Something strange is happening in my garden and I'm hoping you can help me figure out what's going on. My Golden Showers yellow roses now have deep red blooms on them. I haven't changed their food, or planted any new red roses near them. I thought I was alone with my problem. But I was driving by the Rogue Valley Mall the other day and noticed the yellow roses planted by the Shell gas station also are turning red. Is there some strange mutation spreading around the valley that's changing the color of our roses?
— Florence G., Medford
Color-morphing roses? That does seem odd, Florence. One wonders what Shakespeare would have to say about this. If a rose "By any other name would smell as sweet," as the Bard says, so, too would a rose of any other color?
According to Ron Bombick, head rose gardener for the Oregon State University extension center in Central Point, it would all depend upon the root stock of the newly sprouting red rose.
Bombick said the phenomenon you're describing is happening because of one of two reasons. Either you (or your gardener) have pruned your roses too close to the root stock, or you're getting blooms off suckers, or subordinate shoots from a bud on the plant's stem, that need to be removed from the plant.
What you're experiencing is "not very common," said Bombick. But our local Rose Whisperer also said it is very common for cultivators of new roses to graft their often more delicate varietal onto the root stock of a hardier rose. Bombick said the hardier stock "may not be the most beautiful rose." But it was selected because it's sturdy and will thrive in our area.
The problem, Bombick said, comes when one gets too aggressive in the pruning process.
"If you prune too close to the ground, you'll get new growth from the root stock," he said. What you want to do is make sure you're pruning in a manner that will ensure you're getting roses from above the "bud union," Bombick said.
Unfortunately, once you've trimmed the plant too far down, and roses are popping up from the root stock, there's no going back, he added.
"You're not going to get your original color back," Bombick said.
But don't give up hope yet, Flo. Another way you can get these red roses popping up amidst your prize blooms is to fail to remove suckers that are coming off the root stock. If you remove those, that should remove the red roses.
Bombick suggests breaking the suckers off with your fingers, rather than cutting them off. For some reason, snapping versus cutting causes the rose to stop regenerating the pesky suckers.
"Break them off with your fingers," Bombick said. "Just snap them off, even if you have to dig down a bit below the soil."
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