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Growing Roses in Florida: Choosing a Rose Rootstock

Fortuniana Rose by Malcolm Manners from Lakeland FL, USA CC-BY-2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
Growing roses in your Florida garden is a challenge, but well worth it. Whether you have a single rose bush, or an entire rose garden, there is nothing quite as beautiful or appealing as a well tended rose in bloom.

Roses are the most popular flowers grown in gardens all over the world. There are dozens of rose bush varieties, from dwarf roses to climbing roses, that will thrive in your Florida garden with proper care.

Most roses sold in Florida are grafted onto one of two rootstocks: Dr. Huey or Fortuniana. The difference in the two is their cold tolerance and their resistance to nematodes, both of which are major considerations for growing roses in subtropical conditions.

Dr. Huey Rootstock

Dr. Huey, the most commonly used rootstock, is a climbing rose. Dr. Huey rootstock is popular because it propagates easily and has a long budding season. Plants grafted onto Dr. Huey rootstock harden off and ship well, as well as being easy to store bare rooted. Dr. Huey rootstock has a great range of adaptability, which is why it is the rootstock used on your lesser priced roses carried by big box stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, for all it's excellent qualities, roses grown on Dr. Huey rootstock usually only live for 4-5 years in Florida, due to its intolerance to nematodes. For this reason, these less expensive roses are referred to as "disposable roses" by Florida rosarians. They are lovely for a few years, then they must be replaced. They can live longer if container grown.

Fortuniana Rootstock

The best rootstock for growing roses in Florida roses is Fortuniana. Fortuniana is a natural hybrid of R. banksiae ("White Lady Banks Rose") and R. laevigata ("Cherokee Rose").

Discovered in China in 1850 by Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, Fortuniana has the lovely violet scent of the "White Lady Banks", but has a much larger flower that is double with a knotted center. The canes are nearly thornless, and the foliage resembles the banksias, except glossier and larger, a testament to its "Cherokee Rose" heritage.

Fortuniana is extremely cold sensitive, but is very tolerant to nematodes. Nematodes infect the Fortuniana roots, but don't thrive there, and don't do much damage to the rose plant.

Roses grafted on Fortuniana rootstock will live from 10-20 years in Florida with proper care, depending largely on the winter temperature variations. In colder, inland areas, they must be protected from freezing temperatures.

Whether you choose a less expensive, shorter lived rose on Dr. Huey rootstock, or a costlier, longer lived rose on Fortuniana rootstock, your roses are sure to bring you joy for years to come.