COLLEGE STATION – If you’re the type who likes to spend hours in the garden spraying and watering finicky roses, go ahead.
But if you’re like most who want to plant them and walk away yet get prolific, colorful, delicious blooms all season, look to the Texas AgriLife Research rose breeding program.
“There are people who will take care of their roses and spray every week, religiously, but I think the majority don’t want to do that,” said Dr. David Byrne, AgriLife Research rose breeder. “And landscapers want to plant it and let it take care of itself. The whole rose industry is beginning to realize that this is where they need to go, so that is what our emphasis is going to be.”
The AgriLife Research effort is poised to blossom in that direction because of two unique rose collections that were given by their creators — the late Robert Basye and the late Ralph Moore — after decades of breeding efforts.
Basye, a math professor at Texas A&M, turned his rose hobby into several commercial varieties by breeding for disease resistance and adaptability in hot, humid southeast Texas. Moore, a nurseryman in Visalia, Calif., professionally bred hundreds of roses to achieve unique colors, shapes, sizes and fragrances.
“Since the early 1990s, we’ve been working with materials that have good disease resistance to black spot and heat tolerance, but not always the best horticultural traits,” Byrne said. “We have stuff that is very healthy and has lots of flowers but are simple and light pink – not too exciting.”
The Moore materials have “bright yellows, oranges and shocking pinks,” Byrne added, “and lots of fragrance.”
[audio:https://cdn.agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/rose-research-audio.mp3|titles=Well-adapted and gorgeous, roses vie for top billing in Texas breeding program]
Well-adapted and gorgeous, roses vie for top billing in Texas breeding program
To handle all of the roses from the two collections, Byrne and his team built a dozen 12-foot by 20-foot raised beds on the Texas A&M University campus. About 700 plants are tended to in that location, and duplicates are planted elsewhere in the College Station area in conditions similar to what they would experience in a residential or business landscape planting. A third planting elsewhere in Texas maintains some 1,100 different plants.
“In the field, they are put through ‘torture tests’ with little care so we can see how they do. In the plantings on campus, we take better care of them to maintain the germplasm,” Byrne explained. “We learn a lot from both plantings.”
Byrne said the next step is to combine the two diverse germplasms into one through the AgriLife Research breeding program.
The rose breeder has already conducted a field day for commercial nursery professionals and others interested in the Moore rose collection. The participants selected some 60 different plants for further research and development.
“The public usually thinks only of the hybrid tea-type roses or of cut roses,” Byrne said. “But if you consider garden roses, there is such a wide range of different types. Some of them look like chrysanthemums. There is a wide range of how you can use them and design your garden and get the colors right.
“It’s always a trick trying to breed everything into one bush, and then get a wide range of colors within that bush,” he added. “There are just so many different colors and flower types. It’s kind of hard to keep track of it from a breeding point of view.“
He said a minimum of six years is needed to create a new rose variety.
“Then after that, the commercial people may want to test it for two or three years to make sure it works,” Byrne said. “So it’s six to 10 years to get one out. It’s a long-term process, but it’s lots of fun. It’s exciting to go through the seedlings and all of a sudden see something you’ve never seen before.”