Grafted vs. Own-Root Roses, So What’s the Big Deal?

Most roses grown for sale to homeowners are produced by grafting the desired rose variety onto a rooted understock of a different rose variety, often Dr. Huey or Multiflora for northern climates, or fortuniana in southern or western climates. There are several reasons this is done:

  1. Growers are able to obtain many more propagation materials by taking bud eyes to graft versus cuttings to root, which can be especially important when there is high demand for a new variety.
  2. It is more cost effective for the grower to graft bud eyes since it only takes 18 months of growing time to produce a harvestable plant versus 3 years for the same size own-root plant.
  3. Some feel the understock gives extra vigor to the budded variety grafted on it, resulting in a larger more robust plant.
  4. Some varieties of roses are not able to be easily rooted, but can be produced by grafting.

Own-root roses are grown from cuttings, rooted and grown on until of marketable size, and take considerably more time to produce, up to three years, and typically cost more than grafted plants of the same variety. So why bother to purchase and plant own-root roses? There are several good reasons:

  1. If the variety grown is genetically hardy for the climate zone where it is to be planted, no additional winter protection is necessary. That’s right, no rose cones, no extra soil to be hilled up in fall and removed in spring, no extra mulch or leaves to cover the plant, or secure with chicken wire cages through the winter, resulting in drastically less annual maintenance chores.
  2. Should it be an unusually harsh winter, resulting in die-back of canes to the ground, the new shoots coming from the roots will be of the originally planted variety, not the understock of a grafted plant which is typically only once blooming, and definitely not the originally planted variety.
  3. Own-root plants produced from virus-free mother plants cannot have mosaic virus transmitted from understock as with grafted plants. Virus, which weakens the plant and can be spread to other healthy roses, can be especially common in older rose varieties that are off-patent, and sold at deep discounts in early spring as bare root plants rather than in pots.
  4. Own-root plants do not use multiflora understock that often is used for grafting. It has recently been outlawed in some areas, especially in southern states, due to greater risk of spreading another devastating disease, rose rosette disease.
  5. The root system of own-root roses are generally better developed with more hair roots for the same size plant, because own-root are typically sold only as potted plants, gradually being moved up in pot size as they mature, versus the field harvesting by machine of most grafted plants that leaves most of the roots in the growing field and no longer supporting the plant.
  6. Older varieties, especially some of the most hardy, fragrant Old Garden Roses, may only be available as own-root, which makes available provides a wider range of varieties. It is unnecessary to graft them, and some are even unsuitable to be grafted.
  7. Own-root plants are typically longer lived under the same growing conditions, and many can easily be grown in containers for years.

It’s your choice, but for many good reasons, own-root roses are well worth seeking out and planting, your extra initial investment will result in handsome long term results.

Article written by Joyce Latta. Joyce Latta and her husband, Tom Conklin, are owners of Walnut Hill Farm in Bangor, MI. Tom Conklin is currently serving as president of the Southwest Michigan Celebration of Roses, an affiliate of the American Rose Society.

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