Rockrose (Cistus): Types, How to Grow and Plant Care

If you’re after a robust shrub that will bring a lot of life and color into your garden, the rockrose or Cistus is a great choice. 

It will fill up any empty space fairly quickly, whether that’s somewhere exposed or sheltered, able to tolerate salty soil, drought, hot temperatures and strong winds.

At a Glance: What You Should Know About Rockroses

Rockroses are lovely evergreen plants that practically thrive on neglect, producing fantastic blooms in the later days of spring or the first few weeks of summer, for about a month of color. 

The common name, rockrose, comes from the appearance of the flowers. The petals are ruffled or even crinkled, resembling the surface of rock. 

These bright flowers are beautiful, but you better enjoy them while you can, as each flower is very short-lived, only lasting for half a day at a maximum. 

There are roughly 20 different species within the Cistus genus, and while some are grown as ground cover for gravelly or rocky areas, you can use others as hedging or bordering shrubs.

No matter which type you go for, all will bloom, and the cultivar will dictate the flower color and form. These gorgeous blooms are available in different shades of yellow, pink, purple, and white.

The foliage on the plant varies from type to type, but most are fragrant, and the flowers carry no perfume at all.

As long as you live in a USDA growing zone from six until ten, you can consider the rockrose a perennial which will withstand any weather conditions. 

In colder climates, you may need to grow it as an annual, in which case, the ground cover rockrose is a better option for spring and summer color.

How to Grow Rockroses

The phrase ‘thrive on neglect’ is a little misleading, as there are some care tips with any plant that you’ll benefit from knowing when you’re trying to care for it.

Here’s what you need to know about this tough and beautiful plant, and how to get the most flowers out of it.

Sunlight and Position

Rockrose plants need as much sun as possible, for as long as possible. They thrive on heat and light, so it is important to give it to them where possible.

They will also survive in partial shade, but they won’t produce as many flowers as they are capable of. 

Unlike some plants, rockroses will tolerate exposed, windy conditions, and they will even tolerate salt spray, making them perfect for coastal gardens.

Soil is the second most crucial factor in growing a rockrose plant. You need to plant them in a freely-draining soil, otherwise they will rot.

It doesn’t matter what type of soil you grow a rockrose in, as long as it drains well, it will be fine. This is great for gardens which have naturally nutrient-poor, sandy, salty, or rocky soil, as the rockrose isn’t picky. 

It’s worth mentioning that if your garden gets high levels of humidity, the rockrose plant is not one you should consider. It can deal with moderate levels of humidity, but no more than that.

In which case, you’ll need to water a rockrose much less than normal. In other words, hardly ever.

Watering Needs

When it comes to watering, the rockrose is not a plant you’ll have to keep an eye on very often. They will survive long dry spells, so they are a good choice if you’re going away for a while, as they will still be there when you get back.

You will, however, need to make sure that it doesn’t get too much water. When you first introduce a rockrose into your garden, you will need to water it more frequently to encourage the roots to establish into the soil.

The plant can do without this step, but you’ll have a much healthier plant if you do.

Do You Need to Prune Rockroses?

Pruning rockroses should only be done lightly, otherwise you can harm the plant. Pruning is only necessary when the flowers have finished, to take off old, spent growth. 

This will also help the plant reserve its energy for the next blooming season.

Should You Feed Rockroses?

Generally, rockroses don’t require any fertilizer. Feeding them anyway can do much more harm to the plant than it will benefit it, as it can upset its delicate growth rate.

If you think about it, the rockrose has adapted over a very long time to live in poor soil in sunny conditions. Adding fertilizer can burn the plant, and shock it, so it’s best to save your plant fertilizer for more hungry, demanding plants in your garden.

There is one exception, however. When it comes to helping establish the plant in your garden for the first time, it will benefit from a weak dose of slow-release fertilizer.

Make sure it’s a balanced fertilizer, and better yet, use the granular kind, making sure to water the plant once you’ve spread the fertilizer on the soil.

Pests and Problems to Watch Out For

Rockroses are known for being hardy and robust plants that you can pretty much leave to their own devices once they are established, but they are still vulnerable to some pests and disease.

With any plant, spotting any problems in the early stages will go a long way to avoid plant death, and any issues will be much easier to treat.

There aren’t a lot of pests that you need to worry about with rockroses. In fact, it is disease that you’ll need to look out for.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is one of the biggest killers of rockroses. You’ll notice a powdery substance appearing on the foliage and stems, which then turns the leaves yellow. 

This disease causes leaves to drop from the plant, sapping their vitality and source of food.

You may also notice young leaves will be misshapen, and shoots may be distorted. 

Powdery mildew is capable of spreading to neighboring plants, so be careful. It’s also one of the few fungal diseases that doesn’t need too much moisture in order to appear.

Typically, it will form in darker locations, where the temperature is between 60 and 80°F (or 15 and 26°C). To stop it from forming, keep a good airflow around your plants, making sure there is enough space between different ones for the air to circulate properly.

If you do spot signs of powdery mildew, you can treat it with a concoction of baking soda, dish soap, and water, misting the foliage. This will alter the pH, and it will stop the fungus from spreading.

You can also mist this on neighboring plants to stop it from forming.

Botrytis Blight

Another disease which will decimate a rockrose, gray mold or botrytis blight will kill leaves and shoots, discoloring flowers and make buds rot before they have a chance to bloom.

This particular disease appears in areas which have high levels of humidity, and in the early stages, you’ll notice gray or maroon spores on the leaves and foliage.

To help prevent this blight, only water at the base of the plant, not allowing any water to splash the leaves, flowers, or stems. You need to keep the humidity lower in order to stop it forming.

Make sure you remove any fallen plant debris from the soil, keeping it clear of any dead or dying tissue. 

Cut back any discolored or diseased part of the plant with clean secateurs, making sure you sterilize them before using them on any healthy plant parts, and dispose of any diseased plant parts responsibly, in a bin, rather than a compost or green waste bin.

Sooty Mold

Sooty mold usually appears when a plant is infested with aphids, or other scale insects. This is because these insects leave a substance called honeydew on the plant, and from this substance, sooty mold forms.

While it doesn’t directly harm the plant, it stops sunlight from reaching the plant, inhibiting its photosynthesis and therefore its growth. Luckily, it’s easy to remove sooty mold.

Simply use a damp tissue to wipe off the mold, but you’ll still need to deal with the pest problem, otherwise the mold will keep coming back, and your plant will carry on suffering.

You can use natural insecticides such as neem oil to get rid of these pests, but be careful to wear gloves and goggles when you do, and make sure you use it sparingly, only on the plants you need to treat.

Verticillium Wilt

Verticillium wilt causes the foliage of a rockrose plant (and others) to yellow, and wilt long before they should. The plant eventually loses these leaves, making it weaker, and more susceptible to other issues.

If left untreated, it will spread from the foliage to the stems and branches, eventually causing the whole plant to die off.

The only way to ‘treat’ verticillium wilt is to cut off any diseased areas as quickly as possible, being careful not to spread the disease, or let any infected plant matter fall to the soil and spread to other plants.

Make sure you sanitize your tools afterward using warm soapy water, and the gloves you were using, too. Any affected plant material must be disposed of in a general waste bin. 

Never compost diseased plants, as this will only spread the infection across your garden.

How to Grow Rockrose in Pots

If the soil in your garden remains consistently moist, or it doesn’t drain well to begin with, you can grow rockrose in containers. 

Growing in containers makes it much easier to control both the soil and the drainage, and it helps that pots do retain less water than the ground.

Because of this, you will need to water rockroses in containers more often than you would if you were growing the plant in the ground, but this is a small trade-off for such a lovely display of color.

Rockroses will thrive in lightly damp soil, so you will still need to be careful about exactly how much water you give them, and when.

It’s also an idea to grow rockroses in containers if you live somewhere cooler, as these plants won’t tolerate colder temperatures for long. 

You can bring them indoors to overwinter them, putting them outside again once the frost has gone. 

It is worth knowing that if you have planted rockroses in the ground, and you dig them up to bring them inside, you may not get the results you’re hoping for.

Plants that have previously lived in the ground don’t fare well when suddenly displaced into a pot, but if you start them off in containers to begin with, they are more likely to survive, and survive quite well.

Types of Rockrose to Grow Yourself

There are many varieties to choose from, and it all depends on how you want to use the plant in your garden, as to what type you should go for.

Some will grow as shrubs, while others will stay compact and low-growing, making them suitable for ground cover in well-draining soil.

Cistus Albidus ‘White-Leaved Rockrose’

If you like foliage with a silvery touch, Cistus albidus is a good choice. The oblong leaves are gray-green regardless of the season, complimenting the pale lilac flowers, which feature brilliant yellow central eyes.

It grows as a shrub, able to reach just under 6 feet tall in the right conditions, making it suitable as a hedge or border plant if you train it. It’s fairly tolerant to soil with a high content of lime, which not all plants will survive in.

It is a fairly hardy variety, and it will tolerate cooler conditions than other rockrose varieties.

Cistus Creticus ‘Cretan Rockrose’

Perfect for compact hedging or border plants, the Cretan rockrose or Cistus creticus can reach between 2 and 4 feet tall once the plant has matured. 

In spring and the first few weeks of summer, the Cretan rockrose will produce uplifting pink or deep purple flowers with an orange central eye, in the instantly-recognizable ruffled form.

Cistus x hybridus ‘Hybrid Rockrose’

Also known as Cistus Corbariensis, the hybrid rockrose has wavy-edged foliage in a luscious green, which offsets nicely against the bright white blooms, featuring rich yellow eyes in the center of each flower.

The flower buds start off crimson, and open into a pure white. This particular rockrose has a very dense growth habit, getting to a maximum of 3 feet tall.

Cistus Ladanifer ‘Brown-eyed Rockrose’

Also known as laudanum, or the sweet holly rose, this evergreen shrub features a loose growth habit, with narrow and scented leaves, in a rich green, becoming silvery on the undersides.

The flowers are striking, blooming in a lovely, ruffled white, each petal featuring a dark crimson splotch near the yellow central eye. Each bloom can reach up to 10cm in diameter.

You may want to place this particular rockrose somewhere you don’t pass very often, as the whole plant is covered in resin. This resin was used in herbal medicine, and it still plays a role in perfume to this day.

It’s a much taller variety, reaching anywhere between 3 feet and 8 feet, making it the perfect focal point, as long as you don’t get too near it!

It’s a very robust type of rockrose, as it can weather long periods of hot and dry weather, as well as cold weather. 

Its vigorous growth habit and hardy nature means that it is aggressive in some areas, so you should be careful where you choose to plant it.

It may be better suited to a container, where you can contain its level of growth a bit easier.

Cistus Purpureus ‘Purple Rockrose’

Perfect for sloping gardens or uneven rockeries, the purple rockrose features fantastically rich purple flowers, with the same characteristic red splotches as Cistus ladanifer

These flowers get to a maximum diameter of 8cm, contrasting well against the dark green, narrow foliage.

Cistus x pulverulentus ‘Sunset Rockrose’

A perfect ground cover choice, this is a compact shrub which features silvery green foliage, and produces clusters of light pink blooms in summer, each bloom reaching about 5cm across.

It helps that this is a frost-hardy type of rock rose, suitable for colder climates, though it will still need some protection in the winter months.

It’s a slower growing plant than most on this list, but it does have a spreading habit, and retains the low-maintenance habit of other rockroses. It can reach a maximum of 3 feet high, spreading to about the same.

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