… The First Time We Didn’t Spray the Rose Fields
By Jacques Ferare
It is interesting how things and perceptions change over time. I remember very clearly the first time we tried to grow our rose novelties without spraying for diseases. It was around 1992, right after I came back from the annual June meeting that Meilland International holds for their agent distributors. At that particular meeting, we heard a presentation from their German agent telling everyone in the room that they were quitting spraying roses that year in the test gardens.
At that time (which is still true today) municipalities and Lander (the equivalent of States), under the influence of the Grune (the green part in Germany) had decided they would not allow any more spraying in public gardens. This decision had a big influence on home gardeners who decided to do the same. As a result, all German rose growers had no choice but to introduce roses that did not need tender loving care (a.k.a. spraying every other week). So the whole presentation was about how they had to change their research protocols to make sure that they would select new roses for this new environment.
I thought this was the best idea I ever heard, so when I returned to West Grove, PA (Conard-Pyle headquarters), I shared this wonderful new approach to selection. The detail that I forgot (and, in all fairness, did not know at the time) is that whatever disease pressure there is in Germany is NOTHING compared to what we experience in the hot, muggy, disease-central climate of Southeastern Pennsylvania. This is why when I hear all these claims about German roses being so superior, I can’t help but take it with a grain of salt. But once again I digress. Rust, Mildews, Cercospora, Anthracnose, and of course black spot, without naming Xanthomonas and a few other exotic diseases, we get them all in West Grove. In retrospect, it is almost unbelievable that until the late 1960s we were growing roses commercially here. But I digress again.
So, first thing I did when I came back from that meeting was to tell Dick Hutton that we should quit spraying our fields. Right now. Right then. Dick, being Dick, did not say anything and so I took it as, well, he is OK with it. So I went to the crew that took care of the field at that time and instructed them not to spray anymore. At that time we were on a 3-week spray schedule. At the time, we were monitoring mostly Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, and that cycle was long enough to differentiate the decent ones from the bad ones.
Of course, back then, selecting for disease resistance was in its infancy, and the result did not take long. By Aug. 1, there was almost nothing to look at. Everything was defoliated, except for a couple of Rugosas, and a couple of new ground cover roses from Meilland. Knock Out® and Drift® Roses were still either on the drawing board or in the very early phases of their existence. Needless to say, the other folks at Conard-Pyle were not too happy with me, so we resumed spraying. But, the damage was done. That year, instead of the 20-25 potential new seedlings we usually selected to move forward, we barely had 5 – all of which were shrub roses. The main one to come out was a red ground cover that became Fire Meidiland. We also introduced a couple of the Rugosas. But in terms of the “traditional garden roses” — you can forgetaboutit! Nothing. Nada. The genetics of those plants could not stand up to the disease pressure. This was a great eye opener for me at the beginning of my career. Thankfully, we were ahead of our time. Dick knew it, but bless his heart, let me make the mistake. Because we both knew it was the right thing to do, and eventually we would be proven right.
The following year, we started to segregate shrub roses in a true no-spray area, and kept the “regular” field sprayed, although at a much reduced level. And finally, in 2000, we switched to completely no-spray conditions. Eight to ten years later, thanks to the vision of Meilland and Bill Radler, breeder of The Knock Out® Rose, we evaluate all roses under no spray, the way they told us so, but more importantly, we can now bring to the consumer all kinds of roses — including Hybrid Teas — that will finally withstand the “Rose Hell” concept that our German friends developed way back when my hair still had color.