Outdoor Kordes Roses Trials in an East Coast Soil and Climate

Introduction

I am really excited about growing roses for cut flowers and having this opportunity to share my results with you, my colleagues and fellow cut flower growers. First, I must acknowledge Ralph Thurston of Bindweed Farm because, thanks to his article in the Spring 2007 issue of The Cut Flower Quarterly, I began to think about growing roses for cuts. I have had difficulty, disappointment and failure with the English type roses (I presently have only one survivor) and was eager to try something different. So I applied for and was fortunate to be awarded an ASCFG Grower Grant. With the encouragement and generosity of Gary Pellett of Newflora LLC in Oregon, I obtained ten bareroot plants of eleven different varieties and was on my way.

The Kordes Freelander Cutting Garden rose collection was developed for outdoor cut flower production in Europe and North America. My goals were to test the productivity of the Kordes roses as both cut flowers and container plants, in a climate and soil representative of many areas on the East Coast. I also wanted to document vase life, stem length, selling price and customer preference. There was no control group, so there’s no way to scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of my growing methods. Nevertheless, every Kordes rose I planted survived and thrived.

Climate and Soil

According to the 1990 USDA Atlantic County Soil Survey, the Evesboro Series consists of nearly level, grayish-white, sandy, excessively drained, and strongly to extremely acidic (pH <4.5) soil types of low natural fertility. In the old Russian system of soil classification, such a soil would be called a “podzol,” a common forest soil found in vast areas of Europe and North America. In fact, extreme cases of podzolic soils produce pygmy forests; examples can be found in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey as well as in Mendocino County in northern coastal California.

The climate in this part of south Jersey, USDA Zone 6B, is characterized by awfully humid summers and cool to cold winters. Last year, I recorded 1F in the winter and 99F this summer. Even though we are near the coast, our climate is more of a continental type with extremes in temperature, as the shaded, sandy soil does not hold heat well. We are fortunate to have abundant rainfall (average 44 inches) and vast supplies of groundwater, although the water has a high iron content. Average snowfall is usually less than 20 inches. Though the ground may freeze some years, frost-action potential is not a worry.

The Nursery

Parkerhouse Nursery is a small, owner-operated nursery. Located at the dizzying height of 19 feet above sea level and about twenty 20 miles inland from Atlantic City, the ten-plus acre nursery site is in a mixed oak-pine forested region. The deer-fenced growing area is about a half-plus acre of intensely planted cuts. Expansion is planned. Environmentally-friendly growing methods are used to produce cut flowers and containerized perennials, with an eye to continued future cultivation.

Materials and Methods

The Roses

Kordes roses are selected hybrid tea seedlings grafted onto either R. canina ‘Inermis’ or R. corymbifera ‘Laxa’ rootstock. You can see photos and production methods at www.kordes-rosen.com and www.freiland-rosen.de/html/wissenwertes.html. Click on the link “Eine Rose enstecht”

The Freelander outdoor cut flower shrubs are:

‘Antique Caramel’ – large buff yellow ‘cabbage’ type flowers with a slight fragrance.

‘Buxom Beauty’ – very large (up to 6 inches) hot pink, fragrant flowers.

‘Fantasia Mondiale’ – long-lasting apricot-pink blooms on very long stems.

‘Ice Girl’ – initially small, white highly fragrant blooms opening to 2-2½ inches in diameter.

‘Magma’ – yellow flowers with orange tips (and a hint of pink) and one of the longest vase lives.

‘Masquerade’ – pale pink- and cream-colored flowers with curved petals.

‘Mondiale’ – long-lasting pink blooms on very long stems.

‘Pinquin’ – greenish white flowers that fade to pure white.

‘Red Queen’ – deep, rich red flowers—the first to bloom.

The spray rose is:

‘Typhoon’ – orange red and yellow flowers.

The rose hip producer is:

‘Coffee Fruitilia’ – sprays of salmon-pink flowers that develop into small, dark red hips.

Site Preparation

My Topsoil Fiasco


Once the area was cleared of trees, the surface was raked smooth. Although I gave the clearing contractor specific instructions to save and replace the thin layer of topsoil, it went out with the brush understory and trees that were reduced to chips. The lesson learned here was that I should have been on site to supervise the work.

Next, I contracted with a company to haul in compost, provided that the contractor first inspect the compost to determine that it was free of grubs. Then, without my prior approval, this contractor delivered topsoil and dumped it on my newly cleared field. He told me that he had seen many large grubs so he purchased beautiful, loamy topsoil for the same price of the compost. At this time, I was recovering from foot surgery and could not walk out to visually inspect the topsoil, so I went ahead and paid him to spread it. I then hired people to deep-till the area as I couldn’t find anyone with a tractor.

When I hobbled out to inspect the finished rototilling, I stood in amazement as I gazed at a field littered with broken glass, gravel, bricks, pieces of cement and asphalt along with other odds and ends. The men had actually broken their tiller by the time they had completed their work and weren’t too happy. It looked like an inner-city vacant lot, minus the graffiti!

I later found out that the topsoil contractor had been paid to haul away subsoil from an excavation for a new office building. Instead of dumping the soil, he delivered it to me and called it topsoil!

Yes my friends, we can all be scammed. What’s worse is that this guy was actually doing work for a colleague at my “day job” and he had been recommended.

In any case, the soil delivered was still better than my native soil and when life hands you lemons, the best thing to do is make lemonade (although at the time a whiskey sour might have been a better choice). Every time I stopped and stooped to pick up another piece of glass, I stuck a pin into my imaginary voodoo doll.

Marching on, I raked the area into raised beds a section at a time. Dolomitic lime was added to adjust the pH to the 6.9 range and to provide calcium and magnesium. A 2-inch layer of leaf compost was applied, along with gypsum for additional calcium to facilitate soil structure. Osmocote, a time-release fertilizer, was added as well. I use the northern formulation (15-9-12) that contains micronutrients and lasts eight to nine months at 70F. Then the planting area was again rototilled and raked into finished beds.

It is recommended that spacing between raised bed rows be wide enough to accommodate equipment, including sufficient space at row ends to turn equipment. Since my machinery presently consists of a contractor’s wheelbarrow and a rake, I settled on 4’ spacing between rows.

Planting the Roses

When the roses arrived, they were immediately unpacked and soaked overnight in a large plastic bin filled with water. I left the water running slowly so that oxygen was always present in the water. Any thin, dry, weak and/or crossing stems were removed and the canes were pruned to about 12″ inches so that existing roots could support subsequent top growth. Also, canes were pruned to an outward-facing bud eye so that new growth will be outward, not into the center of the plant.

Next, the roses were planted single-file in a hedgelike fashion at approximately 2′ centers in raised beds that are about two 2′ wide. The centers of the rows have a slight depression to catch water. Make sure the bud union is planted up to two inches below the soil surface and/or mulch.

Fertilization and Irrigation

During the growing season, additional water soluble fertilizer (15-15-30) was applied twice using a hose with a siphoning device in a bucket of fertilizer solution. Also, two Osmocote fertilizer plugs were placed at opposite ends of the drip line of each rose plant (about 8-12″ apart). The fertilizer plugs are really just Osmocote pills glued together.

This year, hand watering was done almost daily. Once the markets started up I just couldn’t find the time to finish laying the drip tape—I was too busy watering! Believe me when I say that next season all drip tape will be installed.

Problems

I had to resort to spraying a solution of Sevin with insecticide soap twice to control Japanese beetles, cucumber beetles and thrips. I added sugar to one spraying to try to entice the thrips from the flowers to make contact with the Sevin, but this was not totally successful. Black spot and mildew were not problematic; although not rampant they did develop on ‘Typhoon’. ‘Ice Girl’ had the most trouble with Japanese beetles.

In addition, the lighter colored blooms on ‘Ice Girl’, ‘Fantasia Mondiale’ and ‘Pinquin’ developed brown, discolored petal edges. At one point, I could not sell ‘Ice Girl’ or ‘Pinquin’ because of the discoloration and many ‘Pinquin’ flower buds would not open at all.

One florist told me that the discoloration was due to the humidity, however, I think thrips played a part.

Harvesting and Vase Life

When I harvest flowers, I’m actually deadheading. Every bloom ready to cut is picked and since I’m cutting almost every other day, few blooms are past their prime. Removing every flower is important in order to encourage new flower buds. Again, when harvesting it is wise to keep in mind correct pruning techniques. Cut the stems on an angle slightly above a bud that faces outward so that the new stem will not grow towards the inside of the shrub. I cut as low as I can in order to get the longest stem possible, but I cut above at least two leaves that have five segmented leaflets so those lateral buds at the leaf’s base can develop into another shoot. In addition, be sure to leave at least one-third of the shrub’s foliage intact so the plant can produce enough food to sustain itself.

Several of the Freelander shrub types have a tendency to form a spray. ‘Antique Caramel’, for example, is actually listed as a large spray type. However, I found that ‘Ice Girl’, ‘Pinquin’, and even ‘Magma’ had a tendency to form a group of buds at stem tips. Of course, if you want the largest flowers possible, you have to remove the smaller lateral buds. This adds to the time it takes to care for your plants.

Cuts were pulsed in Floralife Quick Dip for one second and then transferred to a solution with Floralife Crystal Clear. I should note that the first drink is with outside well water with a high iron content. Our inside house water is run through a water softener, which replaces the iron with sodium through cation exchange.

After harvest, the roses were counted and measured to the nearest quarter inch and the data recorded. Please see Figure 1 on next page, the data sheet for ‘Fantasia Mondiale.’

I tried to duplicate the typical care that I imagined my customers would give their roses. Since I always give individual packs of Floralife Flower Food with each flower sale, this is the floral preservative I used. I didn’t change the water every day, maybe every other day, and I didn’t use any more flower food after the initial dose. Of course as we all know, the best vase life results from clean vases and changing the water every day, but that would be in a perfect world.

Results

Data Analysis


Figure 2 on next page displays the total stem count, average vase length and vase life for each rose trialed.

I cut a total of 633 stems from 80 plants barely one year old. The most productive shrubs were the highly fragrant ‘Ice Girl’ with 95 stems, and the buff yellow ‘Antique Caramel’ producing 93 stems on eight plants each.

Overall, the average stem length was a little over 17 inches and the average vase life was almost 9 days. The longest stems (20.9″) were from the greenish-white ‘Pinquin’. The salmon-pink ‘Mondiale’, with average stem lengths of 19.5″ followed closely behind, along with the apricot-pink ‘Fantasia Mondiale’ (19.1″), white ‘Ice Girl’ (18.6″) and pale pink and cream ‘Masquerade’ (18.4″), respectively.

‘Mondiale’, with its salmon-pink flowers on long stems, had the longest vase life, 12 days on average. ‘Magma’s’ bicolor yellow flowers with orange tips and a hint of pink also had a long vase life, averaging 10 days. With the exception of the very large, fragrant hot pink flowers of ‘Buxom Beauty’, all roses trialed had a vase life of a week or more.

The 33 ‘Coffee Fruitilia’ stems were all harvested on November 19, 2008. To my eye their color is a deep, rich red mixed with a dark burnt umber, a darker red than either winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkle Berry’) or American holly (Ilex opaca), and ‘Coffee Fruitilia’ has a full, branching inflorescence. While these first cuts are short (average length of 9.9″ ), I can see them being bundled and used as a holly berry substitute for holiday wreaths. We’ll use them for this since we don’t have a market for them at this time of the year. Be sure to harvest rose hips before the first hard frost.

Marketing Individual Stems

Our roses were sold at two farmers’ markets and a retail produce outlet store. We didn’t sell to any florists this year, but to one wholesaler.

We sold thirty (3 bunches of 10) of the spray rose ‘Typhoon’ to a wholesaler for $0.80 a stem. We were lucky to have this outlet at a time when the roses were really producing and only one of our farmers’ markets was open. The reason the wholesaler purchased them at such a high price, however, was because his regular supplier didn’t have any spray roses available. This was a one-time-only wholesale transaction because the retail florists who bought them didn’t like the fact that the sprays of flowers did not all open at the same time.

At the farmers’ markets we sell by the stem and make bouquets on demand. I sold stems for $1.50 each and often ran specials such as four for $5.00, which brought the individual stem price down to $1.25. Single stems of roses did not sell at the retail produce outlet store at all even though we sold other flowers as single stems.

I wasn’t able to keep track of every stem sold at the farmers’ markets. Often I’m so busy I can barely keep up, especially if I’m alone. So, more stems were sold than documented and many roses were used in bouquets for our retail produce market account. In addition, countless smaller stems wound up in bouquets throughout our home and with friends. In any case, I estimate that we sold at least $113.75 roses at $1.25 per stem.

Container Sales

I planted two roses of each variety in standard two-gallon black plastic nursery containers and used my label maker to make a professional-looking tag, attached to a plain 6″ x 5/8″ white plastic label. I had a sign posted saying that Kordes roses were bred specifically for field-grown cut flower production in Europe and North America and I explained that they were not available to the general pubic other than the few that Wayside Garden offers.

Each week, I’d bring a few of the roses that were in bloom to the one market where I sell container material. Eight plants were sold at $19.95 each for a total of $159.60. Had the economy been better this summer, I believe more plants would have been sold. High gas prices as well as food price increases definitely reduced customers’ disposal income at this market. Nonetheless, many people were interested in the plants and the roses initiated many friendly conversations.

Landscape Potential

Even though these Kordes rose varieties were bred for cut flowers, several appear to have good landscape potential. ‘Coffee Fruitilia’, for example, might make an excellent ground cover rose. It hugs the ground and is often covered with small, salmon-pink colored roses. It’s also a disease-free repeat bloomer and the red, berry-like hips are a fall bonus.

‘Typhoon’ also is a repeat bloomer on a rounded shrub of dark green foliage. The flowers appear to glow from within. However, it did develop a little mildew and black spot towards the end of the growing season. ‘Buxom Beauty’ has such large, hot pink fragrant flowers that it cannot go unnoticed. This also grows into a nice, full-looking shrub that did not have a trace of black spot or mildew.

Conclusions

During the summer season at our busy coastal market, I saw customers pass by buckets of drop-dead-gorgeous lisianthus and absolutely beautiful roses, to zoom in and grab armfuls of gomphrena. What were they thinking?! Better yet, what was I thinking?! In addition, I overheard customers talking to one another saying that roses don’t last. I wonder if all of the inexpensive, but past-their-prime supermarket imports have given roses a bad reputation.

Next season, I’ll attempt to educate my customers to the fact that Kordes roses have just as good a vase life as just about any other cut flower. I’ll have signage indicating the respective vase lives for each flower and I’m going to market the stems as thornless. I’ve purchased a hand-held thorn remover that I’ll ideally learn to use to make the roses less intimidating.

I plan to grow several more varieties of Kordes roses, especially those that have the full, old-fashioned English rose look. I would also like to try a few, such as ‘Magma’, in a high tunnel to see if I could improve stem length. I plan to compare other postharvest products and to conduct vase life comparison tests with products such as Chrysal #1 holding solution.

As this year was my first experience with noticeable thrip damage, next season I’ll be more pro-active with a monitoring program of blue and yellow sticky traps. I’ll also anticipate problems with mildew and I’ll have a plan of attack ready before it appears. I’d like to try Neem oil for mildew (2 tablespoons of 70% Neem oil in 1 gallon of water), sprays using a 10% solution of milk (1 part milk, 9 parts water) and baking soda (1 tablespoon baking soda, half-teaspoon liquid soap, 1 gallon of water). As for the cucumber beetles, I’ve purchased lures.

So, while roses for us this year may not have been a ‘silver bullet,’ Kordes roses will definitely fill an important, permanent position in our flower portfolio. I believe that roses do set you apart at the farmers’ markets and they just may have been a factor in customers selecting us to deliver bulk party flowers. They may also have played an important role in good bouquet sales for our retail produce market customer.

Parting Thoughts

I remember customers admiring and commenting on ‘Antique Caramel’,’ Buxom Beauty’ and ‘Typhoon’, even if they didn’t buy them. Once, when I was making a bouquet with ‘Typhoon’ and bupleurem, a lady stopped in her tracks and bought it on the spot! She said that she had never seen anything so beautiful. However, from our limited sales data, I can not say with any certainty that one rose was more favored than another.

It’s hard to say which rose is my favorite. ‘Red Queen’ was the first to bloom and we were immediately taken by the texture and richness of the red petals and the beautiful dark green foliage. It was hard to believe that we actually grew such magnificent flowers and that we had them in our home! Then the ‘Antique Caramels’ bloomed and I was pleased to finally have the old-fashioned looking roses that I always wanted. And so it went with every new flower. There was always something unique and outstanding about each one. That’s why, if you’ve ever been disappointed with other roses, I recommend that you give the exceptional Kordes roses a try.

Contact [email protected] with any questions or comments.


Sources:
Newflora LLC, Gary Pellett – [email protected] 
Wayside Gardens – www.waysidegardens.com

This grant was supported by the ASCFG Research Fund.
To see how you can apply for an ASCFG Grower Grant, go to www.ascfg.org and click on Research Activities.

Tom Parker

Parkerhouse Nursery, Inc.

Tom Parker, Parkerhouse Nursery, Inc., Mays Landing, New Jersey