Happy Rose Month! I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t admire roses for their beauty. Finding those who see them as resilient, drought-tolerant, and disease-resistant plants takes more time, but it is possible and very rewarding.

Thanks to a Smithsonian Gardens professional development grant awarded in October 2018, I was given the opportunity to accept a generous invitation offered by master rosarian Gaye Hammond. I met Gaye in 2017 at the Potomac Rose Society’s symposium on disease-resistant roses. As the study liaison between the Houston Rose Society and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in connection with Earth-Kind® Rose Research, Gaye invited me to visit with Dr. Steven George, Extension Horticultural Specialist and National Coordinator of the Earth-Kind® Rose Program at Texas A&M University. This program conducted the largest environmental rose research study ever in the U.S.

My trip included visits to a number of gardens doing Earth-Kind® research and connecting with other members of the Earth-Kind® team, all of whom generously visited with me to share their experience (all the while standing or driving in torrential downpours for most of the day).

Rose Garden Trials in Suitland, MDAs a result of that trip and in collaboration with the Earth-Kind® team at Texas A&M, Smithsonian Gardens has installed three rose trial plots on the grounds of SG’s Greenhouse Facility in Suitland, Maryland. The goals of these trials are to collect data on ten different dwarf and compact rose varieties and use that data to guide future rose selections for the Folger Rose Garden as well as to recommend roses that are easy to grow and disease-resistant in our area.

For this confirmational trial, Smithsonian Gardens will be using research protocols developed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for its Earth-Kind® Rose Trials. (i.e. no fertilizer, no fungicides or pesticides on the plant trials, greatly reduced irrigation once plants are established, no pruning, no removal of spent blooms). With the help of Dr. George and Todd Williams, County Extension Agent for Rockwall County, Texas, and Kim Benton, County Extension Agent for Cherokee County, Texas, we selected roses that were deemed good trial candidates based on data collected from a trial in Rockwall (that was later cut short by rose rosette disease) and a trial in Jacksonville, Florida.

Each plot will have the same twelve rose varieties planted in random order: ten rose cultivars and two others that serve as controls. ‘The Fairy’ was added because its disease resistance was proven as part of the original national Earth-Kind® rose trials. ‘Plumb Perfect’ was chosen by me to serve as a local/regional control because it has shown great disease resistance in the Folger Rose Garden. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists will monitor and collect data monthly on the roses. They will be graded on overall quality of blooms and foliage, drought tolerance, fungal disease tolerance, and insect and mite tolerance. We will also be monitoring closely for rose rosette disease.

We look forward to learning the results of these trials in 2024!

For more information on the Earth-Kind® Landscaping initiative visit https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/