Five years ago I fell madly in love with sustainable roses—those roses who are strong enough to survive with no spraying. Does this mean that my roses are totally blackspot free? Absolutely not. But they will not give up the ghost if they should get some blackspot.
I’ll discuss growing sustainable roses in future columns but the best place to start is with own-root roses. On this subject I am inflexible. All my roses must grow on their own roots or I won’t have them in the garden.
The 20th century was the high point for the hybrid teas. Many of them were so hybridized that they simply weren’t strong enough to grow on their own roots —and who wants a rose like that? Often the rootstock used for grafting was that of Rosa multiflora, an obnoxious weed, or “Dr. Huey,” a vigorous but bland red climbing rose.
Today, many roses are grafted because they take off quicker, a great advantage to the grower but not to the consumer. All the canes above the bud union are those of the desired rose; all the canes germinating from the roots are those of the less desirable rose so constant vigilance is required. Otherwise, you could end up with two different roses growing on the same spot.
Typically, we consumers are attracted to the best and the brightest specimens. Most of the Knockout roses on the market, the best selling rose of all time, on the market are grafted. This is not because they won’t grow well on their own roots but because it’s easier to sell grafted roses that initially grow more quickly. Not unreasonably, the grower wants to cash in on his crop as soon as possible.
Not only do own root-roses catch up easily within a year, they have the added benefit of living longer. They also may be healthier as they have a sturdy base with multiple canes growing out from the roots. In addition, they are free of Rose Mosaic Disease, which is spread through infected rootstock.
Now some roses are always grown on their own roots, especially the species roses such as the Lady Banks rose—sorry, it’s a zone 8 rose, not likely to survive in zone 6—and Rosa roxburgii, the chestnut rose. There are many good rose nurseries listed on the Internet that grow own-root roses. Catalogues usually state which roses are own-root roses.
I grow innumerable hybrid teas, shrub roses, polyanthas, floribundas, and climbing roses—and all are on their own roots. In fact, when I encounter a new rose grower, I always ask if they grow own-root roses. So, if you want to get on the sustainable rose bandwagon, insist on own-root roses.