They may be old-fashioned, but gardeners don’t seem to care. For a certain type of homeowner, their landscape isn’t complete without roses.
Steve Mostardi is the owner of Mostardi Nursery, an independent garden center located in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
Business is starting slow this year, although it was always going to be tough to compare numbers against 2021, Mostardi Nursery’s best year ever. He thinks it’s mostly weather-related, with a late-March frost that brought the process screeching to a halt just as the season had begun getting started.
The garden center doesn’t do much growing, except for the flowerbeds and hanging baskets needed for Newtown Square’s beautification efforts. The western Philadelphia suburb Mostardi has served since 1976 is an America In Bloom community.
In the fall, when he made his rose order for 2022, Mostardi booked the same amount of roses he booked for 2021. After strong sell-through of his initial 2021 booking, Mostardi tried to reorder, but there was simply nothing available. He’s not sure yet if a repeat of that scenario will happen. He’s expecting the rose market to be stable, but he’s found availability to be tight in certain areas. Some suppliers have claimed shortages and some of the more-requested roses have not been available in the quantities he’d like to order. The category of climbing roses is particularly tough to source, he says. And David Austin roses, which customers recognize by name, are also in scarce supply.
As a retailer, Mostardi also doesn't agree with the industry’s insistence on churning out new roses. It doesn’t match his experience with customers.
“There seems to be no end to the introduction of new roses,” he says. “They can’t seem to keep up with the demand for some of the more important categories and varieties that we currently have.”
Mostardi’s customers are interested in fragrant roses, but they also want them to be carefree. Perhaps it’s this challenge that keeps breeders hybridizing, looking for that perfect cross.
“I’m sure they’re fine; I’m sure they’re tested, but I don’t feel motivated to bring in some of these new varieties,” Mostardi says. “I know there’s always room for improvement in any plant category. But we don't find people coming in asking for any new ones. The dichotomy that we're experiencing is that there seems to be continuing demand for these old classic varieties.”
Despite decades of new introductions and breeding enhancements, gardeners still ask for roses like Mister Lincoln, which was introduced by Weeks Roses in 1964 and won an All-America Selection in 1965.
“We still have a lot of people who come in requesting some of the old classic roses like Mister Lincoln and John F. Kennedy — ones that have been in existence forever,” Mostardi says.
The roses in the KnockOut series have maintained their popularity, Mostardi says, which is one reason he keeps purchasing them. He stocks plenty of KnockOuts as well as Drift roses, for the groundcover rose category. He’s been able to reorder them throughout the year from the nurseries he typically purchases from, even into the fall.
“Sales are still very strong in the marketplace, no doubt about it, but they act as more of a landscape shrub and so I think people have a different impression of them, where they don’t think of them as a typical rose, so to speak,” he says. “They think of them as a flowering shrub.”
Still, Mostardi is concerned about the rose supply chain, as he doesn’t see the growers he buys from increasing production, and he hasn’t seen any new growers producing significant quantities of roses.
His customers know Mister Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, and Julia Child. Those roses have brand recognition in the marketplace, and so he tries to keep them in stock. Although it certainly is a tradition for breeders to name roses after celebrities, they can’t count on star power for a surefire hit.
“The bottom line is that no matter whose name is on the rose, it has to be a good performer,” Mostardi says. “Apparently, it will continue to build the popularity of a certain variety if people are having good results with that particular plant.”
Just look at the success of Mister Lincoln.
Dana Fritsche is a landscape designer with Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions, a commercial and residential landscaping firm serving the St. Louis area. She says rose installations have slowed down considerably over the last 15 years in her region.
She’s had to remove many roses from clients’ landscapes due to shrinking, wilting and general unhealthiness. The main culprit is rose rosette disease. It’s gotten to the point that she doesn’t use roses in her designs unless they’re requested by the client.
“Our customers really struggle with them,” she says.
Fritsche typically designs landscapes for customers who then have to take care of them. She’s constantly hearing “low maintenance” and “no thorns” from her clients.
In her area, when designing for people who want a plant with a long bloom time, she’s flipped to panicle hydrangea. She can’t get the same color from H. paniculata, but they bloom June to October, are fairly disease-resistant and can take full sun.
“They don’t have thorns, they don’t get black spot and they don’t get rose rosette,” she says.
Miles Kuperus Jr., president of Farmside Landscape & Design, says his firm does some rose plantings as part of its work. The New Jersey-based company offers design and build services, landscape maintenance, lawn care, and plant healthcare. The biggest issue he faces with roses is deer trouble. The creatures’ unwanted prunings have caused many a complaint from his clients.
But there are some bright spots in the rose market. Or at least, cultivars that have hit a solid note. “‘At Last’ is a great variety from Proven Winners,” Kuperus says.
The orange-petaled shrub rose has drawn rave reviews from his customers.