How To Grow And Care For Drift Roses

Pink Drift Roses
Photo: okimo/Getty Images

No doubt about it. 'Knock Out' rose is one of the most popular plants around. Millions upon millions have been sold to people looking for constant color with zero maintenance to the point where it's hard to find anyone growing a rose that isn't 'Knock Out.' But perhaps for the average homeowner, there might be something better.

See, one of the misconceptions about 'Knock Out' is that planting it is the only demand it ever makes of you. Not so. Look closely and you'll notice something astonishing. It grows bigger every year! An unpruned plant eventually reaches 6 feet tall and wide. It's one of the most viciously thorny of all roses, so you can imagine how many pricks you might have after pruning.

Drift roses have a few advantages over ‘Knock Out’ roses. While similar to the low-maintenance ‘Knock Out,’ they are different enough to offer some variety to your garden. They don’t grow as large and have more graceful forms. Their flowers have a more traditional rose shape. Some Drift varieties, such as Coral Drift and Sweet Drift, are fragrant. Here’s what you need to know about growing and caring for Drift roses.

Plant Attributes

Common Name Drift rose
Botanical Name Rosa hybrid ‘Drift’
Family Rosa
Plant Type Shrub, groundcover
Mature Size 18 in. tall, 3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color Pink, yellow, peach, white, red, coral
Hardiness Zones 4-11 (USDA)
Native Area North America
em'Peach Drift' rose. Photo:

Drift Rose Care

The Conard-Pyle Company, those friendly folks from Pennsylvania who introduced 'Knock Out' rose to America, saw an opportunity to create a smaller, more manageable plant with continuous blooms. They brought out a new line of roses called Drift. Just like 'Knock Out,' they bloom nonstop and don't need spraying for disease. But these roses grow only 18 inches tall and about 3 feet wide with an arching, graceful shape.

Conard-Pyle calls them "ground cover roses" because you can plant them in a sweep at the front of a bed for a blanket of color. But you can also let them drift from a container or drift over a low wall or drift over a bank—if you get my drift.


Drift roses thrive in full sun. They will need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily from the spring to early fall to promote continued growth. They can handle a little shade, but make sure they are getting the vitamin D they love.


Being as low maintenance as they are, Drift roses will grow in most soil conditions you plant them in, but they do prefer moist, but well-drained soil. It is recommended to test your soil drainage in the spot you plan to plant them beforehand. Make sure not to overwater your roses—too much watering can cause root rot and other diseases. If you are planting your roses in a container, most garden soils will work perfectly—just make sure it has a pH balance of 5.5 to 6.5, as Drift roses do best in this acidity level.


After first planting your Drift roses, make sure to deep soak the area to approximately the depth of the height of the root ball. As your new floral addition enters into its first growing season—which lasts from spring to fall—water just enough to keep the soil damp to moist. Make sure you let the area completely dry out before watering again—this will help prevent root rot. Because it is a drought-resistant plant, after its first growing season, one will only need to water it in summer drought conditions or when the plant is looking extra wilted or its stems or leaves are drooping.

Temperature and Humidity

Some varieties of Drift roses, such as Coral Drift, are winter hardy as well as heat and drought-tolerant. They like full sun but will tolerate some shade.


Drift roses don't need fertilizing, but they do like it. However, make sure not to fertilize your roses until they have gone through one full growing season. Use a balanced fertilizer or a fertilizer made for roses. Fertilize your plants about once every six weeks during the growing period, but make sure not to use fertilizer in the late summer, because the plant will be preparing for winter at that time.

Types of Drift Rose

Drift roses come in a variety of colors to suit any garden landscape.

  • Sweet Drift (Rosa ‘Meiswetdom’) has pink blooms from spring through the first hard freeze.
  • White Drift (Rosa ‘Meizorland’) has double flowers shaped like miniature roses.
  • Coral Drift (Rosa ‘Meidrifora’) is a winter hardy and drought-tolerant mounding shrub that blooms from spring to fall.
  • Apricot Drift (Rosa ‘Meimirrote’) has double flowers that are best suited for small gardens and lining walkways.


While Drift roses don't require pruning, a good trim will help the plant become denser and promote growth. Drift roses should be pruned in the later winter or early spring once a year to about a six- to eight-inch height.

How to Plant Drift Roses in the Ground

  1. Decide on a place to plant your Drift roses. They will need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day, so it is important you choose a sunshiny patch where there is not much shade.
  2. Use your shovel to dig a hole about three times as wide as the root ball and about as deep as it is.
  3. Take out your rose from the container, and use your fingers to loosen the root a bit at the plant's base.
  4. Plant your roses making sure the base of the plant is at ground level. Add extra soil to the bottom of the hole if necessary to ensure it is at the right height.
  5. Fill in empty spaces around the plant with soil until it stands up on its own. Aerate the soil with your hands as you put it back in the ground.
  6. Soak the area, and allow it to fully drain out before watering again.

How to Plant Your Drift Roses in a Container

  1. Choose a container bigger than your dwarf-sized Drift roses—at least two times bigger. This will give your Drift roses some room to grow. Don't forget to choose a container that has adequate draining!
  2. Add potting soil into your container, leaving room to place the rose.
  3. Add the rose into the soil, making sure the base of your plant is level with the top of the soil's height.
  4. Go ahead and add soil around the plant, leaving only about one and a half inches at the top of the container empty.
  5. Water your plant thoroughly and allow it to drain completely. Water twice a week when in a container—just make sure your plant gets ample time to drain completely before watering again.
  6. Place your plant in a sunlit area, ensuring it gets at least six hours of sunlight a day!


In areas with harsh winters, make sure to add two to three inches of mulch, pine needles, or leaves around the base of the plant. Cold winds may dry out the plant, so protect it by wrapping it in burlap. Heavy snow insulates the plant. In the spring, remove any burlap or mulch that is too deep, and prune away any dead pieces.

Roses in containers can be left out for the first few frosts, but then they should be moved to a garage or basement for the winter for protection from winter temperatures. Make sure to check that the plant does not dry out completely and has some moisture. In spring, after the threat of frost has passed, return the plant outdoors.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Drift roses are fairly resistant when it comes to common plant diseases like powdery mildew, rust, and black spot. They can be susceptible to leaf spot. To treat, remove any infected leaves and carefully dispose of them. Remove and dispose of any debris around the plant. Apply a fungicide to help control the problem.

How to Get Drift Roses to Bloom

These roses bloom every five or six weeks from April through November. Deadheading is not required to encourage new blooms. If you prefer a neater appearance, remove wilted and faded blooms. Regularly remove any fallen flowers to discourage pests.

Common Problems with Drift Roses

Yellow Leaves

During summers with exceptionally high heat, the leaves on a Drift rosebush may turn yellow and drop. This helps it cool down. If temperatures aren’t to blame, other causes can be too much water or fertilizer. Water the base of the plant a few times a week during the morning, making sure the soil is moist 12 to 18 inches deep.

Do you have 'Knock Out' roses? Are you interested in planting 'Drift' roses?

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