Rose Seedling Fact Question

Hello all,

I’m working on an article and would like to confirm the percentage of seedlings that are discarded each year. Can anyone confirm the percentage of seedlings that are thrown out each year (or lead me to a place that has the information)? I know it is pretty high (about 99.9% - 999 out of 1000), but I am not sure if this is even close to being accurate? I would like to include professional and amateur roses in the count?


Rose Breeding and Fragrance | Archives | Aggie Horticulture

This is just a quote from this article-no study included.

A hybridizer may look over as many as a hundred thousand seedlings each year, with 99 percent discarded at some point during the first growing season. What makes this part of the job even harder than it sounds is that sometimes a promising-looking seedling will not do well when budded onto rootstock and grown outdoors. Conversely, an average-appearing plant may exhibit something special when bud-grafted and grown on.

Plant Answers

A hybridizer may look over as many as a hundred thousand seedlings each year, with 99 percent discarded at some point during the first growing season. What makes this part of the job even more difficult than it sounds is that sometimes a promising?looking seedling will not do well when budded onto rootstock and grown outdoors. Conversely, an average?appearing plant may exhibit something special when bud?grafted and grown on.

With maybe a little “borrowing of words”?

I discarded less than 5 percent this year. I planted them all out in the field to see how they do. I probably have around two thousand seedlings (many open pollinated). I’ll let them be for about three years, only discarding the real obvious losers, but eventually will dig up and move any promising plants and plow the rest under. How many will be dug and saved? Only time will tell, but I would guess about twenty.


This is a discussion I read sometime ago on Garden Web, with (if I remember right) some referrals to what you might be writing about.

This is what I’ve written:

“As we look out in our gardens, we see all of the beautiful and colorful roses we have growing there. More often than not, we never really consider what happens behind the scenes at the nurseries before a rose is introduced. When a new rose is chosen to be introduced, it is usually only one of only a very select few that are chosen among the thousands of seedlings produced every year. The fate of 99.9% of the seedlings raised each year is usually the compost heap. Hybridizers must make the monumental decision of which one of their “babies” is to be kept, and which ones have to be discarded. We would love to keep them all, but there simply just isn’t enough time or resources to keep them. Seedlings that have disease issues are just simply discarded, no matter how pretty, or fragrant, or novel they may be. Many seedlings end up in the compost heap because they aren’t what the hybridizer was expecting with his/her crosses. Many, many more end up in the compost heap simply because they are pink.”


J&P published years ago that only one in ten thousand seedlings ever made it to market. I wonder, other then them and Meilland, would anyone else ever raise that many seedlings from which to cull?


Our experience as backyard hybridizers for past 30 yrs:

About 3000 seedlings produced; of these, 3 (0.1%) are keepers,

the rest (99.9%) discarded.

So our experience corroborates the 99.9% discard rate mentioned above.

Fat lot of good it did for J&P. As for Meilland, the irony is that it took somebody elses’ rose (Knockout) to save their backsides. The numbers game is clearly over.

Andy, I’d say there is a very wide range of culling. You might think of it as the “perfection effect” The first bicycle was not culled. but who knows how many iterations of the drawings, mock-ups and test versions were done to get the latest professional race version. You can bet that Pernet-Ducher didn’t toss over 99% of his seedlings. In fact looking at Soliel d’Or I’d say it was maybe not even 9/10. And you know that Knock Out came from a relatively small, carefully selected population. But when trying to get something for a AARS winner building on a base of Peace, Crimson Glory, and half a dozen others, it might take some thousands to do better.

My personal experience is that I keep one out of every few hundred averaged overall. But with wide crosses like Austrian Copper onto Carefree Beauty, the one I kept came from a few hundred total seeds, which yielded maybe 100 seedlings.

van Fleet, doing wide crosses surely didn’t deal in many thousands to get the dozens that he considered worth keeping. And Griffith Buck didn’t have the staff to raise enormous quantities. More like what Joe is doing. Same approach exactly. Grow them under natural conditions; plow under the failures.

“…percentage of seedlings that are discarded each year…”

As I am looking for horizontal resistance, I do not intentionally discard seedlings for four years along which 0,1 to 5% are selected and preserved.

I would also say it depends on what kind of crosses were done as well (like Larry was saying)… if all you are doing is modern x modern blah blah blah then 99.9% of your seedlings are going to be the same anyway and it will take you that many to find the needle in the haystack. If you are doing smaller numbers of crosses and crossing smarter then I reckon the numbers of culls will be smaller. When doing species crosses the numbers kept are much higher because just getting something in the first place is something to rejoice! Out of several hundred seeds I got from sinowilsonii only one came up… and that was by embryo extraction (born by cesarian section :wink: )… I am keeping that one regardless…

I also +1 Don’s statement… the numbers game is over… thank goodness!

Andy… I REALLY don’t want to keep all my babies either :wink: Roses are such a mixed up group that a lot of times I can’t even stand to look at my babies… bless their cotton socks…

I do not have too many seedlings. Most of my crosses have a species rose either as a direct parent or as a grandparent. I do very few modern x modern. This year I did more modern x modern because I am still waiting for some of these species to bloom inorder to weed them out. I been only weeding out the really badly pm affected roses and the weak growers the first year. This leaves about 40 to 30 percent of moderns and 60 to 50 percent of species type crosses. Then I let winter take care of the seedlings. Winter in my part of Colorado tends to be a mix of temps from low 80s to - 0 temperatures and large parts of it is really dry. So this takes out most of the modern roses by the next year. The species for the most part survive this mainly because of what species I used (a lot of rugosa, R. folioisa and plant with a lot of species in them like William Baffin). After that I been waiting for flowers to develop and seeing how the plants develope. Right now I have 5 of about 50 modern roses from last year plantings and 50 of about 75 of species or near species crosses left. Next year I am hoping to reduce the species crosses to more than half. I know now 2 of the modern ones are already destined for the compost pile due to PM issues, I also have 5 species crosses that have the same issue but I want to see the blooms first so they will survive the year. I do have two species seedlings that will make it to the next round one is Rise N Shine x L83 seedling and the other is a Gala x William Baffin. The first seems like a ounce bloomer the other seems like it will bloom like William Baffin (mainly once but with occasional blooms after that).

[flickr_photo src= nsid=78328976@N05 id=7540823520]HPIM3220[/flickr_photo]

This is the Gala x William Baffin. I was a little surprised to see the color. But it seems like it will make a great plant for a landscape if only it would bloom more. But it may be a step in the right direction.

Oh since this picture was taken it has went from one stem to four.

I think what you have written is plenty accurate enough. Obviously, the value any individual hybridizer places in any given baby is going to be a very subjective process based on experience, resources, history, goals, rate of production, energy level, erratic mood swings, and phases of the moon.

But when you consider the obscene number of crosses done world-wide in any given year, and the miniscule number that make it to market, you are looking at a very small percentage.

Actively “discarded” by an amateur hybridizer is a very different matter from “unsuccessful” or “never introduced”, and objective measurements could only be obtained from larger growers. Polling the group of hybridizers on this forum would give a very small piece of the picture, alas.

I too have wondered what other’s rates of rejection are. My historical rate of non-successes is about 100%, thus far. Given the small number I’ve crossed, 99.9% rounds up to that, so I’m comfortable with that estimate. :wink:

The American Rose, p. 32-33 (1969)

Roses of Health and Vigor - My First Aim

Sam McGredy, Northern Ireland

"We begin by budding five of any variety that has looked promising in the greenhouse; from up to 150,000 seedlings germinated inside, we may bud some three or four thousand different varieties in the first year.

“In the second year we re-bud the best of the fives in groups of twenty-five. It is then that brutal selection down to the thirty most promising varieties begins. In our daily inspections, we delete those which show flaws - like mildew or blackspot, and those which are unlikely to bloom well in the second flush, those that lost color, etc. Our first choice in trial grounds is the Royal National Rose Society’s at St. Albans. Each year they receive from us up to thirty different varieties. In the following years we re-select five or six for cultivation and observation in internationally recognized trial grounds around the world.”

That’s just 5 or 6 out of 150,000 that are even tested internationally.


LOL…this all kinda makes me think what I have always thought …that numbers breeding does not equal smart breeding …


Thank you all for your input. It does seem as though my percentage is correct (maybe even a little low). I feel more confident in submitting my article now.

As for my own seedlings and culling in my garden, I’m still in the stage where I’m keeping them all, unless they are really, really bad. This is only my second year that I have successfully germinated my own crosses. I think that I will be culling a lot more next year after I get a new batch of seedlings. I’ll be less tolerant of a lot of so-so seedlings that all look the same. It’s all part of the learning curve with this hobby.


If I’m reading Viviand-Morel (1894) correctly, Pernet-Ducher raised only two seedlings from his initial cross, one of which was ‘Soleil d’Or’. The other was a single-flowered bicolor, and seed-sterile.

And if memory serves (I’m not betting), Wilhelm Kordes wrote somewhere that about 1 in 3000 of his seedlings was worth introducing. And also as I recall, he had a specific goal in mind when he was working towards ‘Crimson Glory’, a crimson version of ‘Mme Caroline Testout’ and ‘Lady Mary Fitzwilliam’. He almost stopped with ‘Cathrine Kordes’, but made one more try. It’s a pity, though, that despite its beauty and fame (and value as a breeder), ‘Crimson Glory’ isn’t as durable and vigorous as Testout and Fitzwilliam. The ‘Crimson Glory’ at the Heritage Garden (San Jose) never got established, while the two old varieties were thriving when I saw them last, two years ago.

I’ve often thought it might be possible to achieve Kordes’ goal by taking a step backwards, crossing ‘Crimson Glory’ to a red Tea – if there were any really good, deep red Teas. ‘Princesse de Sagan’, for example, appears to be more China than Tea. So, the first step would be to breed a deep red Tea with the form of ‘Maman Cochet’ or ‘Devoniensis’ or ‘Marechal Niel’.



Hybridizing roses is probably the biggest “crap shoot” we ever can play, even though we try to make "smarter"crosses in the attempt to get something that we are looking for, we typically end up with a lot of them that are nowhere near what we thought we would get. When we consider, or take the time to look up a parentage tree, we see that there are so many different types of roses in that tree going back many generations. These traits can, and did, crop up in our seedling bed. We often did some unusual crosses just to satisfy our curiosity of what we might get if we cross ‘A’ x ‘X’, which we sometimes did. This is why hybridizing as amateurs was so fun - no pressure to have a marketable rose! We always planted what ever seedings resulted, but so often Mother Nature made the ultimate decision as to which ones didn’t make it. With over 30 years of experience with thousands of seeds, the number that we kept and are still growing around here can be counted if, after using my fingers, take off my shoes. Bottom line after all this rambling - I agree with your article and your conclusion.

Isn’t this a wonderful hobby? Sharing tibbits of tantalizing trivia with fellow hybridizers all over the world makes it so much more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite stories about seedling selection was told to me by Harm Saville.

Many years ago (1987) when he was doing his seedling selection from the thousands in his greenhouse, he dumped his rejected seedlings, as was his habit, on his compost pile. Sometime later the neighbor boy saw the roses and asked if he could have ‘this’ one.

Harm took another look at it and decided he may have made a hasty mistake and offered the boy a different rose and ended up introducing the rose the boy had asked for. The variety? Adam’s Smile.