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Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good Rose?

Posted by jpw_chi 5b Chicago, IL (My Page) on
Fri, Dec 26, 08 at 17:50

I have a bag of seeds harvested last fall in the fridge, but unfortunately I don't exactly live on a farm. Space is limited.

In reading about rose hybridizing, I'm coming across statistics indicating that professional breeders may grow 100,000 seedling (or more) to get a handful of roses that are good enough to eventually make it to market. Thinking about it, even if you put each seedling in just a 3" pot, that's 16 seedlings per square foot. For 100,000 seedlings, that comes to 6,250 square feet -- or an area of 250 feet x 250 feet.

I understand that space needs may drop fairly quickly as you weed out the weak seedlings as quickly as possible. Starting them in batches would also reduce the amount of space you'd need at any one time, but that would only take you so far.

There probably is no magic number, and a lot depends on the parents you pick (and sheer luck). But assuming that you have chosen good parents, the rest just seems to be a numbers game.

I'm not shooting for an AARS award -- just roses that are healthy and pretty enough to name after friends or loved ones with pride. So, keeping that in mind, how many roses seedlings do you need to generate to get a good one?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Our seedlings number only about 100/year. A long-term keeper usually only appears once in 8 years, so the answer to your question is 800 seedlings to get one good one.We are talking here about crosses, not ops.Yes, garden space is a major issue, even with only 100 seedlings per year. All of our seedlings are grown in a couple of 30 ft x 5 ft beds. Any seedling which defoliates at all during its first summer is out of here.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

I find one in 1000 is worth in-depth evaluation. However, it depends on how high you set your sights. You MAY find one in 100 is a worthwhile rose.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

This is a very interesting post as I am just starting to try my hand at growing roses from seeds. Mine are open pollinated, and most are antique or old garden roses. Although I've yet to see my first bloom, many of my little guys are looking VERY healthy in their first summer. I don't spray, so it's a matter of survival of the fittest. I am very optimistic that I'll have some good roses.

Robert


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Robert,
If, for example, you grow a lot of OP seeds from an assortment of Gallicas, you will have a high percentage of very sturdy roses that are free from disease and which often have very attractive flowers. The Gallicas on the whole breed attractive offspring when selfed or crossed with others of the class. You chances of getting a very worthwhile seedling in that instance is about one in ten! Its only when you start introducing genes from other non-European classes that you run into disease and performance problems: cross a Gallica with a modern Floribunda and expect most of them to have moderate to severe disease problems and far fewer will have worthwhile blossoms. Been there, done that, kept only a handful!

Paul


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Paul,

I don't have many modern roses (except if you include hybrid musks). All of my seedlings are OP. Last year most of my seedlings came from Frau Dagmar Hartopp, Henri Martin, William Lobb, Complicata, and Darlow's Enigma. Those from Henri Martin are looking really promising so far.

This year I've got seeds sprouting from a lot more roses...including, but not limited to, Tuscany, Leontine Gervais, Moje Hammarburg, Rosa Mundi, et al. I'm most excited about Leontine Gervais...the little seedlings are looking great so far.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

I would say that Paul is just about right on with his 1000 count. I work with miniatures and get a lot of seedlings that look promising to many people that see them, but after growing them for 5 to 10 years I discard them because I don't deem them better than what is already on the market.
So it works out to perhaps 1 in a thousand that eventually finds it's way to the market.
Frank B


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Frank,

Your last post is really insightful. I wasn't considering getting the seedlings to make it to market. Really, I'm just trying to get some roses healthy for my area. Perhaps some will look like others on the market but will have a better disease resistance? Anyhow, it's fun to dabble.

Robert


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

(sigh.) So is that 1,000 seedling sprouts, or 1,000 seedlings grown to maturity? Although a lot better sounding than 100,000 seedlings, I still don't have the room (and probably the patience) to grow a full 1,000 to maturity.

Thanks to all who responded.

Jim W.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Jim: Most seelings are not grown to maturity. At the end of their first summer, 80% of seedlings are culled; at end of second summer, 80% of remaining seedlings are culled; after three summers, you might end up with one or two for further evaluation.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Gotcha. That suggests that you may be planting all 1,000 seedlings in the garden for at least one summer, although they may not reach full size within that first year.

Thanks.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Here's how it works for me:

For every 1000 seeds that germinate and the resulting seedlings that get potted up into 3" pots, approximately 90 -98% of them are discarded the moment they bloom for the first time. That first flower has to show some promise immediately or out it goes. (Crosses that come from complex breeding that is unlikely to flower the first year get selected for health instead, or other desirable growth characteristics) That means seeds sown in early March usually bloom by late June and most are discarded by then.

This means that by mid July I have already discarded 90% or more of the + or - 6000 seedlings I grew that year. The ones selected spend the first Summer in one gallon plastic pots. Occasionally a few very vigorous individuals get moved into five gallon cans if merited. Many of these are discarded by September as well, leaving me, on average, about 200 seedlings by Fall to carry over into the following year. In year two I make another selection based on Spring performance and the best move into five gallon cans or larger, or go right out into the test garden, in rows. Very few make it out into the test garden in the end.....maybe thirty plants per year, maybe less.

So, if you had visions of us planting out 1000 seedlings a year into the garden and allowing these to ALL grow to maturity, thats quite far from how we do it. (I can only speak for myself, of course) Nobody has the space to accommodate THAT many seedlings for testing, well, at least I don't!

Paul


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Paul,

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but....

Is there a "typical" type of flower that occurs on the plants that causes you to discard them immediately after the first bloom? For example, do most of the discarded plants have muddy pink semi-double flowers? are most of the discarded roses close to the species in look? I'm just curious to know what you are NOT looking for. I'm sure, within a couple years of experience in starting roses from seed, I'll know intuitively what to discard, but, alas, I've yet to see the first flower on any of my seedlings.
I've got plenty of new seedlings sprouting in my sunporch right now, and I'm hoping to get some interesting new roses.
Your advice and comments are appreciated.

Robert


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

"Is there a "typical" type of flower that occurs on the plants that causes you to discard them immediately after the first bloom? For example, do most of the discarded plants have muddy pink semi-double flowers? are most of the discarded roses close to the species in look?"

Plants get tossed in the first cull because they 1) have poor bloom color, which can mean anything; too little pigment, muddy pigment, ugly color combo, etc., 2) poor bloom form; messy petal configuration, too small a flower for the cross, deformities, 3) unhealthy plant; runty, lopsided growth, no Mildew resistance, deformed foliage or canes, etc. These three are my criteria for the first cull.

If an entire crop blooms at more or less the same time (some modern X modern crosses tend to do this) and the whole lot of em are mediocre, I will pull out only a couple of the more promising ones (if there are any!) and toss the whole group. I generally peruse the benches every morning to view any new blooms and will tag and ID any selection that stands out as having potential, remove it from the tray and carry it (and any other selects for that day) to the potting area to move them up into gallon pots. This is when they get their code name; the tray has a marker to indicate the crosses code number, IE: 67-07, and when individuals get pulled out and potted up, they get their unique digit in sequence with any other siblings already selected. Plants potted into gallons go into their own house which gets afternoon shade and are sorted into their groups. IE: all the 67-07's have their own area on the bench, and all groups are sorted sequentially, in ascending order. This just helps me keep things organized and I have a binder with the breeding codes available in that house to refer to.

The code book contains printouts from the spreadsheets that document the crosses. These printouts get laminated by a shop in town so they can sit outdoors for years without deteriorating in greenhouse conditions. It is most useful in year one to have this data right there in the greenhouse so I can look up seedling 67-07-04 in seconds to remind me who its parents were, and then I can judge it based on my expectations for that cross. (This is far more data than you requested, but I figured I'd mention it along the way)

"I'm sure, within a couple years of experience in starting roses from seed, I'll know intuitively what to discard, but, alas, I've yet to see the first flower on any of my seedlings."

Yes, you will know, and it won't take years to develop that sense. The first time you see a misshapen bloom or one with really nasty coloring, you will know! The easy part is culling a seedling based on its blooms. You can either tell immediately whether or not its a dud based on poor color or poor form, but it becomes a different matter when you have to pass judgment on the plant for its growth habit, generosity and frequency of bloom, disease susceptibility, overall grace of the shrub, vigor, ease of propagation, etc. This is where the last few contestants fail, in my evaluations. I can test a rose for several years and find that it is beautiful in bloom form and color, blooms often and copiously, makes an attractive bush, but it might be eliminated because its too slow to build up a decent bush, or its impossible to propagate. I used to be a lot more forgiving on some of these last details than I am now, especially when it comes to overall health and vigor. I've grown too many runty roses (I'm picturing 'Angel Face' right now....) in my time to want to bring more of 'em into the world. Case in point: I have a miniature variety bred in 2003 that I adore, code number 60-03-03 - LGP2. It has the most amazing blooms in a slate grey-lavender color with a coffee colored center, and the blooms are packed full of petals on Old Rose style. I have never seen anything else like it. (Link below takes you to the HMF page about it) But I am debating allowing it into commerce because it lacks vigor; it takes three years to build up to a 12" tall plant, and I think that is unacceptable for the average miniature. However, as others have said to me, I may be too harsh on this point when it comes to really unique seedlings. Sometimes you make allowances for truly original individuals, so maybe it will find its way into the market eventually.

Now, this leads me to my last point, and one which Frank Benardella has brought up. You WILL grow seedlings from time to time that resemble varieties already in commerce. This is a dilemma; do you introduce it, or leave it alone? I have grown quite a few roses that were very nice plants, but have never done anything with them because I consider them redundant in commerce. The risk of finding yourself in this situation is greater if you are breeding modern roses like Floribundas or Miniatures, of course. It becomes a personal matter whether you decide to let these out into the market or not. I tend to leave them on my seedling benches these days and just admire them for my own pleasure.

Robert, if you are growing mostly Old Rose types like Gallicas and other European once-bloomers, the process for culling is quite different. For one, you are committing yourself to a longer process; its going to take a minimum of two years to ever see the first blooms on these roses, let alone get a chance to really see how the plant performs. In some cases you can't really judge the plant till its five years old, or more. Many OGR types don't perform until they are much older than that. Accommodating a lot of OGR seedlings of this sort becomes problematic in a hurry; where do you PUT them all?! I do most of my work on about 1.5 acres and even so, I am tight for room and to put new seedlings out in the garden for evaluation, others often have to be dug out and discarded to make room. With OGR types, I will often select a group of a dozen of fifteen individuals from the cross and grow those on out in a row. Usually by the second blooming (year four in most instances) I can tell who is a dud and who has potential, and some culling occurs at that stage. Again, I look for consistently good bloom form and color, (fragrance is nice too) vigor, health and overall grace of the bush. The latter usually isn't becoming obvious till year four or beyond. Plants don't get pruned much (or at all) in the test garden so I can really see what their natural habit is, and I think that's important. If a plant is going to tend to build up a lot of dead wood at its center as it ages, making it a rose that requires a lot of annual sorting and thinning, I am disinclined to evaluate it further, just as one example.

So, if you are growing once bloomers from seed, all you can do is select seedlings that have good vigor, attractive, healthy foliage, and then wait for the first blooms. You will almost certainly get some poor looking flowers the very first year you bloom the seedlings, and you will know immediately when to cull one out. Hint: it will be the dirty brownish-pink one with eight petals that curl inwards by the end of day one, making a shapeless mess of a flower. It will probably drop its petals after 24 hours anyway. You'll recognize it right away ;-)

Regards,
Paul

Here is a link that might be useful: LGP2


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Thanks, Paul. Your comments have been incredibly helpful. Jim W.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Thanks so much, Paul. Yes, this reply was incredibly helpful.

Robert


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

I think it all depends on what you are looking to get out of it. Last summer I got 30 rose seedlings, about 8 bloomed and 4 were simply exquisite in my opinion. Since my goal is not to create the next award winner, just to make pretty roses, I was happy. All 30, except the one with 5 funny petals, were planted in the garden to see if any survive the -45 temperatures. Nothing ventured nothing gained.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

I absolutely agree with Gladzoe as well; it depends what you expect out of it. If you just want a few nice roses to grow at home and feel good about having grown yourself, you can afford to be far less critical in your culling process. Its entirely possible to get four nice seedlings out of 30 that you consider nice enough to keep.

Paul


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Thanks, everyone. That's exactly what I wanted to hear. I am not looking for an award winner. I am, however, considering creating an ENTIRE rose bed with roses I have started from seeds. I think that would be quite fun.

Robert


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

It is very hard to determine what roses will do good and which ones to toss. For example, this rose I have started from seed, Intrigue X Midas Touch. The first bloom was just a single and I would have not kept it but it had the most amazing fragrance and still does. It turned out to be one of my favorites. The changes in it were just remarkable from the first year til now. You really can not go by the first bloom.

First 2 Blooms (1st year)
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Photobucket

2nd Year
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3rd Year
Photobucket


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Some seedlings improve dramatically in the first three or four years, its true. That is a very fine example, mind you, not many improve that much. This illustrates how important it can be to hang on to a seedling simply because it may have ONE trait you like and feel is worth giving a chance to grow on.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

This is an interesting thread. I planted about 500 seeds this fall in the pasture fenceline and along ditches where there are easements and i didn't want to plant nice, paid-for roses. I figured if they grow at all and look better and maybe occupy space where a weed can't grow, I'd be happy. I just hope they don't turn out too freakish looking, as i am too lazy to pull many roses up, and they'll be there until the next people move in and kill them,lol. OTOH, if there is a potential AARS winner, the world will never know, so that might be kind of sad. I figured the seeds would be a lot easier than cuttings. It did cross my mind that if there are 5,000 cultivars commercially available, and i can only really get excited about maybe 500, and have about 275 already, then my odds weren't too good of getting anything that unusual,lol. I'm not sure though how i can deal with a lot of freaky, disfigured, actually ugly roses, i never thought of that. Certainly is food for thought.


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RE: Realistically, How Many Seedlings Do You Need to Get a Good R

Hi len,
you said:
"I'm not sure though how i can deal with a lot of freaky, disfigured, actually ugly roses, i never thought of that".

It is amazing that you say that, because actually we as rose growers have to put up with this type of rose, when they put out such ones as, the "Green Rose" and "Wedding Cake" just to name a few. It seems they will put out just about anything, even duplicates. As you say, there are 5000 to choose from, you are most certainly bound to get the same one twice.


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seedlings

ramblinrosez, I say I have about 275 cultivars, that isn't including the ones i have duplicates, triplicates, and even 4 of the same cultivars,lol, especially when there is a sale and I think i really like a certain rose! I don't know how Paul Barden (prospero) comes up with so many unique and beautiful roses, that are so different than any of the other "rose houses", but he does and certainly is an inspiration to those who wish to try their hand. Personally i think i would choose a green rose or wedding cake over a knockout, even though i have 2 knockouts and would never shovel prune them even if they became disease ridden or what have you,lol.


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