OHHHH Shoot! Look at Those “Blind Shoots”
by Harlow Young, Master Rosarian, Tri-City Rose Society
This is a 2020 AOM winner
ABOVE: Photo by Harlow Young
Oh, my goodness! I’ve never seen so many. Blind shoots on nearly every bush, some having more than one. Can I repeat myself, by stating: “I’ve never seen so many in all my years of being a rosarian?”
After having researched the subject of blind shoots on roses, I’ve learned that they are not an uncommon occurrence. I’ve read several on-line references about them, looked through my rose library for information to find out what causes them, and the best way to deal with them. No one can give any concrete information. I’ve asked other rosarians what they have read or heard is the cause, and they give the same response: “It is not really known for certain what causes them.”
That frustrates me a bit. I am a “seek, discover, and correct it” kind of a person. So why all the unknowns regarding blind shoots? Can it really be that they’ve been around forever, and no one seems to have any idea of their cause or prevention?
I have looked on the internet for a good photo of a rose cane “blind shoot” to illustrate these for the readers, and there are not many good ones that clearly display the condition. I know that this photo (left) is not it, though sometimes I feel as though I am shooting in the dark to try to find answers to this condition. Believe it, or not, when I searched for “Blind Shoot pics of Roses”, this photo the above came up among the many photos of rose blind shoots.
Here are some quotes regarding blind shoots from those that I consider experts among rosarians:
“I could speculate along with everyone else about the cause of blind shoots, but it would just be speculation. Unless they are caused by midge, no one really has any good ideas about what causes them except that they happen.” Rich Baer
“No one seems to know exactly what caused blind shoots. I'd say, if it is (found on) a big healthy cane cut it back to a 5-leaflet leaf. If not take it out.” Dr. Gary Ritchie (parenthesis mine)
“Blind Shoot: A stem or growth that terminates without a bloom.” Robert B. Martin, Jr., from the Glossary in his book “Showing Good Roses.” He also wrote a few more detailed paragraphs regarding this condition in the chapter of “Pruning and Timing”, excerpted below.
What are Blind Shoots? Blind shoots are those short stems with no flower buds…They have a confused looking terminal bud, usually just a black (or green) end. It is fairly universally (sic) believed that blind shoots are caused by extreme fluctuations in weather or temperatures as the bush is beginning to grow.” Ed Bradley, in a 2013S San Antonio Rose Society publication “Blind Shoots ~ Up Close and Personal”.
One of the most detailed discussions I’ve read on this is in Bob Martin’s book “Showing Good Roses”. He writes; “Blind shoots are formed on roses when flower buds do not develop because of abortion of the flower organs. The result is a stem with no flower at the end. The reason(s) that blind shoots develop is not fully understood. Climate factors especially those affecting the presence of light, are thought to have an effect. Temperature factors may also be implicated. And others such as myself (sic), tend to think that they occur because the rose is throwing more stems than it can support with corresponding blooms.
“Lacking a convincing explanation of the reason or blind shoots or how their number can be reduced, the exhibitor is left with the question of what to do about blind shoots. However, in my years of reading the rose literature I had not seen much attention addressed to this question, that is until I learned of the publication in late 1995 of an article in Scientia Horticulturae by Niels Bredmose and Jurgen Hansen of Denmark titled “Regeneration Growth and Flowering of Cut Rose Cultivars as Affected by Propagation Material and Method.” The article reports on an experiment conducted over a period of twenty months in which the authors compared the effects on two different cultivars of propagating flowering shoots versus blind shoots by cutting and grafting.”
Mr. Martin’s comments continue for several paragraphs, so I’ll summarize some of the content here. The conclusions of the study showed though there was no significant difference in successful rooting percentage for cuttings from blind shoots versus flowering stems, the resulting plants propagated from blind shoots produced better blooms. And, another interesting result of their study was that plants propagated from blind shoots do not necessarily beget more blind shoots than those propagated from flowering stems. This points to the conclusions of many, I think, that blind shoots are not genetically but environmentally promoted.
The assumption by many that weather has a great factor in the development of blind shoots points to the unusually high number I experienced in my garden this spring and summer. The Tri City Rose Society members will undoubtedly remember the record snow in February and the record cold temperatures recorded in the first week or two of March, and the seemingly slow warming to “normal” in the weeks that followed. In fact, the winter through January had been relatively mild, and many of us commented at that time (with anticipated delight) that their rose bushes were beginning to form leaf buds at the stem margins. The following weeks of unusual snow and cold could have cause an “abortion” of some of those stem buds, leading to the development of the high frequency of blind shoots we have seen in our rose bushes this season.
Having reviewed as many of the articles as I could, and correspondences by email with several others, and considering the environmental impacts which seem to have contributed to the development of blind shoots, we are left to conclude that there is little a rose grower can do to prevent their occurrence. Once the blind shoots are noticed on the growing plants, we have only couple of choices: prune back the blind tip to a five-leaflet leaf, and wait for the rose to respond with new productive growth from the leaf margin. In my opinion, that response is valid if the stem which presents itself with a blind shoot is a strong vigorous one. However, most of the blind shoots I have found in my plants are short canes that tend to be stunted in growth, in the lower part of the bush; many growing in the center of the bush. I have opted to remove them altogether, and open the center of the bush to promote the health of the plant through the summer. The plants do not appear to have suffered from the removal of these bling shoot stems, and are contented to bloom on the remaining healthy canes.
I am closing this article with a few photo attachments of photos of blind shoots. The one photo with the pruners demonstrating the cutting away of the tip of the stem is an on-line photo with no credits for the photographer. One other photo was sent to me by Rich Baer (LEFT) and the other is my photo (TOP OF PAGE).
1. Robert B. Martin, Jr., Showing Good Roses, A Complete Exhibitor’s Guide, RoseShow.com, 2001, pp. 240-242, 492.
2. Bradley, ED, “Blind Shoots Up Close and Personal”, www//.sarosesociety.org/blind_shoots.html
3. Ritchie, Dr. Gary, email communication.
4. Baer, Rich, email communication.