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Be on the lookout for Dr. Huey

Ubiquitous rose shows up in spring and aims to take over

Dark red rose blossom
Dr. Huey usually is grown for rootstock. If it shoots up canes and is allowed to form buds, it blooms just once a year. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Is Dr. Huey in your garden?

The most common rose in bloom in Sacramento right now is a little wine-red semi-double flower that almost no one planted on purpose. Inadvertently, it’s probably the most commonly grown rose in the United States.

Why? Because Dr. Huey won’t stay buried, even though it’s grown almost exclusively for its roots.

In spring, Dr. Huey can create the illusion of two different roses blooming on the same bush; a pink or other familiar hybrid rose on top, then this small velvety red rose near the bush’s base or at the end of long smooth canes. Dr. Huey is also responsible when, for example, an all-yellow bush turns all red.

Its tenacity is why Dr. Huey is at the base of countless hybrid roses (especially hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras). Dr. Huey has been California’s go-to rootstock for roses for generations.

Dr. Huey wasn’t bred for this job. Created in 1914 and introduced commercially in 1920, it’s a hybrid Wichurana rambler; its flexible and fast-growing canes make it ideal for arbors, trellises, fences or other climbing rose roles. (Its drawbacks: Dr. Huey blooms only once a year and it’s prone to fungal disease.)

Powdery mildew on Dr. Huey leaves
These Dr. Huey leaves show signs of powdery mildew.

Dr. Huey was among more than 1,200 varieties bred by George C. Thomas Jr., a golf course architect and rose hybridizer. Among Thomas’ golf courses are several Los Angeles landmarks including Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club. With partner William Bell, Thomas also designed the Stanford University Golf Course.

Rose-wise, Thomas was looking for something that could grow vigorously in his hometown of Philadelphia as well as his adopted state of California, where he designed more than 20 golf courses.

Dr. Huey was something that could cover a fence with velvety red blooms, and not that many prickles.

That lack of thorns as well as hardy roots made Dr. Huey a favorite with California’s commercial rose growers. They grow Dr. Huey by the thousands, just for its roots.

Rootstock is an important part of the rose business. Hybrid roses are usually grafted, speeding up the process of producing a mature, blooming (and marketable) bush by two or three years. In rose grafting, the plant above ground is not the same variety as the plant below ground.

How do you graft a rose? Rose growers have been following this basic procedure since the 1800s.

A rootstock rose plant (in this case, Dr. Huey) is grown to maturity. T-shaped cuts are made in the bark of its main stem and cuttings (or “bud wood”) of the desired rose variety are inserted. The “bud union” is wrapped securely with flexible tape and allowed to heal. The cuttings eventually take hold and grow. At that point, the branches of the rootstock plant are removed, leaving only the grafted bud wood to grow. That creates the grafted bush – two roses in one.

So many Dr. Huey plants were grown in Kern County (the heart of California’s rose industry), Dr. Huey also has been nicknamed the “Shafter rose” (after that small farm town).

Dr. Huey’s smooth bark and vigorous roots make it ideal for grafting and its supporting role. As a rambler, its roots naturally grow deep, giving the bush support and drought tolerance.

Except Dr. Huey craves the light of day. Those strong roots keep pushing out new green canes that fight the grafted bush above for nutrients and space. If not cut out, those canes can strangle the grafted variety. (In such battles, Dr. Huey always wins.)

Another drawback, Dr. Huey’s foliage is prone to fungal disease, especially powdery mildew, blackspot and rust. Those canes can transmit those fungal diseases to the grafted bush (as well as other roses and plants), causing foliage to drop off.

If left alone in the garden, Dr. Huey will lose all its leaves to fungal disease before summer’s end, looking like a bramble of long naked canes.

Right now, Dr. Huey may look cute. But remember, this rose is best kept out of sight.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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