The Icebergs of California

In the past five years or ten years, Rosa 'Iceberg' (Kordes, 1958) has become a popular landscape shrub around here. Too common, perhaps, yet I always enjoy seeing it, sometimes breathtaking, if placed correctly, sometimes sadly planted and left to wither. 'Iceberg' is quite an old cultivar as modern roses go. Most modern roses receive a year or two of hype, and then are quickly forgotten in the blizzard of new introductions.

Somewhere along the way, 'Iceberg' stopped being a rose and developed a second, highly successful career as a reliable landscape shrub for Southern California. In other parts of the country and the world, it is too tender and too vulnerable to Black Spot, but here it has found a home--or rather many, many homes, and gas stations, and fast food restaurants, and drug stores.

By itself, the plant can be unattractive: the bottom is usually bare, grey, lumpy. The foliage can be sparse; the growth habit, often gangly if neglected. It is somewhat mundane, by itself. A flower that is loose, underwhelming, unscented.

Here it is lost and lonely, with the impact of the white flowers lost against the white wall. However, the simplicity of the color scheme, green, white, and black, is soothing and satisfying.

It makes a good standard ("tree") rose, but needs attentive pruning to maintain a full, rounded head. Left to itself, the awkward structure is raised up so it can be seen more clearly. Oops!

Here's a newly planted row in front of a newly built wall. Now the white flowers can be seen clearly against the tan blocks. The row will look better once the roses develop, but the single row is not ideal. The boxwood in front will help.

Here's another row. Again, not entirely satisfying--these are a little stressed on a dry slope and there is a lot going on visually--a row of red groundcover roses, then the Icebergs, then a row of Phormiums, a tree, bouganvillias, miscelaneous shrubs, color and texture to be sure, but a lot for the eye to deal with. Contrast this with the first photo, the white/black/green. This clearly illustrates how soothing formality and simplicity can be, and how more complicated is not always more desirable.

And another row. The structure and weight of the walls and boxwood contrasts well with the blowsy, rolling, tumbling feel of the rose. Again, the simple color scheme of greens, white, and tan has a lot of impact. One of my favorite combinations is many Icebergs, a few olive trees, and Ligustrum japonicum. The crisp white flowers, the dusty olive foliage, the dark, nearly black cast that old Ligustrum foliage takes on after years of being clipped and reclipped as a hedge, make a perfect trio.

A group closely planted by a stairway. The white flowers pick up the white in the bricks.

A group of three plants placed so closely together it appears to be a single plant. This wisely compensates for the sparse growth habit of the rose.

'Iceberg' is very effective as a pointer ("door is this way!")--the brilliant white draws the gaze.

Hamburger Store Icebergs:

Drug store Icebergs! Far better massed in multiple rows than in a single row. Again, a single row reveals the flaws of the plant itself, while the massing reveals the virtues. I haven't yet found a group of Icebergs planted around an outhouse, but I'm keeping my eyes open.

Here, some real impact, a mass of them along a small private drive, multiple plants in multiple closely planted rows, surrounded by green. Not quite at full flush, but you can see the potential.

And here, a huge mass, 50 plants making a glorious, breathtaking show:

California is a place where many people have come to remake themselves into someone else. And where a German floribunda rose became something else--a landscape shrub. Overused? Yes, but a case where overuse is--okay.

The lesson is, plant them close, plant a lot of them, balance the bright white with the structure of hedges and walls and the rich simplicity of green. And then enjoy.


  1. When should icebergs be pruned in Southern California? I live in zone 9.

    Thank you,
    Elsa Garcia

  2. Hi Elsa,

    A good time to prune Iceberg roses in Southern California is sometime between Martin Luther King Day and Super Bowl Sunday, as the soil is beginning to warm up again after the short daylight hours of mid December to late January. However, the climate of Southern California is so forgiving, and 'Iceberg' is so content here, that earlier or later works just as well. Happy Gardening!

  3. Thanks so much for extolling the virtues of such a common rose. I was wondering why I would see so many all the time!!

  4. When planting in a mass, how closely should they be planted?

  5. You could do one every 24" for a dense look, or 36" if you are more patient. 18" if you want to overdo it. Also factor in the richness of the soil and the amount of water and heat they will get. A mulch of good compost once or twice a year will give you better results for not much effort and cost. The mulch also keeps the weeds at bay and the soil stays cooler and more moist, which means more flowers.

  6. My row has grown to 4 to 5 feet and are quite thin. Can I trim them all the way down to the hardwood and have them come back in?

    1. Hi Dave,

      You can certainly cut them back. The usual thing to do is to cut them back once a year, every year, in late winter or early spring. If your area gets freezes (temperature drops below 28F), it is best to wait until danger of that is past in spring time. It's somewhat difficult to advise on best performance not knowing what climate zone you are in, how old your 'Iceberg's are, and their growing conditions (sun, water) so my comments are general and should be adjusted for climate differences. You could cut them back moderately now (25% of height) now, if you are in Southern California or very mild areas of Northern California, for a better look for the next few months, then cut them back again in February somewhat harder (40-50%) for a better look next year.

      Hope that helps.

    2. Also a light application of fertilizer now and a heavier application of fertilizer in February to March time frame. Follow package directions!

  7. Hi Dave,

    I am looking for a white rose to kind of hedge around my lawn. something to keep lower than 3ft and I found IceCap roses, do you have any experience with them? they seem more dense compare to Iceberg, a little bit shorter and not having bare bottom problem. also more resistant to black spots. what do you think?


    1. Hi Rob,

      If you are in an area prone to blackspot, 'Iceberg' is not recommended. I've seen 'IceCap' but not grown it myself, however, it does look like a good one, worth trying. You might try a few first to see how they perform in your particular garden.

      My long experience with roses is that performance is local--what is excellent in one area may be terrible in another, and sometimes all you can do is try a few, and see.

      Just a note on the "bare base" issue: a low growing plant with a modest root system that hides the base of roses is really the way to go. You want to avoid anything that spreads aggressively by roots, because roses don't compete well with that kind of plant. I use Geranium 'Rozanne' and it has worked well, but again, every climate is a bit different and affects performance greatly.


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