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The Tyler Rose Industry

Every year millions of roses are grown in the Tyler, Texas area for the enjoyment of admirers of our national flower. An even greater number of rose bushes are channeled through the processing plants located in Tyler and shipped across the nation. The following, adapted from an article 'The Texas Rose Industry', written by H. Brent Pemberton, horticulturist with Texas A&M University, gives an overview of the production of the flower America loves.

The Texas rose plant producing industry had its beginnings in the mid 1800's in the northeast Texas area near Tyler. The first recorded sale of rose plants was in 1879, while the first train carload was shipped in 1917. By the late 1950's, over 20 million plants were harvested yearly by almost 300 growers. Since that time, rose production has stabilized at around 5 million plants per year grown on approximately 500 acres within a 30 mile radius of Tyler by fewer than 25 growers. This represents 16 to 20% of the U.S. production with large centers for rose production also existing in Arizona and California.

The rose processing industry began to grow rapidly during the late 1940's and 1950's when cold storage facilities were built and plastic bags began to be used for packaging. In addition, the wrapping of rose plant roots in paper for insertion into a plastic wrapper with the label was mechanized in the 1960's. Today, approximately 16 million plants are processed locally for mass market sales across the U.S. This figure includes the local production as well as plants imported from Arizona and California.

Another segment of the industry that is still growing is the forcing of bare-root field grown plants in containers. Approximately 2.5 million plants are shipped annually from the Tyler area in leaf or bud and bloom for garden center sales. Also, many of the bare-root plants that are forced in containers in other parts of Texas and the U.S. are shipped from Tyler area rose processing companies.

The total wholesale value of the rose plant production and processing industries in northeast Texas is currently estimated at approximately $50 million dollars per year. This represents a large part of the estimated $150 million in ornamental plant production found in the northeast Texas area.

As with any commodity, there are advantages and disadvantages to producing roses in northeast Texas. The sandy acid soils, relative abundance of rainfall (45 inches per year), and mild winters combine to give many advantages for field production. In addition, the central location of Tyler and proximity to major transportation corridors have aided the development of the processing industry. On the other hand, summer drought, short episodes of severe winter cold, early and late freezes and any problems with the supply of plants from western growing areas are the disadvantages that impact profitability of all phases of the industry. Because of the cost intensive nature of and required skills for field production, few new individuals are entering the business. However, the industry still consists of many family owned businesses. Though fewer in number, members of the younger generation are entering the business.

The two year production cycle of a rose plant begins with land preparation. Ridding a field of cover crops and weeds, deep cultivation and fumigation are standard procedures that are accomplished the summer and autumn prior to planting. Also, the soil is tested to determine the need for adjusting the pH with limestone and to insure that phosphorus levels are adequate. The field is then bedded in rows 44 inches apart.

Planting of rootstock cuttings begins in late November and December. Eight inch cuttings of Rosa multiflora are cut with a saw from canes taken from plants in a field that has been in production for one year. All the buds except the top two or three are removed to reduce suckering. They are stored in plastic bags until planted. The cuttings are planted 6 to 7 inches deep and 6 inches apart in the beds as soon as possible after preparation.

By mid to late April the rootstock plants have shoots 6 to 12 inches long, and by May, the rootstock plants are ready for T-bud grafting. A team of two persons performs the operation with one doing the actual budding followed by another who does the tying. The standard T-budding technique is followed using budwood harvested the previous autumn (see below) and budding rubbers that are tied with only the bud itself exposed to light and air.

During the summer after budding, the main task is weed control which is accomplished with the aid of herbicides, cultivation, and hand weeding. Some of the scions begin to grow at this time, but most growth is made by the rootstock. By autumn, the rootstock canes are large enough to harvest for cuttings to begin the next crop. In late autumn, soil is thrown to the plants by disking to protect the graft union from freezing.

In late winter, the rootstock tops are removed with a cut made slanting away from and just above the graft union. This is done manually or with pneumatic shears. The tops are mechanically chopped and blown back over the field. A balanced fertilizer is applied in two or three applications from April to June. Also, the rapidly growing scions are topped by mowing periodically during April and May to decrease damage from wind and to increase branching from the graft union.

The main task during the second growing season is weed and disease control. Black spot is the most devastating disease for which weekly spraying with a fungicide is required. Spraying begins in March and continues until harvest.

As the crop matures in the second autumn, budwood is harvested for use the following spring. Mature wood about pencil size from the upper canopy is cut, wrapped in wet newspaper, wrapped in plastic, boxed, and placed into cold storage at 30 + 1 F.

Digging usually begins in November when starch tests indicate a high level of starch in the dormant canes. This test is also used to aid timing for budwood collection. Prior to digging, the plants are mowed to about 18 inches. A shaker digger with a u-shaped blade is then used to remove the plants from the ground. Crews manually bundle the plants by groups of 10 which are loaded onto a truck and taken to a processing facility where they are unloaded, graded, dipped into a fungicide and placed into cold storage by cultivar and grade.

As needed, plants are removed from cold storage and either shipped bare root for potting and forcing, or packaged. For packaging, plants are either placed in a wrapped root plastic sleeve or are planted in a degradeable pot with an artificial media that is slipped into a plastic wrapper. For both packaging methods, canes are dipped in a hot wax developed for roses to prevent moisture loss. Marketing begins in January in the southern U.S. and continues until May in the northern U.S.

(Source: H. Brent Pemberton.1992. The Texas Rose Industry. Comb. Proc. Intl. Prop. Soc. 42:391-393. Dr. Pemberton is Professor of Horticulture, Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, P.O. Box E, Overton, Texas 75684)