This is far and away the most important section to the commercial florist. They are everything to him. They are used on each and every occasion and every day in the year. And what an improvement in them in twenty-five years! And the method of growing them has kept pace with the improved varieties. It is to the Frenchmen we are mostly indebted for the finest tea roses. Perhaps that will not always be so. Our American nurserymen and florists are doing a great deal in hybridizing and raising seedlings. E. G. Hill told me this summer that he had, I am afraid to say how many thousand, but I am sure it was 5,000 young seedlings of every conceivable cross. Surely we shall have some young Hoosiers that will startle the rose world. Let them come! We can stand several more shades.
The above paragraph was written seven years ago and sounds prophetic, for Richmond and other offspring of Mr. Hill's genius and industry have become great acquisitions to the commercial florist and more are to come to gladden the eye and fatten the pocketbook. I don't mean Mr. Hill's pocketbook in particular, but those of all up-to-date rose growers..
Is it not remarkable that with the hundreds of fine teas our demand seems filled with so limited a number of varieties? It is almost, or perhaps quite, correct to say that of all the millions of roses cut and sold, four varieties would cover seventy-five per cent of them, and one of them is not a tea, the American Beauty. The remaining three are the two glorious sports of Catherine Mermet, Bridesmaid and The Bride, and the hybrid tea, the crimson Meteor. New varieties come and go, their advent heralded with shouts of praise and loud advertising, and their exit is a quiet retreat. They have answered two purposes - they have made money for the raiser and introducer and given us a little more experience. What a lot of experience we do get as we pass along!
A good place to begin with the tea roses will be at the propagation. They root most easily anywhere from November till April and both earlier and later, but slower and not so surely. We feel as much certainty that the rose cuttings will root as we do when we put in a batch of salvia. With the sand at 65 degrees and the house from 50 to 55 degrees you cannot fail if you keep the sand moist. I never owned a north side propagating bench, and there is no need of it. Any bench will do if shade is supplied for the first few days.
Pot off as soon as the roots are started and shade again till the plants have started to grow, and then they want the full light, as they do every minute for the remainder of their existence.
The usual time to propagate, and the best time, is in January ana February. Then you have time to get the young plants into 3-inch pots for a couple of months before planting time. One author says the cutting should be of only one eye and another says it should be from only flowering wood. Some years ago there was a lively discussion in the trade papers on "flowering wood versus blind wood." I recently heard a remark by an expert rose grower which struck me as reasonable. He said, " Yes, blind wood will do for the first or second year because it has recently come from a flowering plant, but continue for five or six generations with blind wood and you will end up with a plant that is totally blind."
View Through a Range of Connected Rose Houses with Raised Benches.
While on the subject of propagating, it is well known that in most large rose factories grafting is the method of propagating. Grafting is the order of the day in many professions besides horticulture. While I have observed and asked many pertinent questions in an establishment where the tea rose was most successfully done, I could not expect to give you all the details or exact knowledge that you can obtain in Mr. Montgomery's little book on the subject. It covers the entire operation and can be purchased for the small sum of 25 cents. If you are a beginner at the method its value cannot be measured by dollars and cents. Get it. I would much rather have the cutting of two eyes, one below and one above the surface of the sand, leaving a leaf or part of the leaf on the upper eye. If the wood is of any size, not too spindling and weak, it makes no difference to the future plant whether it is blind or flowering. That I have proved, and although I am by no means an extensive rose grower, the most vigorous young plants I ever grew were from cuttings of blind wood, and rather small and hard at that.
Large rose growers can't plant all their houses in a week, so they begin the end of May and keep on till July. Those planted the end of June should be in good bearing by the middle of October, and many buds could have been cut before that if it were wise to let them flower, which it is not. On raised benches four inches of soil is considered ample, and some growers plant in three inches, allowing for future mulching to add another half or three-quarters of an inch. The rows on the bench fifteen inches apart and the plants one foot apart, is as close as you can plant them.
The bottom of the benches should be of 2x4 scantling, or not wider than 2x6, and between such board or scantling leave a space of three-fourths of an inch when building. When the boards swell with the wet soil they will only be half an inch apart. Perfect drainage is of the utmost importance. Unless the superfluous water passes freely through, you will have no success. When the soil gets into that condition that the bed does not want water in a month there is something wrong, and most likely your rose leaves will be largely off by that time.
The soil of the bed should be quite firm, not beaten down as you would a mushroom bed. but good and solid. Plant very little below the surface, and firm the soil around the ball; unless the soil of the bed is very dry only water at the plant. In a few days, when the plants want it again, the whole bed can be watered.