My Big Adventure in Miniature Rose Hybridizing

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Posted by @Betja on
I began my big adventure in miniature rose hybridizing back in the mid-1980s when I had the great fortune to meet Ralph Moore, who lived less than a hundred miles from Bakersfield in Visalia, CA. He was well known as the “father of miniature roses” and was already in his 70s at that time. When I met him it was as if I’d known him all my life. He encouraged me to jump right in and try hybridizing.

Ralph Moore's advice was to “go big,” which I immediately tried to do. He suggested that I try all sorts of combinations, telling me that it isn't necessary to cross two minis in order to get a miniature. Just as long as one of the parents is a mini, at least some of the seedlings also will be minis.

I was lucky enough to get my first miniature rose, Winter Magic, that first year of hybridizing when I put pollen from his mini rose, Rise 'n' Shine, on the hybrid tea Blue Nile.  I got one hip from that cross, and Winter Magic was one of about ten resulting seedlings.  It is an unusual lavender-gray, not really all that exciting in color, but it has an intense fragrance for a mini, it can pass that fragrance on to its offspring, and it works best as a pollen parent. It has that wonderful fruity/lemony fragrance that many of the lavenders have.

After it had grown for a couple of months and had put out a couple more branches and another bloom or two, I cut off one of the little branches with a bloom and took it to Ralph Moore to see what he thought. I couldn’t believe it when he immediately liked it and managed to take two or three cuttings out of that tiny little branch!

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I think one of the most wonderful things about rose hybridizing is the fact that you usually get your first blooms on your seedlings about six weeks after they germinate – FANTASTIC compared to up to two years before the first blooms appear on irises or daylilies!

Ralph Moore was an incredible mentor, and he lived to be a vibrant 101 years old. I remember that from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s I would drive up to Sequoia Nursery every couple of months and spend a Saturday running all over his five or so acres with him. He had such incredible energy and could carry two freshly watered 5-gallon pots with such ease, with me dragging along behind, carrying nothing, but panting away in the heat!  I learned so much from him, and when I began registering my own mini roses, we sat in his office and he helped me with the descriptions. He was even the driving force behind my two plant patents for Lemon Twist and Show 'n' Tell. I absolutely could not have done them without him, and he was always so very generous with his time and knowledge.

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I ended up registering several miniature roses, but the four that come to mind are Winter Magic, Autumn Magic, Lemon Twist and Michel Cholet.  Michel Cholet was named in memory of my brother-in-law Mike, who passed away the week before the deadline for naming the winners, and it was awarded the Award of Excellence from the American Rose Society in 2001. I had stopped hybridizing several years earlier, but another hybridizer in Bakersfield, Jim Sproul, really liked it and asked whether he could send it to the rose trials for me. I said – OF COURSE! – and it won! Jim has since won the Award of Excellence for his own roses, and he is the hybridizer of the current hulthemia hybrid Eyeconic roses.

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Rose hybridizing is very easy and totally rewarding. Back when I was doing it, I cut stamens off blooms, put them in baby-food jars, closed the lids, shook the jars, and voila – pollen! We had a second fridge back then, filled with stacks of labeled baby-food jars containing pollen. I would just grab one, remove the lid, and let it warm to room temperature for about half an hour.  I would then grab a little paint brush, remove the petals and stamens from the rose I wanted to pollinate, and literally paint the pollen onto the pistil.  I would prepare a hang tag listing the cross (seed parent always listed first), loop it around the stem at the base of the flower, and then wait to see whether a hip would develop.

In the fall the hips would change colors and I would harvest them and cut out the seeds. Rose seeds need stratification, so I would remove them from the hips and roll each cross up in a moist paper towel that had been soaked briefly in a fungicide mixture and then squeezed to remove most of the moisture.  I then would put each cross in a Ziploc sandwich bag and include a label.  I would refrigerate the seeds for about two months and then plant them in late December through January in seed flats containing potting soil and covered with a layer of perlite. I would plant them in rows, put a big nail in at the beginning of each cross, and attach one of those labels with a wire at the beginning of each cross so I could put more than one cross in a row if necessary.

Then the little seedlings would begin emerging almost immediately in my little greenhouse, and the first blooms would follow in March or April. What fun!

Eventually I did wear down, however, and I wanted a rest, so I saw my last group of rose seedlings bloom for the first time in 1992. As far as I know, my only minis that might still be in commerce are Winter Magic and Michel Cholet. I’m not sure who carries them, though, now that Nor’East Miniature Roses has closed.  I haven’t had a nursery license for years now, and I do no selling or shipping.  In fact, I’m afraid I’ve lost my last plant of Show 'n' Tell, so I don’t even have that one anymore.

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After I wore out on rose hybridizing, I moved into quilting for a few years, then moved on to irises, and now I’m totally into daylilies and have begun trying a little hybridizing again. I have tetraploid seedlings from the past two years now, and I hope I’ll finally see some blooms this year – not quite as rewarding as the roses, but oh what gorgeous blooms!

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Rose Hybridizing by chelle Aug 9, 2021 5:58 PM 22
Your big adventure by wildflowers Feb 14, 2013 9:34 AM 2

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