Failproof Roses

HA! No such thing. But if you want to make sure you don’t buy something like

pink grandiflora rose


  and wind up with something like

climbing rose Dr. Huey 


Be sure the roses you buy are “own root,” which means just what it sounds like it means. If these roses freeze to the ground, any new shoots they send up will be just like the parent plant.

Own root was once the rule, but it hasn’t been for a long time, so unless the tag says otherwise, you can assume that the rose you’re buying is a grafted plant made of two roses: the big flowered beauty you see on top, and a fast growing, hardy, adaptable something else providing the roots underneath.

Frequently, the else underneath is a climber named Dr. Huey, introduced in 1920 and still going strong.

He’s vigorous; he withstands frost; nematodes bother him not. He’s just down there waiting for the prima donna on his head to freeze or falter – or for the gardener to fail to notice that those healthy-looking new shoots do not look quite right.

Given his chance, Dr. Huey makes long thin canes that climb 8 to 10 feet if given support. Unsupported, they arch and tangle into a mounding shrub. The open blooms are a rich dark red to purple red and there are a lot of them – for about 3 weeks in late spring. 

To see Dr. Huey in person almost anywhere in America, just look in places where fancy roses may have come to grief:  in cemeteries, in older, established neighborhoods with front gardens, near farmhouses that have lost their farms to housing developments. 

To avoid seeing Dr. Huey in your own garden, look for roses that have no choice but to be themselves or perish. Even mainstream suppliers like Jackson and Perkins are getting on the own root bandwagon, so own root roses are easier and easier to find. 




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  • Carolyn Wolff Said,

    Do you know about the Ballerina rose?

    It is a voluminous arching branched shrub covered with clusters of small faintly scented pale pink single flowering blooms that come in waves throughout the summer. I think it grows on its own rootstock. I think it was discovered or what not in the 1930s. It grows with no care in the difficult summer weather in St Louis, where I live. In case you cant tell already, I am in love with it. I would like to know how other readers feel about this rose.

    Thlank you very much.

    Carolyn Wolff

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Carolyn

    Thanks for the big plug for Ballerina, a hybrid musk introduced in 1937 and still popular because it is, as you note, very tough. It comes in both grafted and own-root versions, so congratulations on getting the right one.


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