It's bare-root season--January through March--prime time for planting additions to the rose garden. Avid rose growers do all their buying and planting now, when the best selection is available and growers are poised to ship the dormant plants, sold without soil on the roots, to local nurseries and gardeners.
Some modern roses are better producers than others, however, and even with equal treatment, certain varieties will bring more color to the garden and deliver more flowers for bouquets.
For my own garden, I'm always searching for roses that rebloom quickly, allowing me to continually harvest blooms for arrangements and for sharing with friends. My all-time favorite in this category is Duet, a two-toned pink hybrid tea that acts more like a floribunda when it comes to multiple blooms.
I've never tabulated the number of roses annually borne on each bush in my garden, but I respect anyone who has attempted such a survey.
One year, for example, the well-known rosarian Rayford Reddell, author of "Growing Good Roses," kept count of each flower produced on every bush in his San Francisco rose garden. He found, as I might have had I done the counting, that Duet was the hands-down winner.
Sonia, a high-centered coral-pink bloom with heavy substance, also provides many flowers. And a new variety introduced last year, Tournament of Roses, in its maiden year in my garden, was remarkably generous with its coral-pink flowers. Moreover, its clean, apple-green foliage seems almost impervious to disease and insects.
Several techniques will ensure heavy flower production. To coax flowers from rose bushes, avoid cutting excessively long stems. Allowing the bush to retain stem length shortens rebloom time. Deadheading--the practice of removing old flowers--also spurs flower production. And a regular feeding program is essential to promoting profuse bloom.
Frank Strickland, winner of numerous regional and national rose trophies and an amateur hybridizer, grows about 200 types of roses in San Bernardino. For high output in warm interior climates, Brandy is his first choice.
This golden-apricot hybrid tea recycles faster than other bushes and draws considerable admiration in bouquets. Other large-flowered roses that Strickland recommends as heavy bloomers are Honor (white), Gold Medal (fragrant, yellow), Double Delight (fragrant, red and white), Blue Nile (lavender) and Silvarado (mauve). Among floribundas, Strickland likes French Lace (fragrant, cream), Katherine Loker (yellow) and Gingersnap (orange).
Justin Ekuan, a prize-winning exhibitor who grows his roses near the ocean in Laguna Niguel, is intensely interested in high-productivity roses. His obsession, Ekuan confesses, is garden color. Because he wants roses that bloom continuously, he tests 10 to 15 new varieties each year, continually seeking the best.
His list of top producers includes four familiar roses: Gold Medal, Double Delight, Las Vegas (orange) and Pristine (ivory). Less familiar are Ernest H. Morse (fragrant, red, very hard to find); Helmut Schmidt (yellow that blooms almost constantly, available from Fred Edmunds), and Barrone E. De Rothschild (red bicolor, from Pickering Nurseries).
Among floribundas, Ekuan is most enthusiastic about Iceberg, which reaches 12 feet in his garden, with flowers totally obscuring the foliage. Unlike most roses, Iceberg produces flowering stems from the base of previous blooms, creating an extraordinarily productive specimen. Other Ekuan choices are Redgold and Class Act (white).
Tom Carruth, director of research for Weeks Roses in Upland, affirms that some roses spread their bloom production over the season while others tend to be "croppers," bearing all their flowers at once.
An ideal rose, in his opinion, is one that repeats its bloom cycle rapidly. Floribundas, miniatures, and shrubs are more likely to fall into this category than hybrid teas. In addition to the varieties mentioned above, Carruth likes Playboy (orange/red single) and Playgirl (hot pink single). Playgirl, Carruth said, flowers like a weed, even as a tiny plant.
For admirers of single roses, these two are musts. His other suggestions for intense flower production are Amber Queren (gold floribunda), Sun Flare (yellow floribunda), Gourmet Popcorn (white miniature) and Sweet Chariot (cascading purple miniature).
Most of the roses mentioned here can be purchased at local garden centers. For hard-to-find cultivars or for convenience, catalogues can be ordered from these rose nurseries:
Roses by Fred Edmunds, 6235 S.W. Kahle Road, Wilsonville, Ore. 97070; Roses of Yesterday and Today, 802 Brown's Valley Road, Watsonville, Calif. 95076-0398; Pickering Nurseries ($2), 670 Kingston Road, Pickering, Ontario, L1V 1A6, Canada; Jackson & Perkins, Medford, Ore. 97501, and Wayside Gardens, Hodges, S.C. 29695-0001.