Cistus [SIS-tus] plants are easy-to-care-for shrubs belonging to the Cistaceae family and are commonly referred to as Rock Rose.
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 Rock Rose Care
Taking care of the orchid rockrose is relatively easy. This includes providing proper rock rose plant care to ensure healthy growth.
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 mature height of 4 to 7 ft at full maturity.
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
Summer is the cistus flowering time. It produces a great number of rose-like blooms 2 inches in diameter throughout the spring and summer months.
Flowers come in colors ranging from pure white to pink to lavender and attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
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 late spring and early 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 shady locations, even in light shade.
If it by chance survives, expect a decrease in flower production and canopy density. There is also an increased likelihood of powdery mildew developing on the foliage.
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 would take the first growing season of the 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 general-purpose, slow-release 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 Rock Rose
The plant tolerates a range of soil pH levels and does well in poor soil but can do better in good fertility. 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 remain confined to the planting hole.
Plant Rockrose during the autumn months and put it in deep soil to allow it 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.
Plants stop bearing flowers as branches age. Remove older branches by cutting at the base.
Early in the springtime, examine your plants carefully and remove any stems that suffered winter damage.
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.
Then, start a new Cistus patch in another location.
More on Cistus Varieties to consider:
- Cistus purpureus
- Cistus Ladanifer
How To Propagate Rock Rose
Rock Rose Propagation is done with wood cuttings.
- During the summer months, trim new growth shoots 3” – 4” inches long.
- Dip the cistus cutting into rooting hormone and poke it into the clean potting medium in a 4-inch pot.
- Place the rock rose cuttings 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 Pests or Diseases
Rock rose plant rarely suffers from serious issues and does not seem to have serious pest and disease problems. But, 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 colder climates 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 selection for a garden in coastal areas as it can tolerate salt spray, strong winds, 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 all types of rock gardens.
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 xeriscapes.
Use them as a ground cover underneath drought-resistant shrubs.
If you live in an area where Manzanita trees grow naturally, Rockrose makes a nice understory.