Rose offerings at the department stores and nurseries

There seems to be a dearth of roses on sale here in Connecticut, southern Massachuestts and even out on Cape Cod where I’ve been recently. Both the number of cultivars and the number of plants are way down.

Lowes and Home Depot once offered thiry or fourty varieties in the springtime but have only a handful this year, and none of any under patent. The local nurseries are stocking only the Knockouts and a few patented varieties, and these mostly all being bagged plants out of the Texas and Pennsylvania contract farms. Only J&P are represented by brand name.

Is the situation similar elsewhere? If so, I wonder what it means.

Chain stores have been using roses as loss leaders for years.

The theory is to make up the loss with sales of fertilizer soil amendments and the like.

I was never sure if it actually worked. I believe it more or less ruined the profitability of roses as a product in general.

All those years of artificially low prices may have finally caught up the market. Add that to the fact that many companies have folded or are on the brink of folding and the picture doesn’t look too bright for wholesalers.

Maybe by featuring a few roses with Downy Mildew, they can juice up the chemical sales? I am just joking, but even thinking about that sounds so lame!

Jackie, you bring up a good point. The quality of what was being offered, even for a loss, at these types of stores was often pathetic. No wonder people are turned off.

Being allowed to sell obviously virused bareroots for decades is bad enough.

Selling roses with Downy is in my opinion also down right criminal, or at least unconscionable.

Your local county inspector should be all over this type of thing.


I stopped buying roses from those types of stores a long time ago. The roses I bought from there did not last, many had virus-like symptoms, some weren’t marked correctly, and most lacked vigor. One was even a non-registered variety which they passed off as an “English Rose.”

There are a couple of good places in Eastern Massachusetts that have extensive collections for sale. Among the many roses they sell are patented varieties including some 2009 introductions. They offer discounts to ARS Yankee District members, and they stand behind their roses. The two places that come to mind are Roseland Nursery ( and The Rose Man Nursery ( You might want to give them a call. I found it was worth the effort and cost me less, and I had less aggravation in the long run.



The majority of the KO and TKO roses are from the wholesale company I work for, and there are a TON of them going to Lowe’s this year.

From what I can tell, few stores want to deal with roses and would rather look at roses as landscape color items.

I work for one of these box stores. Their roses are horrible. To be more exact their plants in general are pathetic. I see so many coming back as returns because they have died. Many have fungus growing on their roots that eventually will do them in. The dimensioning supply of varieties has to do with the economics of the whole thing. Those who by plants from these sources want something easy to grow in which they do not have to take care of. Plants like roses get a bad name because so many people by them without knowing there needs. And forget about having a sale clerk that can tell good advice. Plus the mark up on roses are horrible compared to annuals. These annuals are great for these companies for two reasons first many of these companies own the companies producing the annuals. Secondly many of these annuals that don’t come from companies owned by the big box store are what called pay per scan which means the store does not pay for them unless they are scanned through a register. So if you do not sell it you don’t have to pay for it. While roses if you do not sell them you eat the difference. Also a word of warning on buying plants in general from box stores is that plants are often infected with insects that grew up in an environment where pest management meant spraying the same chemical over and over again year after year and many new pest are coming to new areas through these plants and on the pallets they come on.

Even the finest and healthiest roses can be killed by the sort of care given (or not) in the stores where people are paid by the hour whether they keep the roses alive or not.

It is not wise to tar all the suppliers with the same brush. With roses as with any other plants, poor care by the merchandiser and/or purchaser is the most common reason for poor results.

About a week ago (Tuesday, April 21) I bought a beautiful plant of Sunsprite grown and potted by Mea Nurseries of Lindale, TX. All the other plants (Mr. Lincoln, Frau Karl Druschki, Joseph’s Coat, etc) were also excellent in size and apparent health. If I’d had space to plant them, I’d have bought several. These roses had been unloaded the day before. On Friday I was at that store in early afternoon to get some non-plant things, but I went by the nursery area and looked to see if there had been any new rose deliveries.

Bad idea. We’d had 4 hot days. Nearly all the roses were within a few hours of dying–all the new growth shriveled and hanging, etc. Azaleas were also near death. I went into the garden area and saw the manager (a woman in her 30s) chatting with a cashier. When I told her that the roses and other plants needed water right then if they were to have a chance of surviving, she looked confidently at me and said “We have an evening watering program.” I told her that if she didn’t get some water on the plants immediately they wouldn’t be alive in the evening. I don’t think she understood.

Yes, I’ve had my share of mislabeled bagged roses from Sexton and Certified (100% mislabeled in the most recent time I let temptation in late winter overrule my intuition), and I no longer buy bagged or potted roses supplied by those growers. But even if a rose is healthy when it goes into a store like that, it won’t have a chance unless a knowledgeable customer rescues it before it is killed by the store personnel. And unfortunately, even if a worker knows how to take care of the plants, chances are he or she will be pulled to another area and the plants left without care.

Do I need to say that plants are not a priority for most stores?


It’s not just over there… this kind of thing has been happening here in Australia for many years and since the appearance of the bigger chain stores (both general type stores and chain-nurseries alike) the problem has been compounded by having centralised purchasing groups. Every place has the same rubbish available because they all buy from the same place and it’s all just new release stuff (most of which is no good here in Australia anyway). I got sucked into buying a climbing ‘Angel Face’ from a chain store like this a few years back and couldn’t work out why it didn’t flower for me in the first year. It had a lovely looking graft and it grew quite strongly and I tended it for two years into a nice shape… and then came the virus marks and worse still… two years down the track it flowered AND it was bloody Dr Huey, grafted onto Dr Huey!!! So I won’t buy chain store roses now either. There are enough specialist rose nurseries around to provide everything I need (even they are turning up more virused stock than you would expect now too).

I get excited to look through the plants in the chain stores too, especially the bagged roses in early spring after a long winter. A person from the local rose society came up with the term that these roses were in “body bags”. Unfortunately to a large extent that is accurate. It is so sad to see them especially here in MN in the warm stores in March trying to grow when they would be better off outside in the cold. Sometimes then they are put in the full sun to bake in the parking lot. People don’t think about buying them here until the temperatures warm and they think of gardening and by then the poor things are barely alive. It is especially sad to see clearance bagged roses that are dead. When I try to be as polite as possible to describe that they are dead to store managers they ultimately don’t care and keep selling them.

It feels like an uphill battle to communicate the joy of growing roses when the general public basically just sees roses in box stores and don’t know about specialty rose nurseries and how or where to find roses adapted to their region. Maybe they put a lot more trust in the knowledge of these places than they should and that they are getting in plants adapted to their region. At Wal-Mart a few years ago the garden center people had green vests that said something like certified something or other. I asked what they did to earn their certification and they said nothing, they just got all got their vest. Home Depot has their garden club membership with emails with gardening tips that are focused like marketing ads. It gives a good impression.

We have a chain like Home Depot regionally (Menards) and I was impressed with their potted roses over the past couple years. I was there yesterday and they have some Nor’ East minis and really healthy Knock Out series roses, Drift roses, and some of the Tantau landscape roses from Northwest Horticulture. It’s fun to see extra healthy versions of the common and something a little different.

It was fun to see Harvey Davidson’s Smooth Touch thornless roses for sale at Lowes this year. THey were $25 each. It sounds like he has had a challenge navigating connections with growers for a partnership that worked. In recent years he partnered with Monrovia and I’m not sure who are producing them now. THey are very very nice plants. One challenge is the shipping of these larger plants and extra expense to distribute them perhaps. I’m glad he hasn’t given up over the years and kept trying to get his roses out there.

I think there will be continued effort to go own root, container grown roses and avoid bagged roses. J&P has their own root modern roses in pots places can buy blooming for resale (about a gallon size ready for resale in square pots) that seems to be successful and they hope will grow. I saw them for the first time last fall. Proven Winners has their Oso Easy roses that will get out there more widely hopefully soon. Maybe relatively full, yet smaller plants forced from plugs in gallon or so pots will continue to grow in popularity beyond the landscape roses like Knock Out.


Are Lowe’s roses on Dr. Huey?


Lowe’s roses are on whatever their supplier uses. Lowe’s carries some J&P own-root shrubs, but most of their stuff is standard production, which means it’s budded, and usually that means Dr. Huey here in the US. The only way to know for sure is to see what the label says. If it says “own root” it should be. If it doesn’t say that and the rose was grown in Texas, Arizona, or California, chances are very high that it’s on Dr. Huey.


Hi Lydia,

It looked like Harvey Davidson’s roses were grafted and not own root. Like Peter said it seems that the J&P and also some other shrubs were own root.

About a dozen years ago, a friend of mine worked in the garden center at Wal-Mart. The department manager was not trained with plants, but had been doing the job for a few years, and was motivated. For example, all of the plants were unpacked right away, protected from late freezes, and faithfully watered every day (in our moderate heat, that is enough for most plants). Despite this, all of their plants would begin to die if they were not sold within a couple of weeks, with the main symptom being wilting. This affected all plant types. I just couldn

Often plants delivered to box stores are very soft. They are grown very quickly under ideal conditions. Once they hit the shelves they usually degrade quickly.

I was a wholesale vendor to a variety of box stores for many years. Roses were one of the products I sold. I’ve written a lot of credit. That cost ultimately gets passed along

Many box stores don’t have a nursery. Materials displayed and sold indoors deteriorate very quickly.

It’s the way of the world. Consumers have chosen lower cost, lack of selection, and convenience over variety, climate adapted plants sold by knowledgeable staff.

Consumers decide what is acceptable.

David, Peter

Thank you both. A fair number of Ontario nurseries sell roses on Dr. Huey as well.

I spoke with the nursery manager at Lowe’s. He was, unexpectedly, knowledgeable. The label on the roses said Ontario grown, but didn’t specify their origin. The manager told me they were from Pan Am, but that Pan Am told him they were on multiflora. A friend in the nursery business told me that Pan Am roses are on Dr. Huey with the expected mortality rate in her area. So there’s either some confusion on the part of Pan Am emloyees or downright deception.