That is the question…
By Carol Green
As my interest in roses has grown over the last 12 years, I have come to question things we are told repeatedly. For example, “for best success growing roses in central Florida, roses should be planted on fortuniana rootstock.” Experience has taught me that own-root roses and roses grafted onto ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock also perform very well, depending on the specific variety and growing conditions. My oldest roses are budded on ‘Dr. Huey’ and perform to my satisfaction. My largest roses are OGRs growing on their own roots and they improve every year.
There are few cut and dried answers to rose related questions. What works best and why depends on many factors. For that reason I study an issue thoroughly before making a decision on what will work best in my personal growing situation. This often results in an article. My newest query relates to burying the graft when planting budded roses.
This is not a discussion about whether it is better to grow own root roses or grafted roses. It discusses whether it is more advantageous to bury the graft or maintain it.
My opinions when beginning research follow:
I prefer own-root roses whenever the specific variety is known to perform well on its own roots.
Fortuniana rootstock is outstanding and is preferable when a grafted rose is best for the specific variety.
‘Dr. Huey’ performs well in most cases and would not be rejected because it was the rootstock on the selected variety.
It has not been my practice to bury the graft or bud union. Knowledgeable rosarians have consistently advised that the graft should be kept above ground level and monitored to avoid the potential for the scion to form its own roots.
Following a decision (some 10 years ago) to begin growing roses on fortuniana rootstock, I noticed that newly planted roses often settled resulting in the bud union being too low. It would become covered with soil, mulch or a combination of the two.
For several years it was necessary to uncover and clean out around the bud area of grafted roses during spring pruning. Here I observed the scion (selected variety) producing its own roots. This occurred in virtually every case, whether fortuniana or ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock was present. Rooting took place within one season.
I learned that if planting roses grafted onto fortuniana, maintenance was easier if the graft was at least 8-inches above the roots of the bush.
I spent countless hours carefully cutting away all of the own roots, so that the bush would be supported solely by its grafted roots.
An Article Develops…
Recently a rose friend was sharing her excitement about finding some lovely roses at a local home goods store. She commented that the roses were on ‘Dr. Huey’ and fortuniana rootstock and that she planned to bury the graft when planting. I asked her why? She explained that it had been recommended in her reading and discussions with various rosarians.
Another recent experience involved a personal inquiry about planting bare-root roses. The nursery recommended burying the graft when planting and provided many reasons for doing so.
My initial reaction to the suggestion of burying the graft was —why buy a grafted rose? Answer— because the available rose happened to be grafted.
OK.why not grow the rose as a grafted rose and embrace the strength of the grafted root system?
Research revealed that there was more interest and disagreement on the subject than expected. I wanted to determine whether there were valid reasons for me to reconsider burying the graft of some roses.
A surprising number of rose nurseries make statements on their websites about why the graft should be buried:
- Burying the rootstock discourages suckers.
Wouldn’t that depend on growing conditions, the variety, the location, the climate, the time of year and so on? In my garden ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock continues to send up suckers years after a rose has been shovel pruned.
- Burying the graft makes the rose more viable.
This may be true in some cases but not all. Viable means that the rose is more successful. Not burying the graft can also make a rose more viable.
- Burying the graft seems to cause the rose to produce more canes.
Own-root roses usually have more but smaller canes than grafted plants. The use of the word seems is not really accurate. Burying the graft allows the bush to send out its own roots, which tend to produce more (but usually smaller) canes.
- The plant looks better with the graft buried.Perhaps to some. Others may not be bothered by the appearance of the graft. Typically, those who favor grafted roses are the most fastidious of gardeners andwould not find stakes in their garden unattractive.
Here are some reasons to consider burying the graft
- To provide winter protection if needed.
In such circumstances, grafts are usually uncovered after the need has passed and before the rose has begun to produce its own roots.
- To allow a rose to re-grow as the selected variety in case the graft dies.
The chosen variety will be lost if the graft dies. If it was buried and the rose has produced its own roots the variety will likely survive, even if the grafted roots die.
- An own-root rose was desired but not available.
Burying the graft will ultimately produce an own-root plant.
- How to prevent rock and roll or potential movement of the roots of the plant.
Roses will not establish well if their root systems are subjected to excessive movement. Grafted roses will, without a doubt “rock and roll” unless they are staked. Over time, even most grafted roses establish a strong supportive root system that does not require a stake but this can take years.
- The graft is susceptible to disease.
This is a logical premise. We are attaching two different rose varieties at the graft. Our roses are subject to open wounds regularly when we prune so this does not seem to be a prime justification for burying the graft. Benefits of maintaining the graft might out-weight the disease potential. However, a good rose variety growing on its own roots has proven less problematic for me than roses that are grafted. Also, if the grower wishes to refrain from use of chemicals, own-root roses would seem preferable.
- Grafted roots are not the most desirable for a given locale and have been chosen for their benefit in field removal and shipment as bare-root specimens.
This would seem to be a very logical time to bury the graft. ‘Dr. Huey’ roots perform better with exposure to cold temperatures. Not a good choice for most of Central and South Florida. Fortuniana roots do not tolerate freezing temperatures well. If you live in Tennessee and purchase a rose grafted to fortuniana rootstock, it would be advisable to bury the graft.
- The rose looks better with the graft buried.
The appearance of numerous stakes in the landscape becomes less and less attractive to me. This comes down to individual preference. Are we growing roses more for their appearance in our gardens or for the blooms that we will cut and show or share? There is no right way or wrong way here. It is the preference of the grower.
The preferences and horticultural practices of the rose grower are critical to any decision about burying the graft. The region where a rose is grown has a huge impact on its performance. Burying a grafted rose in Florida may not produce the same results as burying one in Michigan.
Here are some reasons to consider not burying the graft:
- The rose will be grown for exhibition and needs to produce larger and more abundant blooms than will come from an own root plant.
Fortuniana rootstock has proven to produce in this manner in areas where it is suitable.
- The location where the rose will be grown is subject to damage from nematodes.
Fortuniana rootstock has proven to be resistant to nematode damage. However, damage from nematodes lessens as you go further north. In Brooksville, which is considered Central Florida, I have yet to see what I believe to be nematode damage in my roses. However, we are in a “cold pocket.”
- The rose variety desired is known to perform poorly on its own roots.
This one fact is probably most important if considering burying the graft. Some David Austin roses perform acceptably on their own roots, but I want them to be spectacular, so I prefer them on fortuniana rootstock. Other Austin roses are so vigorous on their own roots that grafting is unnecessary to produce excellent results.
Remarks that one way is right and another wrong should be qualified with language such as “in my area” or “it has been my experience” and so on. True experts always add similar comments, but as information trickles through the rose growing population they are often lost or ignored.
Ask The Experts
In order to provide credibility and gain additional insight, I decided to question several rose experts. They include an educator and recognized rose authority, three who are proven successes in commercial rose growing and a noted rose expert who maintains a retail business.
Two are ardent supporters of old roses. Interestingly, one favors growing roses on their own roots and the other grafting to fortuniana rootstock.
Three focus on modern roses and grafting has become a standard part of their business. Two of these three offer roses on their own roots, if the rose variety is suitable.
That brings us back to the question: to bury or not to bury?
The commercial rose grower makes a determination about grafting roses based primarily on economic issues. We, as gardeners, make a decision on whether to buy a rose that happens to be grafted. Once bought, the decision on whether to bury the graft must be made by the grower.
What goes on in our individual gardens determines what will be successful and what will not. Even a plan that has worked well for years may, in one season, become unsatisfactory for some reason. Therefore, the gardener who is undecided should consider their climate and growing circumstances and decide whether the specific variety in question will benefit most from maintenance of its graft or by burying the graft and allowing the rose to produce its own roots.
Bury the graft:
- If you are willing to accept that the rose may not perform as well on its own roots
- If you have limited time and prefer not to deal with stakes and maintenance of a graft
- You prefer a garden appearance where stakes are not present
Maintain the graft:
- If you want to achieve maximum bloom production and size
- You are willing to spend the time needed to stake the bush and keep the graft healthy
- You want the added benefit of nematode damage resistance fortuniana rootstock provides in sandy soils
The Internet allows us to communicate with fellow rose lovers all over the world. As we excitedly share our ideas and experiences we often forget the dramatic differences in growing conditions from region to region. They include light, soil moisture, soil temperature and exposure to cold and humidity levels. The next time you are online and talking roses, take a look at the maps that follow and locate your “friend.” Similar maps showing the world are available on the Internet.
Just as with real estate, it’s
To download a digital copy of this article, click here.