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Award of Merit Winner

BARE FACTS (Bare roots Vs Own roots)
Member of the American Rose Society Research Committee,
Science Editor for the electronic American Rose Journal, and Horticultural Judge

Some of you buy roses from local nurseries. Others mail order roses. We browse through a number of catalogs. How much of truth is there in the tall claims of these nurseries in the catalogs? To quote a few: "Hardy, Own Root Roses" (Hardy Roses for the North); "We specialize in hardy, own root, disease resistant roses" (Spring Valley Roses); "Our fields are virus free" (Hortico); and "We ship bare root roses" (Jackson and Perkins, Edmunds, Petaluma Rose Company). If you have just started growing roses, you may wonder what exactly do these statements mean?

In bare root budded roses, the roots belong to a different species of a rose and the shoots belong to the cultivar of your interest. Nurseries often use Rosa multiflora, Rosa canina, Fortuniana or any other wild species of roses as the rootstocks. Buds from the cultivar of interest are inserted to the rootstock. The wild species of roses have been in existence for centuries, and therefore have been exposed to all kinds of viruses. During the course of evolution, these roses and the viruses they harbor have co-evolved---have learned to live together. Viruses often remain latent in these roses. You do not even get to see the symptoms of viral disease. However, when you graft the bud to the rootstocks, it might trigger the viral expression and transmit the virus to the canes developing from the bud. When you buy the bare roots, you do not get to see the foliage. You do not even know when there is any viral contamination. You may not even see rose mosaic in the first year of growth. A number of people have told me that bare root Peace roses from Jackson and Perkins developed viral mosaic. Nurseries can easily test the rootstocks for viral contamination. Contaminated cells will have viral specific proteins and viral nucleic acids. Rootstocks can be screened by molecular biology techniques like Elisa (detects viral proteins) or nucleic acid hybridization (detects viral nucleic acids). These tests, of course, will cost money. Rigorous testing will result in increase of the sale price of roses. If nurseries use virus free rootstocks, we may not have to worry about viral contamination in budded roses.

Bare root budded roses do have certain advantages. The roots are already two to three years old. The roots look quite thick and strong. Therefore, the plant can establish itself easily. What I do not like about bare root budded roses is the suckers. Suckers are shoots of the Rosa species (the rootstock) emerging from the region below the bud eye. Suckers will compete with the cultivar for soil nutrients, fertilizers, and water. If you do not remove the suckers, the suckers may take over the budded cultivar. You have to cut them at the very base itself and remove them. However, you can use the suckers to your advantage also. You can use them for making tree roses. In my garden, Brigadoon (HT) was giving out quite a few suckers. I budded the lovely, pink miniature rose Heidi to the sucker. (I learnt the technique of budding from Tony Barbaro.) I inserted the buds from Heidi to the sucker without even removing the sucker from the base of Brigadoon. Within a month, I got to see the flowers of Heidi. Before rooting, you have to remove all the bud eyes below the insertion of the buds from cultivar of your interest. I, then, cut the sucker from Brigadoon and rooted it.

Are roses with own roots really superior to roses with budded bare roots? Yes and No. Roses with own roots come from rooting cuttings. As such, the roots and shoots belong to one and the same variety. The roots and shoots have the same genetic make up. If the cuttings were from plants free from viral disease, the roses developed from these cutting will also be free from viral contamination. You will have no sucker problem. At times, some of these roses may take a year to reach their full potential, especially when you root your own cuttings. However, when you buy roses with own roots from nurseries, these roses are already well established roses and will produces flowers in a couple of months. Unlike HT, Floribunda, and Grandiflora, miniature roses sold in nurseries usually have their own roots.

You may ask why bare root budded roses out number roses with own roots. I can make one intelligent guess: making bare root budded roses is cost effective. From a single cultivar, you can get hundreds of buds for budding onto the rootstocks. Nurseries do not have to maintain a large number of cultivars. Whereas, for roses with own roots, nurseries have to maintain a large number of cultivars to provide the cuttings needed for rooting. To be frank, it is a matter of personal choice -- buying bare root roses or roses with own roots. Whatever you buy, make sure that the roses come from reliable nurseries---because you are investing money, time, energy, hopes, and dreams in your roses.

Last updated: 3/7/09
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