The market for roses and rose breeding

I recall not too many years ago, many folks took a pretty bleak tone about the state of the market for roses. With the exception of the Knockout Rose, it seemed roses from the 1960’s and 70’s were still the bulk of whatever was appearing at garden centers, some or the rose houses were closing, the ARA went to heck, etc.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but Star seems to be successfully pumping out newer cultivars filling all the big box stores. I wish there were more breeding/distributing channels, personally, but I’m wondering if there is in fact a mini renaissance in the rose market.


Although I still spend most of my rose budget online, I would say that where I’m at, while the selection provided at retail centers is not what it was yet, it is getting a lot better than it has been.

In the Houston area if you know where to go, and go early, you can find most of the old classics, as well as recent ARS winners, along with a fair selection new roses too.

Not to pick on KO, but people are fickle and petty, and now there are lots and lots that no longer want it planted in their yards - strictly because KO is everywhere - and believe it or not, some don’t even know it’s a rose.

It was a cycle and we are just now coming out of it. I just hate the effect it had on some of the guardians of our hobby.

Support the online collector/nurseries is my motto!


Since at least the time of the American and French Revolutions successful hybridizers have been tied at the hip to successful nurseries, which is to say they benefited from strong marketing enterprises.

As with all art forms, patronage played a huge roll in rose breeding throughout the period, from the European aristocracies to Guilded Age barons. The big money, though, came with the expansion of the middle class. Roses, as distinct from other floriculture, came to prominence in America beginning about 1900 when a group of savvy promoters in the nursery business latched on to the burgeoning housing industry and the growing conservation movement that morphed into institutions like the Audubon Society and the America Rose Society and which, in turn, promoted the municipal and national parks movements.

As a result of this history the market for roses has been dichotomous. Some of the effort and money was directed toward status seeking which fueled the market for thorough-bred trophies. The balance of investment, and the larger part of the pie, fueled the landscape market.

By the 1960’s trophy roses had reached a zenith in the various forms of the hybrid tea rose. This coincided with the rise of the post-war baby boomers whose peak population was born in 1954. Some of these boomers adopted rose growing as a hobby (the trophy market writ large) but many more used them to landscape the vast suburban sprawl they created.

The correlation with the middle class continues to dominate the rose business. The hand that giveth also taketh away - as size of the middle class diminishes and as the boomers die off so does the market for roses. Data from the TAMU/RHS survey we conducted a few years ago showed that the average age of a member of the American Rose Society was between 55 and 70 years old. It is no coincidence that the ARS budget has collapsed. The same forces have caused the commodity rose market to collapse such that it cannot support entrepreneurship in rose hybridizing leaving only the largest, mass production shops to feed the horticultural pipeline.

None of this is news. The question is, what comes next?

I’m wondering if there is in fact a mini renaissance in the rose market.

I think it is more than a mini-renaissance. There are 126 million households in the USA and the number will only grow as the next population wave hits which, btw, is half again larger than the boomers. Nearly 2/3 of these households live in detached homes, about 75 million houses, so that market is pretty big. The municipal and highway landscape market is also a player here. To be sure the trophy market has all but disappeared despite the abundance of hybrid teas available from the discount houses which actually are feeding the landscape market. The biggest problem with the loss of the trophy market is the loss of synergy with the landscape market. The promotional value of the ARS to the landscape market was enormous.

On the supply side, small mom and pop shops are nearly gone but big business has not abandoned the market. Phillip mentioned Star which has been hoovered up by Ball which previously had no interest in the rose market so they must think there is opportunity. By my count that leave four big marketer-growers standing in the rose business in the USA - Bailey, Ball/Star, J&P/Park, Gardens Alive - and a cluster of contract growers in Texas such as Certified and Mea.

I wish there were more breeding/distributing channels

If you search the archives somewhere you will find a post in which Jacque Ferar, the gatekeeper at Star, points to the importance of abundant color in marketing a rose. To that I would add disease resistance and hardiness. Bill Radler’s gene pool are the reason for Star’s success because it fits this model. In addition to Star, Ball recently scarfed up Newflora which had been sitting on the American license for Kordes gene pool as well as the gene reserve itself. This postures them to dominate the market as it continues to improve. It also means that they can fill their needs in-house as can J&P/Park and Gardens Alive all of which still have their own breeders and genetic reserve. Bailey lacks a breeder but it does still have the reserve left by Ping Lim who has retired from them but does continue to breed roses.

I said at the beginning that successful rose breeders have always benefited from strong marketing enterprises. In the past this meant they were hooked directly to a large nursery. Marketing has shifted online, and the production portion of the industry has changed enough to lower the barriers to new entrants. The existence of contract propagators and contract growers means that the little guy now can bypass the big institutions. There is room for a disruptor.