It’s National Rose Month, and with good reason. Roses everywhere are blooming now, and rosarians are gathering flowers for the table, blooms for the bride, and bouquets for the bank teller. In climates where winters are cold, the June roses are the first of the season, and there’s no more thrilling a time for gardeners whose hobby is roses.
Hybrid tea roses are my favorites. They’re the classic florist roses, you know, the ones with one big bloom atop a long cutting stem. The hybrid teas you can grow in your own garden, however, are much better flowers. They last longer in the vase, their foliage is prettier, and chances are, they have a lot more fragrance. If you grow hybrid teas, they’re probably your favorites, too. But if you’ve avoided these wonderful roses because you think they’re harder to grow than floribundas and shrubs, you may want to give them another chance.
Hybrid teas have some disadvantages in the garden, but the results are infinitely worth the little bit of extra effort it may take to grow them. Nearly all hybrid tea rose plants are budded. Budding is a form of grafting, and hybrid teas are budded onto a hardy rootstock. Budding is the most reliable way to ensure that the plants propagate successfully in the commercial rose fields, and the best way to ensure consistency in plant growth habit and flower size, color, and substance, in all climates. While some varieties of hybrid teas grow well on their own roots, most of them will perform best with a hardy rootstock under them.
When roses are budded, a woody knob forms at the graft site which is called the bud union. All the parts of the plant, from the bud union upward, are those of the rose variety that was budded onto the rootstock. Everything below the bud union is the rootstock. All the new canes your hybrid tea rose produces will grow from the bud union. This makes the bud union the most important part of the plant, and the most vulnerable. The bud union must be protected from all sorts of environmental stresses, including winter. Therefore, hybrid teas need some form of winter protection when they’re grown in cold climates. A couple of shovelfuls of soil over the crown of the plant will usually do the trick.
Hybrid teas produce fewer flowers over the course of the growing season than do shrubs and floribundas. This is because they grow only one flower per stem, rather than clusters of flowers. Of course, the plant may have several, even many, stems at one time, and the plant will produce many stems over the season, but each stem carries only one flower. And what a flower it is! The stem’s energy is directed toward producing just that one large, perfect flower.
Looking at growth habit alone, hybrid tea plants are usually not as pretty as floribundas and shrubs because they don’t spread but instead grow tall and upright in order to produce those long, straight cutting stems. I mix a few floribunda plants in with my hybrid teas so the rose bed always looks full and colorful.
Like all everblooming roses, hybrid teas like lots of fertilizer and water. Because the plants grow rapidly all season, they use fertilizer fast so once a week is not too often to apply a good liquid or water-soluble fertilizer. Make sure the fertilizer you choose is formulated specifically for roses because it will contain large amounts of the macro-nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, as well as the many micro-nutrients roses need for rapid cell division. Make sure there’s lots of organic material in your rose bed soil, but don’t rely on organics alone to feed your roses, or they’ll starve.
Be sure to deadhead your hybrid teas as soon as the flower is spent. Remove the spent bloom as you would if you were cutting a good flower with a very long stem. A sturdy new stem or two will begin to grow from the point where you cut off the old flower.
You’ll be much happier with your hybrid tea roses if you keep the plants pest free, so use a good insecticide and a good fungicide regularly all season.
A perfect hybrid tea bloom is cut just when its two-thirds open. Take a container out to the garden and get the end of the stem in water as soon as you cut it. In the house, re-cut the stem underwater, and remove all the foliage that will be below the waterline in the vase you select. Add a good flower preservative and your rose will last a long, long time.
Ann Hooper is a certified American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian.