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March 15, 2011

Good Roses and Bad Roses: the root of the matter

There was quite a bit of controversy over this newsletter last year. It was lauded by knowledgeable Canadian rosarians and decried by those who sell bad roses (some of them Canadian competitors). Nevertheless this is important information for gardeners new to roses.

All our Roses are Canadian grown.
Dugald Cameron

New gardeners have the mistaken impression that roses are hard to grow. They think of them as finicky, fragile creatures that demand loads of chemicals, fertilizers, and pruning. Worst of all, they think that roses are tender plants, likely to die over the winter. Now I'll admit that roses do appreciate a modicum of attention but their reputation as difficult is unjustified. It's a bad rap that these wonderful plants don't deserve.


The problem is not so much in their cultivation requirements but with the plants themselves. Unsuspecting gardeners are just planting bad roses and it usually isn't the actual variety of rose but the root stock it's grafted to that's causing the difficulty. In order to meet demand and to produce plants at a reasonable cost, the vast majority of roses sold in Canada are grafted. This is when the variety of rose you are buying is grafted to the rootstock of a different rose. Herein lies the problem. Almost all roses grown in the United States are grafted to a rootstock called 'Dr. Huey'. It performs wonderfully PROVIDED YOU GARDEN IN ZONE 7! In Canada roses grafted to 'Dr. Huey' are only hardy on the west coast of BC and the balmy climes of southernmost Ontario. Huge numbers of American-grown roses are shipped to Canada every year but the majority of these will either die the first winter or linger on for a season or two in a weakened state and then fall prey to disease. If the people selling the roses don't or can't tell you the rootstock, DON'T BUY IT, it's probably on 'Dr. Huey'. If you learn that it is grafted onto 'Dr. Huey' rootstock and you live in an area colder than zone 7, DON'T BUY IT!

All of this is a shame because there are perfectly hardy rootstocks for Canada, namely Rosa multiflora, Rosa laxa or ungrafted roses on their own roots. Of course, some types and varieties of roses are by their nature less hardy than others but how ironic it is to find hardy, Canadian-bred Explorer roses grafted on to 'Dr. Huey' and sold as the hardy plants that they would, in fact, be but for their tender 'Dr. Huey' roots. The root of the matter indeed.


The latest trend in rose breeding is to produce floriferous, vigorous plants that are so disease resistant that they require no spraying whatsoever. One of the earliest proponents of this trend was the Kordes Nursery in Germany, a 4th generation family-run nursery. At a 2008 lecture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, Wilhelm Kordes (the current director) told us his father thought he was nuts when he decided to base their selection from their trial fields on unsprayed roses. The fields that year looked terrible.

Now there are so many nurseries producing "spray-free" roses that a group of them got together to do field trials in 9 gardens throughout Germany. The roses in these trials are grown for 3 years and then compared on 15 characteristics. Form, colour, fragrance, repeat bloom, hardiness, vigour and disease resistance are a few of them. The winners are awarded the coveted ADR (Allegemaine Deutsche Rosenneuheitenprufung) designation. A worthy award and one held by a number of our roses this year.


Having described the ADR designation in such glowing terms I will now contradict myself to point out that there are many excellent roses that don't have an ADR. Wilhelm Kordes himself admitted that for fragrance few roses can beat the David Austin roses and that some of his own favourites had yet to get an ADR.§ion=FS





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