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Cistus [SIS-tus] plants are easy to care for shrubs belonging to the Cistaceae family and are commonly referred to as Rockrose.
These plants are often used for groundcover; however, some varieties grow in a mounding habit or even stand erect and are used as low hedges or specimen plants.
There are about twenty species of Rockroses, and they come from a variety of Mediterranean settings including the Caucasus mountains, the Mediterranean basin, and the Canary Islands.
Rockroses genus name, Cistus, comes from the Greek word kistos, which means “evergreen shrub.“
Rockrose is so-called because the blooms resemble old-fashioned, single peddled roses and they prefer growing in rocky settings.
Cistus Plant Care
Size & Growth
There are quite a few varieties of Cistus plants.
Some are dwarf varieties growing only about a foot high, and some are full-grown shrubs reaching a height of 7’ feet.
Plants may grow in a flat, spreading, groundcover manner. Alternately, they may grow in large mounds several feet high.
Some even grow upright as small bushes or trees.
Leaves grow in an opposing manner and range in color from mid-green to dark green. Some may even have a grayish hue.
The leaves are aromatic like several other Mediterranean herbs (e.g., lavender or rosemary).
On warm days, it’s pleasant to walk along the path lined with Rockroses and enjoy the leaves‘ aroma.
In some species, the aromatic substance produced by the leaves also gives them an attractive shiny appearance.
Plants may even be rather sticky when the substance is produced in abundance.
Flowering & Fragrance
The plant is an evergreen producing a great number of rose-like blooms throughout the spring and summer months.
Flowers come in colors ranging from pure white to pink to lavender.
Rockrose ’s fragrant, wild rose-like blossoms usually open in the morning hours and last only a few hours at a time.
When the sun rises again, new blooms will take their place.
The blooming season lasts for two or three weeks during the spring and summer.
A few species bloom off and on throughout the spring and summer months.
Some species of Rockrose sport an attractive brownish or reddish spot at the base of each petal.
Light & Temperature
This hardy plant likes lots of sun and will not thrive (or even survive) in the shade.
For wildscaping, plant Rockroses in the full sun in areas where they may receive no natural water in the summertime.
Some of the best locations are dry banks or west or south-facing walls.
The most important considerations when choosing a location are well-draining soil and bright sun.
Rockrose is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10.
Watering & Feeding
It takes about a year for Rockrose to establish itself. During this time, you should water weekly.
Provide deep watering to encourage the development of deep roots.
In the plants’ second year, reduce watering to one thorough watering every third week.
Be sure to soak the soil completely and drench the entire root ball. Be careful not to overwater as this may encourage excessive growth, as well as fungal diseases.
Limit feeding Rockrose to once per year. Use a slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer intended for flowering plants. Granulated fertilizer works best.
Sprinkle it on the ground underneath the plant and rake it into the top of the soil to a depth of about an inch.
After fertilizing, provide a thorough watering to help the fertilizer soak into the soil.
Soil & Transplanting
The plant does well in poor soil and tolerates very dry conditions. Gravelly, well-draining soil is preferred.
When planting, be sure to cut through circling roots using sharp shears or a knife.
Massage the roots to encourage them to spread rather than remaining confined to the planting hole.
Plant Rockrose during the autumn months, early enough to allow them to establish roots before winter arrives.
When you do this, you may not need to irrigate as much (or even at all) when spring and summer arrives.
Grooming & Maintenance
At the end of the season, pinch the entire plant back a bit to encourage more growth in the coming season.
Early in the springtime, examine your plants carefully and remove any stems damaged during the winter.
Avoid severe pruning as this is damaging to Rockrose plants.
These plants bloom on woody growth, so avoid cutting it back before the winter months.
When plants become old and excessively woody, they may stop blooming.
When this happens, you need to remove those plants and replant young plants.
Alternately, leave the older plants in place and just continue to enjoy the scent of the leaves.
And then start a new Cistus patch in another location.
More on Cistus Varieties to consider:
- Cistus purpureus
- Cistus Ladanifer
How To Propagate Rockrose
Propagate this plant with wood cuttings.
- During the summer months, trim new growth shoots 3” – 4” inches long.
- Dip the cutting into rooting hormone and poke it into clean potting medium in a small pot.
- Place the cutting in a warm, still, sunny area.
- Water it once a week during the summer, autumn and winter months.
It should be ready for planting in its permanent location come springtime.
Rockrose Pest or Diseases
If overwatered or kept in a low light area, Rockrose may suffer from aphids.
Is The Roserose Considered Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?
Rockrose is considered safe.
In areas where the plant is winter hardy, some species (especially Cistus ladanifer or Gum Rockrose) may be considered invasive, according to this Invasive Weed Field Guide from the US Parks Service.
Suggested Cistus Plant Uses
Rockrose is a good choice for a seaside garden as it can tolerate salt spray and cold, windy conditions.
Rockroses are a good choice for adding a ground cover to dry, gravelly banks.
As the name implies, they make an excellent addition to any rock garden.
Rockrose makes a good addition to a perennial type herb garden featuring aromatic herbs such as lavender and rosemary.
Rockroses are a natural choice for xeriscaping.
Use them as a groundcover underneath drought-resistant shrubs.
If you live in an area where Manzanita trees grow naturally, Rockrose makes a nice understory.