Rose Name Tag Killers
by Rich Baer, Master Rosarian Portland Rose Society
When I worked for Edmunds’ Roses as a consultant for customers, we always received comments about what we sent out as our product. Having received roses from many sources over the years, I believe that Edmunds’ sent out the best product in the industry. That did not keep people from having concerns about what they received. It seems what they wanted was a bush with about five canes that all radiated out away from the bud union in a very even manner. After all, this is often referred to as being the ideal shape for a rose plant. Mike Darcy and I were going to do a segment on his TV program about pruning roses, so we thought we should start with one that was close to ideal. So, we started looking at the roses in my garden and when we were through looking, about 700 roses later, I concluded that the perfect rose existed only in the minds of writers and garden illustrators who produce drawings of the perfect rose shape. There may be some out there and you may actually have one, but if yours do not look perfect, they are perfectly normal. It is easy to talk about the way things should be, but it is a little harder to produce that ideal in reality.
Back to those questions from rose buyers. You probably have read that the tag that comes with a rose bush will eventually cause the cane it is attached around to die and that it should be removed and hung on a holder near the plant. My experience told me that the canes that are on new rose bushes are at the best not extremely healthy. I always referred to them as starter canes. It was my feeling that they should be removed as soon as the plant produced new more vigorous canes from basal breaks. These canes have had an extremely hard life before you plant your new rose in the garden. They have been field grown with each plant having about six inches of space. They are dug up by machines and the foliage is removed by a modified chicken plucker, (spinning rubber fingers that strip off the foliage before the roses are put into cold storage for 5-6 months then packed and shipped to you.) You may have noticed that the stems of new rose plants have no prickles either, that is because the chicken pluckers beat them off the stem as well as the leaves.
So all of this is leading back to rose name tags and their ability to kill rose canes. I decided to give this a test and gathered up twenty-five extra name tags which I was going to put onto one healthy stem to see if they would kill it. Certainly, if one tag could kill a stem, twenty five should do the job much more efficiently. The tags I selected had copper wire ties. A rose friend said that those would not kill a cane but the ones with aluminum wires would. So, in fairness to the test, I found another twenty five tags that had aluminum tie wires. I selected a plant that had a couple of stems long enough to tie twenty five tags onto each and let nature take its course. I could not see too much happening during the first year, but my wife said she was not particularly fond of the sound emanating from the plant, sort of like a cheap wind chime. During the second year, the plant continued to grow and thrive, and no negative results were seen due to the presence of the tags attached to the stem. This same thing occurred during years three, four and five.
Finally, after year six the bush had grown so large that the two stems that had been selected to be the guinea pigs were overwhelmed by the top growth of the plant. They were still alive and well when they were removed from the plant at the end of year six. The picture of the entire plant, (above left), is after the tags had six years to do in the stems and it never happened. You can see the stems with the tags on them at the bottom of the bush. So, it was my conclusion that name tags attached to canes have nothing to do with whether they will die. This was just one test and as a scientific study it would never do, but it was fun for the six years while it lasted.
There are, however, some potential problems you could encounter with other types of materials that you might attach to a rose cane. If you use ties to support stems, it would be best if you did not cinch them up tightly. As is depicted in the picture on the upper right it is possible to cause some damage this way. In this case, the rose stem was basically strangulated by the tie, so it just grew around it. I guess in actuality that there really was no damage done because the cane kept growing, but then it does not really look very healthy.