Own-Root vs. Grafted Roses: Which is Better?
Roses are sold one of two ways: on their own roots or grafted. Which is the better choice for you? In this article, gardening expert Danielle Sherwood outlines the differences between grafted vs. own-root and how they affect the performance of roses in your garden.
The debate has raged since at least the 1930s: Own-root vs. grafted roses? Which is better for your garden? Here’s everything you need to know:
Own-root roses are just one plant from roots to bloom. This is a standard rose bush growing from its “own” rootstock. The whole plant is the same variety.
Grafted roses are made from two plants that are essentially spliced together. The roots come from a vigorous rose like Fortuniana in the South, or Multiflora and ‘Dr. Huey’ in the North. Everything above the roots, like canes and blooms, is a different rose genetically (the desired rose that is marketed to you). In between them is a graft or fusion point. In essence, grafted roses are like a floral Frankenstein.
Why are roses grafted?
- They are easier, cheaper, and faster for growers to produce and bring to market.
- They have more robust growth in less time.
- They allow a genetically weak rose to become stronger by growing it on vigorous roots, often increasing tolerance for poor soils.
While there are several advantages of grafted roses, there are disadvantages too. Which is better for your garden?
The Short Answer
The winner of the own-root vs. grafted rose debate depends on what you’re looking for.
If you want fast results and don’t care about overall health, longevity, and ease of maintenance, a grafted rose will get you to a large, abundantly blooming plant faster.
If you want a long-lived, healthy plant that’s easier to care for, and waiting an extra year or two for it to show off amazing blooms doesn’t bother you, own-root is best.
The Long Answer
While I prefer own-root roses, several factors may influence which is better for you. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind.
New plants are expensive. If I’m going to invest, I want to know that my rose will last for years to come.
Grafted roses are weaker than those grown on their own roots. The bud union (the point where the scion of the desired variety has been grafted to the rootstock) is a vulnerable point on the plant. It creates a place for diseases to enter that can sicken or kill your rose.
Have you ever had a rose that grew back a different color after a hard winter? Grafted varieties are more susceptible to winter damage or death. Exposed to freezing temperatures, the canes of the desired rose can die back to the bud union, leaving only the rootstock. If the rootstock didn’t die, it might shoot out rootstock canes below the grafted point, producing completely different blooms and often a more unwieldy growth habit than what you bought.
Grafted varieties generally live only 8-15 years, while own-root varieties may live 50 to even hundreds of years. In fact, the world’s oldest known rose in Germany has been around since 815 A.D. and survived a bombing in World War II. Now that’s the kind of longevity I’m willing to pay for!
So, does the difference only matter for gardeners in cold climates? Nope.
In addition to cold winters, grafted roses are more susceptible to environmental stress, including extreme heat, humidity, and drought. Once established, own-root varieties tend to be stronger and more tolerant of challenging conditions.
Grafted plants can also contribute to the spread of disease. Multiflora rootstock has increased the prevalence of the often fatal Rose Rosette disease, and any rootstock can harbor the Rose Mosaic Virus, which isn’t easily detectable at the time of purchase if the leaves don’t yet show signs.
Because own-root roses generally grow in a nursery for 2-3 years before purchase, they develop more feeder roots ready to soak up nutrients, potentially making for an easier transition to your garden.
A quick growth rate is the primary reason grafted roses became vendors’ default mode of production. In the own-root vs. grafted rose race, a grafted rose wins for its development speed. Grafted varieties can be ready to sell in less than a year, while an own-root rose can take up to 3 years to display lush foliage and impressive blooms.
Own-root roses are sometimes sold in smaller sizes (called bands) with the understanding that they will take a few seasons to establish into a large, blooming plant.
You can also find own-root roses already blooming in large pots or as bare roots, usually 2 years or older when offered for sale. Because they have been grown and nurtured by the nursery for a more extended period, they are usually more expensive but shoot up fast once planted.
If you want a large rosebush covered in flowers RIGHT NOW (I completely get that!) and don’t care about its overall health and longevity, a grafted rose is the way to go.
If you can give the rose some time to get established (like most perennials, the first year they sleep, 2nd they creep, 3rd they leap!), an own-root rose that will last is worth waiting for.
Ease of Maintenance
Generally, own-root cultivars are easier to maintain. Why? The rootstock from a grafted rose can send out shoots from below the bud union, called suckers. These shoots develop into canes and blooms with the rootstock’s characteristics and can sometimes grow undetected for a while.
The result? The rose you’re growing suddenly looks quite a bit different.
In my area, there’s a prevalence of deep red rambling roses with long awkward canes that only bloom once a season. This is because so many roses have been taken over by the ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock. While ‘Dr. Huey’ has some benefits, it is highly susceptible to fungal diseases like black spot and powdery mildew. Most importantly, it’s not the rose we all paid for.
Ask any rose enthusiast: suckers are a pain in the neck. To ensure that the rose you’re growing will develop your selected size, color, and style, you must buy an own-root rose.
Established own-root varieties hardy to your USDA hardiness zone will survive cold winters without protection. I don’t know about you, but I do not like running around to cover up fragile plants before a temperature plunge. If this is you, own-root roses will give you peace of mind (and free up some extra time to drink hot chocolate).
How to Identify Own-Root vs. Grafted Roses
Now that you know the advantages and drawbacks, how do you find out if the rose you want to buy is own-root or grafted?
Unfortunately, this information isn’t normally included on plant tags, and gardening center staff doesn’t always know whether the roses they’re selling are own-root or grafted. I’m optimistic that this will change as demand for roses grown on their own roots increases.
In the meantime, seek out nurseries and websites that advertise roses grown on their own roots. This advantage is usually promoted by vendors who sell exclusively own-root roses.
If you want to purchase a rose at the store and are unsure, you can try to ID it yourself. Look carefully at the base of the plant.
Grafted varieties will have a large, knuckly nob between the roots and canes (and sometimes higher) where the desired rose has been grafted onto the rootstock.
Own-root roses, while they have a crown where the roots meet the canes, lack this large growth from the graft joint.
If you’re still unsure, look up the grower’s website and read their information on the desired variety. If they do not advertise the rose as an own-root variety, it’s most likely grafted.
In my opinion, own-root roses offer more benefits than grafted varieties. When I invest in new plants for my garden, I want them to be long-lived, healthy, and remain true to the variety I’ve selected. I’m also willing to wait a couple of seasons to get a big, lush look because I know the rose will last and need less care.
If you want results now, a grafted rose that grows quickly but has a shorter lifespan makes more sense. Buy what works for you, and enjoy your flowers!