If you’re like me, you may have envisioned nurseries growing rose bushes from seedlings. Or you may even think of them growing from smaller plants, like when you bring home small tomato plants. If that’s your conception — and it is for many who are just starting the hobby — you’ll be surprised to learn how roses really are bred.
Buds or Shoots
For the most part, the roses you buy at most retail outlets today are grafted or more appropriately budded. This means that the buds or shoots of a specific rose are attached to the roots of a second rose. This second rose is called the rootstock.
Once attached, they grow together to create one plant. The point at which two parts are joined is referred to as the bud union. Later in this blog, I’ll refer more to this particular part of the rose.
Not only that but on most plants that you buy, you’ll be able to identify this section with relative ease. This point is usually slightly swollen. If for some reason, you can’t see this point and you know without a doubt the rose is grafted, you can safely assume the bud union is then the point where several main stems or canes join the base of the plant.
Canes which are attached either above or directly at the bud union are called “the top growth.” These are nearly always those of the desired rose. On rare occasions, a plant produces what’s called “sport”. This is a shoot with traits that differ from the rest of the plant. Traits like vigor, habit or even flower color could be among these types of traits on occasion.
If the cane emerges below the bud union, it’s called a sucker. These are outgrowths of the rose which was used as the rootstock. If left to grow, the sucker usually crowds out the desired top growth. Most people remove these as soon as they recognize them. It’s best to snap these off where they come out at the root, rather than just cutting them off at the ground level. If you don’t do this, the plant is likely to continue to produce another sucker at this same point.
You may be confused at first by some of the other terminologies, rose lovers used to describe their growths. Once you get a handle on this, you get a better idea of not only what these individuals are talking about, but you’ll gain a better understanding and enjoyment of your gardening habit.
Grafted or Own-root
Once you’ve decided on which roses you’re planting, then you have a second choice to make — one you may not have thought much about up until now.
Are you going to buy a grafted or “own-root” plant. Either choice has advantages attached to it, as well as disadvantages.
Grafted plants are essentially the top growth of the desired rose attached to the roots of another rose — called the rootstock. This method of propagation allows the producers of these plants to quickly create a garden-ready plant. It also allows a better variety of rootstocks to suit a particular growing condition.
Three rootstocks are among the most commonly used in the United States.
The first is called ‘Dr. Huey’. This one tolerates average to dry conditions and alkaline soil conditions.
The second is ‘Fortuniana’. This particular rootstock is well suited to hot climates. It tolerates nematodes that are soil-borne pests. It needs to be fertilized regularly and generously. You may also discover that it may take an extra year or two to settle into its new home as well as produce some good top growth. If you choose this type, then you need to be patient with it.
And the third type is called ‘Rosa multflora’, which adapted quite well to cold climates. Not only that, but it also tolerates acidic soil and nematodes well.
Fascinating and Frustrating
Now here’s the kicker, it’s what makes growing roses so fascinating and so frustrating at the same time. The same top growth grafted onto different rootstocks can perform differently. That’s why two roses with the same name but bought by different sources may differ drastically in their performance.
For the most part, you just don’t know which rootstock a plant has been grafted to. But, for the best results, seek out suppliers who can tell you what rootstocks they’ve used. Then they’ll be able to tell you whether the rootstock itself is suited to your area.
In the last few years, a new trend among rose growers have occurred. More nurseries offer roses propagated by cuttings. These cuttings, in turn, actually form their own roots.
As you can imagine, this method has several benefits. First, many of these plants survive winter weather much better. They tend to live longer and their chances of developing the rose mosaic virus, a common rose disease is minimized.
If by chance, the cold weather kills the top growth of one of these plants, the odds are in your favor that new growth will actually sprout from the roots. And the good news here is that the new growth will be the same rose you originally chose.
This is in contrast to the grafted rose. When a grafted rose dies, the new growth will be whatever the rootstock was and for you, that’ll be a surprise. Chances are it’ll be nothing like your original choice.
So now you have yet another decision to make in choosing your roses. Some rose hobbyists love the own-root roses. Others, however, feel the benefits of selecting the rootstock make the grafted plant a better choice. But only you can decide.
If you really can’t make up your mind (and while you’re new at this, you may not really have much of an opinion), why not choose one or two of each? In this way, you’ll have some experience with each kind.