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Lady Banks Deserves A Place In Your Garden
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The blossoms of spring have bordered on the spectacular this year, and the Lady Banks rose has contributed to the gorgeous displays.
Lady Banks is a species rose, not a hybrid, that hails from China. It is named after the wife of Sir Joseph Banks, the legendary head of the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain.
The Lady Banks rose has many outstanding attributes. Tops on my list is that it is among the most disease resistant roses we can grow. You will probably never see blackspot or powdery mildew on this rose.
It is considered among the most drought-tolerant roses, able to withstand extended drought. If you have ever tangled with a rose bush, you may feel as though you were on the losing end of a fight with a bobcat. You will never feel that way with Lady Banks because it is thornless.
The Lady Banks, Rosa banksiae normalis, has been in cultivation since 1796. An improved double-flowered white form, Rosa banksiae banksiae, was found in 1807. Then in 1824 the double yellow form, Rosa banksiae lutescens, was discovered.
The white-flowered forms have more fragrance than the yellow, but the yellow has become the most popular. To call this a large, spreading rose may be an understatement.
The largest rose in the world is a Lady Banks in Tombstone, Ariz., that covers more than 8,000 square feet. Because of its spreading nature, you will want to manage this rose. The Lady Banks is a long-lived rose. The one in Arizona was planted in 1855.
Climbing roses don't really climb, but have to be tied and trained. However, the Lady Banks can send out huge canes and in a few short years reach the top of a tree or cover a portion of your house.
A well-cared-for Lady Banks on a trellis, fence or arbor is a plant of great beauty. A yellow Lady Banks planted behind azaleas like the Formosa is worthy of a photograph. The Lady Banks works well in the Spring garden with azaleas, dogwoods and Japanese maples because it is the first rose to bloom.
This early blooming season does make it susceptible to damage from late spring freezes, but it is certainly worth the slight risk. Lady Banks blooms only in the spring, so pruning is done after the bloom cycle. Old canes can be removed in favor of new ones, and by all means, prune to keep it trained and in bounds.
Even though the bloom period is past, now is an excellent time to plant a Lady Banks. I have seen them grow well in less than full sunlight, but I would encourage giving it as much as possible. Plant in an organic-rich bed, free from the competition of encroaching turf. Provide a sturdy structure for support because its majestic canes will be heavy. It is possible to grow it as a large, weeping shrub.
For a "Southern Gardening" TV segment, we taped a Lady Banks that was grown as a weeping shrub that was awesome with a redbud tree in back. This style can be as pretty as a painting, but keep it under control.
Even though it is drought tolerant, maintain even moisture and apply mulch to get the rose established.
If the spring-only bloom period seems a drawback, consider the wisteria, Carolina jessamine, spiraea and many others that bloom only once. A rose as pretty as a Lady Banks is certainly equal to those plants.
When you consider disease resistance, longevity, drought tolerance and thornless plants, you will realize this rose is truly outstanding.