Hybridizing from an exhibitor’s perspective involves several different considerations all rolled into one. It is called a plan. Often the very best exhibitors have a plan when exhibiting at a District or a National rose show and the same applies to hybridizing our National Flower. Three very important things should happen prior to formulating a game plan. The first is that prospective hybridizers should consider joining the Rose Hybridizers Association and also read as much about rose hybridizing as they can find.
The second important consideration is to talk with other hybridizers. A lot of time, effort and possible failure can be avoided just by discussing hybridizing with a potential mentor. The third and perhaps the most important consideration when it comes to hybridizing is to know which roses will set hips. Most roses will work well as pollen parents, but not all roses will set hips. This is something that you really want to understand prior to performing the act of hybridizing. How do you do this you might ask? Pay attention………especially toward the end of the growing season. Most exhibitors will stop deadheading when the rose shows conclude in the fall. This may be intentional or otherwise, but it often happens just the same. Roses will set hips at this time and by recording which ones readily set hips it will save a lot of time later on. You can also research through Modern Roses 12 to see what seed parents are used by other hybridizers. Most roses are viable pollen donors but not all roses will set hips. Most mauve roses will set hips as will most Singles.Once you know what seed parents you will use, your Game Plan can be put into place.
My game Plan for hybridizing roses consists of six (6) elements; Four (4) of which are must haves and two (2) that I would like to have. If my hybridizing efforts do not include the last two elements it is not a deal breaker, but if the first four elements are missing the resultant seedling is usually not maintained. An exception to this would be if I intended to use the seedling in future crosses because of one or more outstanding characteristics. This could be color, form or disease resistance in the seedling that I wanted to carry forward or to expand upon in my future crosses.
Form for an exhibitor is of prime importance and if a rose is lacking in exhibition form then I am not interested in keeping the rose beyond the evaluation of the first bloom or two. I strive to attain form similar to Class of 73 which to my biased opinion is in a class by itself when it comes to perfect exhibition form.
Substance is the next element that I look for in the bloom of a new seedling. To my way of thinking, a rose bloom should last more than a few hours after achieving perfect exhibition form. This is why I am incorporating florist roses into my hybridizing efforts. Florist roses tend to have petals that are wider than they are tall, feel like leather and tend to last for a considerable length of time after reaching their ideal form.
Disease Resistance is of prime importance in the hybridization of all new roses. The American rose gardener of today is mainly interested in planting a rose and enjoying the blooms in the garden or on the dining room table. For the most part, they are not interested in much of the work (for me it is fun) that we exhibitors go through to enter roses at a rose show. When introducing new roses it is critical to the expansion of membership in the ARS that hybridizers take into consideration just how important it is to introduce highly disease resistant roses. This is not to be mistaken that minimal diseases at certain times of the year cannot be tolerated, it is merely to suggest that if a rose is a mildew magnet perhaps it should be discarded as opposed to being introduced into commerce. I avoid using roses in my hybridization plans that are not somewhat disease resistant. The easiest way to find out just how disease resistant a rose is requires you to neglect (no spray) the rose for six months or longer. This will give you a good indication of the rose’s ability to avoid both powdery mildew and black spot should you happen to live in California or South of the Mason Dixon line.
Vigor is my final must have element when it comes to evaluating new seedlings. It takes some time to determine if a rose is a vigorous grower and prolific bloomer as some roses take some time to mature; not every rose is vigorous from the very first bloom. If a rose has Form, Substance and good Disease Resistance, I will continue to evaluate a rose to see if it will become more vigorous or not. If the rose is not vigorous, would do future purchasers a disservice if I was to introduce it. On the other hand, if the seedling has everything going for it with the exception of vigor, I may very well use the seedling in future hybridizing plans.
Fragrance is something that I would like to see in every rose. Watch a non-exhibitor as they look at a rose and either pick it up on bend the cane toward themselves. Chances are they are going to sniff the rose to determine if it has fragrance or not. Their expression is almost always disappointment if they detect a lack of fragrance. In my biased opinion, our National Flower should have fragrance which is why I am actively attempting to incorporate fragrance into my rose hybridization program. JR Smith, with his outstanding rose ‘Miss Mabel’ was able to accomplish this in his hybridizing efforts.
Novelty is the last element that I look for in a rose although it can be the very first thing you notice when first seeing a bloom for the first time. Think back to when you saw a bloom for the first time. Perhaps it was a rose like ‘Conundrum’ with its gorgeous yellow petals with a red edge. More than likely you said “WOW” to yourself and you may have even exclaimed it out loud. When a rose has the other five elements and also has the “WOW” factor, a fantastic exhibition rose is in the making, but the fact that it will also become a very good garden rose is perhaps much more important in the overall scheme of things.