Doing this as a career?

I am wondering how Tom Carruth, Keith Zary, etc got their positions as rose hybridizers. Plant hybridizing and genetic engineering is what want to do for a living no matter how much it pays. I have an undergrad in Agronomy, and am looking into getting my masters and possibly a PhD. Any suggestions on what I should get my masters in? Are there any recommended schools?

This is a big step and a huge commitment, so any information would be very helpful.

Please feel free to contact me on my email.



Hi Shane,

Pleae email me and we can set up a time to talk over the phone. I have followed that path and have my Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics. In the end I decided to stay in academics and pursue breeding as a hobby and research that supports breeding.



If you are planning on a Ph.D. in an Agronomy related field, I suggest that you ask the departments that you are interested in to send you a list of their recent Ph.D. graduates, their thesis’ topics, and what positions they obtained after graduation.

Back at the dawn of time I was at the very same crossroads as you are now but chose a different path. Hindsight being what it is, I would like to offer you my opinion.

Rose breeding is a small field that saturates quickly.

There have always been very few dedicated rose breeders who receive private institutional support in the manner of Boeriner, Warriner, Zary, Carruth or Lim. While it is not impossible to work into that type of situation, it is very difficult.

University breeders are fewer still and universities have been cutting support for hybridizers. While they have the advantage of access to cutting edge research and technology, they usually have to keep other irons in the fire because of the need to conduct publishable research.

Government rose breeders (USDA, Ag. Canada) no longer even exist.

Independent rose breeders almost always run their own growing and retail nursery operation, both to support their work and to get their hybrids into the marketplace. Harm Saville and Ralph Moore fall into this category. Weeks, Meilland, Kordes and other big (mostly European) rose houses got their start in this way.

A fairly unique model, and the one I would want to emulate if I were starting over, is that of Zaiger Genetics. Floyd Zaiger was an independent fruit breeder who gained prominence for his unique interspecies hybrids. The company is run by his family now. His philosophy was to use bridge species to migrate desirable traits into commercial hybrids, though today it is hard to tell what they are up to as the Zaiger family is famously private.

No matter which way you go, molecular biology is a key component of your future toolkit. UC Davis is a good place for acquiring these skills. It has the advantage of a close association with the rose industry though this has taken a back seat to viticulture in recent times.

A better choice might be Washington University in Saint Louis. That is where the first plant transformation vectors were developed, and it has close affiliations with many of the top global agricultural companies.

It is possible to go through an entire doctoral progam without ever getting your hands into dirt, so be careful to choose a program that will encourage you to maintain your own hybridizing program. To that end, Texas A&M might be worth looking into. They are relatively small so you would have to work at getting exposure to the very latest biotechnology (by, say, doing a rotation outside the institution at a school like Wageningen), but David Byrne has his heart and mind in roses so you would get a lot of first hand experience in hybridizing. Ralph Moore’s breeding stock is reposited there, too.

Standard breeding lines of roses have pretty much exhausted the potential of their genes. There is a lot of potential locked up in species roses and their close relatives, though, and entirely new avenues opening up through technological means. A successful rose breeder will, in the future, need the ability to exploit both biotechnology and classical hybridizing. However you go about getting these skills, I encourage you to chart your own course.

I wish you success, Shane.

Shane, These days plant breeders are a highly sought after commodity. Companies are fighting over them. Like David, I have a PhD and a MSc in plant breeding and genetics and have stayed in academics as a corn breeder, but have picked up rose breeding as a hobby. There are definitely still a handful of schools that have active breeding groups, meaning germplasm or variety development activities. Those are probably the best ones to look at as you would gain experiences that can not be taught in the classroom. I would also encourage you to learn as much plant biology at all levels as possible. I would also say that while the particular species is sometimes what attracts us to this type of career, don’t let it limit you when thinking about grad school opportunities.

Good luck, Liz

I do not forsee rose breeding as a career goal, personally. However, I do see plant rights as a forseeable revenue in what I may do as I go along.

Point being-- I think there are multiple avenues possible for the ability to bring one’s creations into others gardens.

Thank you everyone for your input! I guess I have reached that point in my career where I want do something I actually like for a change even if I have to go back to school and take a significant pay cut. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Thanks again!


Shane, having worked in the corporate nursery industry for a number of years, I can tell you that nothing is certain. There is certainly no such thing as job security.

Things are changing at an incredible pace. It wouldn’t surprise me to see wholesalers drop breeding programs altogether. The world economic outlook is bleak, especially for new ornamentals. New product is an optional expenditure most can let go in the short term. Corporations are ruthless in pursuit of the bottom line. They will do what they have to do to survive.

I personally wouldn’t trade having the luxury of pursuing my own path for having to answer to higher ups in a corporate setting. I’ve been there done that and it’s incredibly stressful.

Pursuing plant development in a university setting or for an agricultural concern would be my suggestion.

That’s just my honest opinion.

Best wishes, Robert

Further to what Robert has said, I look at what happened to Ping Lim at Bailey and think to myself that Keith Zary and Tom Carruth, talented as they are, could easily have the same thing happen to them eventually. I hope not, but its possible.

I’ll be curious to attend the Far West Show this August (Big Hort trade show) to see if Weeks and Greenheart and J&P are even represented this time around.

Hey Paul, I’ll be there for my work. Maybe we can meet then?

Thanks everyone for your input! I really appreciate your time and effort. There is a lot to think about.