What's Up When a 'Peace' Rose Changes Color?
Q. My "Peace" rose was negatively affected by the cold bitter winter, but it did come back and is looking healthy. The problem is that it is no longer a Peace rose. It is now a "red" rose. What happened and what can I do about it?
---Sharon in Allentown, PA
A. Well, if I am correct in deducing what has occurred, the only thing she can do is to buy another Peace rose and treat it differently.
The 'hue' of a rose may differ a tiny bit in extreme conditions (especially in searing heat), but roses don't completely change color. However, most roses are 'two plants in one'—the desired blooming variety on top, grafted to the rootstock of a very different and really tough rose below. If the top part of the graft dies, the rootstock takes over. Roses are much tougher plants in general than people seem to realize, and the varieties used for the rootstocks are almost indestructible.
And she should consider herself lucky that her 'new' rose is red; it could have been white, which could have meant trouble. White flowers would mean it was probably the infamous 'multiflora rose'. Once heavily marketed as a 'living fence', it's still in use today, but only as a rootstock and only then because it might be the single toughest rose of any kind. But it is also really invasive. Birds eat the seeds—the rose hips that persist after the flowers have faded—and spread the plants in the wild. It's all through my woods—and lots of other woods.
Yes, it does flower. Big sprays of small white flowers that have a wonderful scent—at least when there's thousands of them open at the same time. Out where we live, they follow the lilacs and give the early evening air a gentle aroma in late Spring. But they are a thorny aggressive menace that respects no boundaries. If this new rose had bloomed 'small white flowers' I would have urged her to dig it up and trash it.
But I suspect that her red flowers are going to be much better behaved. One of the other most commonly used rootstocks is a red climber named "Doctor Huey", and its early bloom time would coincide nicely with the date of her email, which was May 24th. Unfortunately, The Doctor only blooms once a season, where her Peace was a repeat bloomer—and a great, great rose.
My old friend Dr. Tommy Cairns from the American Rose Society talks about Peace as the rose against which all others should be judged. A so-called 'modern' rose, it was bred in France in the late 30s, with the first functioning bud eyes—the parts of the plant that nurseries can graft onto a rootstock—shipped to the Conard-Pyle company in September of 1939.
Yes; September 1939…out of France…
…As in Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman trying to finish the last bottle of champagne before the Germans take Paris. "Peace" was not the original name of the rose; in fact, it has had several different names over the years. But "Peace" was the one that stuck when rose lovers and hybridizers were reunited after the war and the rose became a living symbol of peace itself. It might have the best backstory of any plant.
And it's absolutely gorgeous; to quote Tommy Cairns: "it possesses a high-centered noble bloom, pale yellow petals edged in light pink, glossy deep green leaves and a light perfume. Peace heralded the modern era of the large-flowered rose."
I have many roses in my landscape. Peace is the most beautiful. It's also tough as nails and blooms all summer.
So why did hers die?
One way you can kill the top of a grafted rose is to bury the graft in the mounds of mulch that have become so foolishly popular. Now, some gardeners in the Far North have to bury their roses in the winter; but like the similar grape vine protection we recently covered, that mulch has to be removed promptly at the end of winter. If the graft is buried when the plant starts growing again in Spring, the more vigorous rootstock—now inadvertently 'planted'—will take over.
And these rootstocks are so vigorous they suck all the air out of the room.
But she also might have simply pruned off the Peace part. If you 'whack' your roses back to the ground and prune below the graft, there's nothing left of the variety you wanted.
And yes, the hard winter might have killed it. But only if she, again foolishly, pruned it down so low in the fall that there were only a couple inches of "Peace' left--a recipe for inviting death during a severe winter.
This is one of the 600 or so reasons I always warn people not to prune anything in the fall. Look at it this way: if you have a six foot high set of canes left standing at the end of the season and winter kills the top two feet, you just prune the dead parts off in the Spring and you're good to go. But if you prune it down to six inches above the graft and winter takes the top two feet…
…Hello, Doctor Huey!