like to give your rose a boost in subsequent years, you can use a liquid seaweed mix or an organic slow-release rose fertilizer when it first leafs out in spring.
After the first flush of blooms, feel free to fertilize again. Stop fertilizing 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date to avoid stimulation of new growth that will die-back in frost.
When looking for fertilizers, choose one that provides a balanced ratio of macronutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK). Many fertilizers provide micronutrients like iron, calcium, manganese, zinc, and sulfur as well, but there’s no need to seek these out unless a soil test indicates a deficiency.
Granular fertilizer application is straightforward. Follow the measurement instructions on the packaging, sprinkle it on the soil around your rose, work it in a bit, and start watering!
Liquid Seaweed or Alfalfa-based fertilizers are also good choices. Foliar (sprayed directly on the leaves) application promotes new growth and provides additional pest resistance.
Lady Banks roses bloom on old wood, so pruning too early will remove this year’s blooms. Always wait until it has finished its early spring flush. Don’t wait too long, however, as you’ll risk cutting off next year’s buds. The best time to control the size and shape is immediately after flowering.
Assess your rose. Do you want to train it over an arbor? Are you training it up a tree? Do you just want to let it run rampant? Or, consider letting your Lady Banks drape over the side of a strong fence or wall for a breathtaking fountain effect! Once you have your mission in mind, you can begin to prune.
Use sharp bypass pruners to remove anything dead, dying, or diseased (the 3 Ds). Cut out any blackened dead canes completely or back to where you see healthy green growth. Increase air circulation by trimming back any canes that cross each other.
If you’re going to train Lady Banks over an arbor or pergola, you want to start tying it onto the structure in the first couple of years when the canes are still young and pliable. Roses do not actually climb like vines and need help to attach.
Use strong garden twine, and wrap it around the canes, tying it securely where you want it to go. In this case, it’s okay to criss-cross canes to provide extra coverage. Lady Banks can cover a large arbor or wall in as little as three years.
Once the main canes have reached their desired height, trim them back to an outward-facing node to encourage lateral growth. You can also pull and attach canes horizontally to produce more blooms.
If your Lady Banks has experienced a lot of winter damage, you can do a hard prune, cutting it back to a few feet from the ground. It will bounce back. In fact, some gardeners only use hedge trimmers to prune with great success! This is not a fussy rose, and it doesn’t need delicate care. You can prune every other year or so, and they will thrive!
If you’re a lazy gardener and have the space, you can just let them grow wild and skip the pruning altogether. However, it looks best when given an occasional trim.
Finally, it’s time to clean up! Prevent diseases from hanging out in your soil by removing all debris from the area after pruning.
The naturally occurring clusters of Lady Banks roses make beautiful, informal bouquets. To cut and keep them fresh, keep these tips in mind:
For the longest possible vase life, cut them on a cool morning, selecting buds that are just starting to open.
Pick your desired stem length and cut just above a 5-leaflet set with sharp pruning shears. Carry a jar or bucket of water with you so you can plunge the freshly cut stems right into it.
Then, fill your desired receptacle with cool water. Remove all foliage that will sit below water level to avoid bacterial growth, and place your roses inside. Change the water whenever it gets cloudy, on average, every couple of days.
Display the bouquet out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources, and enjoy! They will usually last around 3-5 days, depending on the environment, but you can extend vase-life by using a floral preservative and snipping off the stem ends whenever you change their water. These roses look beautiful in a vase with purple cottage garden flowers like verbena, lavender, and agastache.
Pests & Disease
Lady Banks roses are generally unbothered by pests and disease. A hands-off, no-spray approach is best to encourage beneficial predators and a healthy garden. Plant a wide variety of plants in your garden, including natives, to increase biodiversity and reduce disease.
You may see the occasional unwelcome visitor or fungal disease, but don’t fret. Lady Banks is one tough rose! Following are the most common culprits that you may encounter.
Aphids are often the first pest you see appear in spring. They are tiny, green, white, pink, or brown, with soft bodies. Aphids love to suck the juices of the tender new growth of roses.
Aphids are unlikely to take out your Lady Banks rose. If you see them, wait for beneficial predators like birds, ladybugs, and lacewings to appear within the month.
They’ll take care of the infestation, provided you don’t keep them away with chemical intervention. If you’re getting impatient, you can spray them off with the hose.
Spider mites can also be knocked off with the hose, but they are tiny and hard to see. If the foliage on Lady Banks has turned dull and brown, flip leaves over to check for sticky, white webs on their undersides, indicating spider mite infestation. Go wild with the hose, and await beneficial bug help.
These invasive copper and green scarab beetles hail from Japan. They begin life as grubs in the soil and grow into beetles that adore feasting on rose blooms. Don’t attempt chemical sprays, as they will be ineffective.
To get rid of Japanese beetles, use beneficial nematodes in the soil during the grub stage, and manually remove mature beetles. Plunge them in soapy water after you pluck them off the flowers, ideally first thing in the morning, and repeat daily. The population will subside slowly as you persist.
Browning or deformed buds that never open are a sign of thrips. They are tiny, winged insects that also cause brown, distorted leaves. Prune back any visibly damaged blooms and buds, and wait for their predators to arrive, allowing the population to decline on its own.
You can choose to spray with organic Neem oil in the evening but be aware that it also harms beneficial bugs.
Also called “Rose Slugs”, rosebush leaves are the favorite snack of Sawfly larvae. Resembling little green caterpillars, they make tan blotches and holes in the leaves, sometimes fully skeletonizing them.
Again, less is more when treating these pests. They are fairly easy to spot, so you can pick them off or spray them with the hose. With a huge bush like Lady Banks, it might make more sense to let the predators snack on them instead.
Black Spot is a common fungal disease that causes brown and black spotted leaves, often surrounded by yellow halos. Canes can develop rusty splotches. Black spot is unsightly, but it won’t kill your plant.
If you want to treat, remove all affected leaves and canes and dispose of them. Clean up carefully to prevent spores from overwintering in the soil.
Black spot is spread by spores that thrive in wet environments, so encourage good airflow via pruning. Let the soil dry out thoroughly between waterings.
When infected with powdery mildew, rose leaves may curl up. The whole plant can look covered by a white, powdery coating. This disease loves hot days and cool nights and gets worse in humid weather.
Prevention is key to preventing powdery mildew. Make sure your Lady Banks gets lots of sun. Water in the morning, allowing it to dry out during the day, Always water at the base to avoid wet foliage.
If powdery mildew shows up, remove all badly infected plant material. You can then spray on this homemade solution: mix one tablespoon of baking soda in one-gallon of water. Spray thoroughly and repeat once a week as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
When does Lady Banks bloom?
Lady Banks blooms in spring, but the exact month will depend on your climate. In very warm areas, it is known to bloom as early as March. In areas with later frost dates, it might not bloom until the end of May or early June.
Can they grow in a pot?
I do not recommend growing Lady Banks in a pot. This rose wants to grow to at least 20 feet, and will not thrive when its growth is greatly constricted. Consider a more compact rose that can happily reach maturity at a smaller size.
Which variety is best?
All versions of Lady Banks hold appeal, but which is best for you depends on your taste. They have similar growth habits, but bloom style and fragrance vary. If scent is your priority, choose ‘Normalis’. If you love fluffy white blooms, choose ‘Banksiae’. For longer lasting seasonal color (white roses brown as they wither), yellow-flowering ‘Lutea’ is your best option.
Can they grow on a trellis?
You could, but it will soon be completely engulfed by this vigorous rambler! A very sturdy metal arbor or strong pergola make better choices.
Lady Banks in bloom is a traffic stopper. If you have the space and love its free-flowering look, you’ll never regret adding this low-maintenance rose to your garden. Provide Lady with lots of room and morning sun and remember to prune right after flowering. If you follow these steps, you can look forward to an awe-inspiring floral show every year!