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MONDAY, JUNE 18, 2007
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This attention-getting “Flower Carpet Scarlet” bloom is the first of what appears will be many to open on a newly introduced compact easy care rose. The sponsors, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, claim a mature bush planted in full sun will produce as many as 2,000 flowers in a season.
AP Photo by Dean Fosdick
This attention-getting “Flower Carpet Scarlet” bloom is the first of what appears will be many to open on a newly introduced compact easy care rose. The sponsors, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, claim a mature bush planted in full sun will produce as many as 2,000 flowers in a season.

New easy-care varieties make roses royal again

By Dean Fosdick
For The Associated Press

Roses were recognized as the reigning royalty of the American garden at the close of the 20th century, but it was a tenuous period for the power flower.

Now the rose again rules. Modern shrub roses are becoming the garden darlings of a new generation of growers won over by new easy-care varieties.

Despite beauty-queen looks and perfume-store fragrances, roses were falling from favor. Growers were tiring of their prickly personalities and incessant maintenance demands.

“Roses had been in a significant decline over the past 25 years or so. In the heyday of the hybrid tea, gardeners were willing to give them the level of care they required. That was great in their time, but that interest is dropping off,” said Steve Hutton, president and chief operating officer of The Conard-Pyle Co., a wholesale operation based in suburban Philadelphia. About 35 percent of its business is roses and it sells to some 3,500 nurseries nationwide under the Star Roses and Star Plants labels.

Hutton cited two reasons for the revolt among gardeners and nursery operators around the country against traditional roses.

“First, their reputation, largely but not completely true, of needing lots of care. That doesn’t fit in with today’s lifestyle. It also doesn’t fit in with today’s concerns about chemical use (pesticides, herbicides) and those kinds of issues.

“Another reason is a decline in taste,” he said. “They’re a bit out of favor. Hybrid teas are formal plants. They’re stiff from a plant-habit standpoint and difficult to integrate into mixed plantings.”

Shrub roses mix well

Unlike other roses, the new shrub roses mix well with other plant varieties, he said. Some even thrive in partial shade, making them more versatile than traditional roses.

“People are still looking for a lot of things that traditional roses can give. They’re also looking for a lot of raw flower power. `For that reason, I’m of the very strong belief that it’s tough to beat our modern-day shrub roses.”

Credit the development of the new shrub-rose varieties to William Radler, an independent breeder from Greenfield, Wis., and to some like-minded Europeans who about the same time were able to produce strains of easy-care, cold-hardy, disease-resistant plants.

The 64-year-old Radler has been raising roses since the age of 9, when he transplanted a bargain plant in his parent’s backyard. He was working then with a limited budget, so he learned how to propagate plants through cuttings and by grafting buds. Soon, the yard was bursting with rose bushes and it became a lifelong hobby.

“When I was in my teens, I set myself a goal for my retirement years of breeding roses that didn’t require much work. I wanted to make roses into a low-maintenance, no-maintenance garden crop. I think I’ve succeeded.”

Succeeded? More like exceeded. Hutton, whose Conard-Pyle Co. is marketing Radler’s line of seven “Knock Out” shrub roses, calls it a plant for the ages. All ages and all experience levels.

“The Knock Out family has come close to being the No. 1-selling plant of the past 10 years,” Hutton said. “It’s a breakthrough product. It’s great for consumers because it’s a jumping-off point for what I hope is a great group of new, cold-hardy, easy-care shrubs.”

The Knock Out and its increasing number of competitor cousins (Flower Carpet series, Good n’ Plenty) are setting rose-maintenance tasks on their head, Radler said.

“You can forget about pesticide applications and wintertime protection,” he said. “These roses are just like any other flowers in a garden. People like to putter in a garden, but the less puttering they have to do, the happier they are. There’s a point where it becomes more a nuisance than a chore.”

That isn’t to say the new shrub roses don’t need a certain level of care. They require a steady supply of food and water along with an occasional trim.

“Basically, the care you have to give them after transplanting is adequate water. Once a year, in the spring, prune them down to 10 inches. Once a year, give them a little fertilizer and basically, that’s it.”

Attacking aphids or powdery mildew? Spray them off with a garden hose. Deadheading flowers? Forget it.

“These are bush roses that grow into little bloom factories. With traditional roses, you had to cut the old blooms off to encourage new blooms to grow. With the Knock Out, you no longer have to do this. They re-bloom readily. In fact, they’ll bloom more if you don’t cut the old ones off.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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