Fragrant Rose Production for Small Farm Income Supplement

Final Report for FNC02-422

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $5,529.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,218.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our new farm is 110 acres and is mostly a hobby farm at this time. My husband and I both work jobs outside the home, but are working to develop our acreage into a small cattle and Morgan horse breeding operation.

Before receiving this grant, we had a small 27-acre farm. We implemented the following sustainable practices: One year after we bought this land, we planted a perennial brome grass to stabilize the soil, which was in a highly erodible creek bottom. We also fenced the grazing area into three main pastures in order to rotate grazing and protect the cool season grass from overgrazing in one area. We used a pre-emergent weed control and fertilized yearly. Our horses were not allowed access to the creek for water – water was supplied at a central location at the barn facility.

We moved to a new farm in April of 2003. The new farm consists of approximately 40 percent timber, mostly hardwoods, and 60 percent native pasture. The pasture was severely overgrazed before we bought it and has a significant amount of cedar and brush in the pastures. We burned ¾ of the pasture area in spring of 2005 and will begin to reduce the amount of cedar. We have a pond, which was adversely impacted by the excessive stock load and over grazing, due to the fact that most of the pasture drains to the pond. The pond was completely overgrown with water grasses and algae due to the nutrient load and had only one species of fish, which was in poor condition according to a wildlife biologist evaluation. We have been treating the pond for the past two years and have been able to stock the pond with a variety of species to make it self-sustaining. Catfish, bass, and sunfish are currently doing very well according to a wildlife and game professional who evaluated it in the summer of 2005. Reduced grazing has resulted in reduced nutrient loading and improved the oxygen balance.

1. Explore production of fragrant roses for retail sales at local farmer markets. I undertook this project because I have never seen anyone selling locally grown roses at our local farmer’s market. Although greenhouse roses are sold at local grocery stores, they lack the fragrance that attracts most people to roses. My goal was to evaluate the feasibility of producing only fragrant roses for sale locally.

2. Identify best management practices to reduce water consumption, chemical nutrient use, and pesticide applications. Having grown roses for my own use, I know that they are a high maintenance plant, prone to diseases, and susceptible to pests. I sought to identify production practices that would limit time commitment as much as possible to make the project profitable.

3. Identify rose species most suitable for selling to a local market/customer base. Kansas is not the best locale for growing roses, but many species will thrive here. This project would also seek to identify those species that would thrive and produce enough blossoms to make a profit.

1. Identify roses species most suited for project I began this part of the project by searching the internet and discussing the project with many rose suppliers. I also visited the rose garden at Gage Park in Topeka, Kansas and the rose garden at the city park in Manhattan, Kansas. Although I talked to some local gardeners, I think it would have been more helpful to have made a trip to Kansas City and to Wichita to visit with members of those rose societies to obtain input from local rose enthusiasts in Kansas. In retrospect, I also would have asked to speak with a grower from each rose supplier to ask them for performance details for each rose I was interested in using in the project. Most of my conversations were with sales personnel, who were fairly knowledgeable, but I was unaware that I could have talked to the growers, until the roses were already planted.

2. Identify suppliers with suitable roses/prices/product guarantees
Many roses, especially hybrid teas and many of the modern roses, are hard to find as “own root” stock. Most commercial production suppliers sell hybrid teas and larger flowering species that are grafted onto a vigorous root stock. Many of these plants are sold as two-year-old plants and already have three to four main canes that will produce flowers the first year they are planted in home gardens. They can be purchased as dormant plants (if shipped) or as a “live” plant (usually if bought locally). However, live plants cost up to twice as much as a dormant plant. Roses are also rated and priced as grades, number one or number two quality, or depending on the maturity (seedlings being significantly cheaper than one- or two-year-old plants.)

One supplier in the United States specializes in production of “own-root” roses, Heirloom Roses, out of Oregon. Own-root (OR) roses are not as susceptible to winter kill because there is no graft to protect from harsh winter temperatures. However, own-root roses take longer to establish, and in my situation, the first year seedlings had only one stalk about the size of a pencil. Growth was very good the first year and I had flowers produced on every plant, by the fall season. However, using own-root roses meant that the first year I would probably not get flowers to market, since the plant needed to develop as much as possible. This resulted in minimal pruning to allow for maximum cane and leaf production. Another reason I went with this company’s roses was because they were certified to be virus free. Many roses produced on grafted stock have rose viruses, which limit the plants’ life and ability to maintain vigorous growth for little more than 10 years. Using virus-free stock would increase the long term sustainability of the project. Grafted plants also have fewer canes, which results in less flower production.

Cost was a significant factor. I wanted rose production quickly. If I were to buy two-year-old, grafted roses, I could have had roses to sell the first year. My goal was to plant approximately 120 roses; however, at $24/rose for two-year-old plants, it would have cost $2,880. I chose to buy the own-root rose seedlings at $15/plant. Shipping costs were significant because live plants were shipped, and total cost of 120 of these roses was $2,100 with shipping and tags. Roses were discounted 10 percent by ordering in December of the year before delivery.

3. Evaluate production location and site development needs: soil quality/sun/water supply/accessibility/drainage/winter protection/pest control/air movement. When, we moved to the new farm, there was no yard-brush and small trees had grown up to the house and covered the entire front acreage I planned to use for the raised beds. I could not start the project that year due to the extensive work needed to clear the area for a yard and the gardens. A septic tank and collapsed, non-functional leach field also had to be re-located to a site where a lateral field could be installed.

4. Build garden site; establish plants; evaluate roses; bring to market. Summer 2003 we started preparing the site and had 165 yards of dirt from one of our pastures brought into the area to provide a soil base for the yard where the rose beds would be established. In the late winter of 2004, I began to haul stone in to build terraced beds in the chosen location. Unfortunately, I damaged both of my knees in the process and was unable to continue with that location. Consequently, we altered the project to use only raised beds, in a less desirable area. We purchased old treated logs from the Manhattan City Zoo and hauled over 800 feet of 8 to 15 inch diameter logs into the site for the raised beds. The beds were completed and filled by June and the roses were planted as soon as they arrived. Although this was fairly late for planting them, that summer was very wet and the roses grew exceptionally well. The soil was a mix of native soil that had not been used for crop production and had had no herbicides or pesticides applied to it. Peat moss and a mixture of composted horse manure and hay were mixed into the soil. Old hay was used for mulching to reduce water losses.

No other producers were involved in this project. My original plans were to hold a public event in conjunction with the county extension office. I made plans to have the grower from Heirloom Roses fly out to do a workshop, but had to abandon this event due to scheduling problems. I would still like to hold such an event and invite the rosarian from Gage Gardens in Topeka and members of the Rose Society from Kansas City and Wichita to the to evaluate the project and do presentations for local attendees. Also, I did consult the Horticulture extension agent in Saline County, who previously worked for a commercial rose production business, and has extensive knowledge about commercial rose production. Unfortunately, his approach is one of less tolerance to roses with disease susceptibility and the need for pesticide treatment. (His thoughts supported not growing anything that had to be treated or that was susceptible to black spot, however, in my research, I have found very few roses that are not susceptible to some sort of disease, especially those roses that have great fragrance and visual appeal.) Obviously, if more roses were completely free of susceptibility to disease and pests, more people would landscape with roses or grow them for commercial production. My goal was to explore which species could be used for production with a minimum of pesticide application.

All plants survived the first year and were just budding out when a late freeze in May 2005 killed five plants. Most of the other plants were seriously affected and many of the plants suffered growth set-backs that lasted for almost two months. Flower production came late, with many of the roses not blooming as well as they had at the end of their first growing season.

No flowers were brought to market. Although I put together many bouquets, I could not get more than six fresh bouquets for any market day. Roses could have been sold as singles, but they didn’t hold over very well in a regular refrigerator. I arranged approximately 3 to 7 bouquets (consisting of 5 to 10 flowers) weekly from late June to September. Bouquets were put together each day and lasted from 2 to 4 days, depending on species used. I did not get the number of roses from each plant that I had anticipated, and many of the roses had only a two-day vase life. So, even though I had multiple plants of some of the roses that were highly suited to bouquets or had a vase life long enough to make it to market, there really were just not enough blooms produced. I gave the roses away to friends and some businesses, but didn’t make any profits.

The roses were very labor intensive. Constant pruning and shaping is necessary to keep the plant healthy and to promote bloom production. The plants were hit with mildew early on and then black spot in 2005. This may have been due to the late freeze that weakened all the plants at the beginning of the season. I sprayed some of the plants four times throughout the growing season, but still had trouble keeping some of the plants healthy. Black spot and mildew damage leaves, and if leaves get damaged or drop off the plant, bloom production drops. I spent 15 to 20 hours per week maintaining the plants, collecting blooms and dead-heading those blooms not cut for bouquets. I also transplanted several plants due to overcrowding, which set the plants back in growth and bloom production.

I believe it will be possible to market the flowers, but in a situation where the customers order bouquets for fresh delivery. The heat of the day, as is normal in most farmers’ markets will wilt most of the roses, making a refrigerator or cold-box necessary to get the flowers to the market and the customer in acceptable condition for sale. Also bloom production will have to higher from the existing plants, or more plants of higher production will have to be planted.

In the summer of 2006, I plan to make bouquets available to individuals as the blooms are produced during the week. I will do this by working with several businesses, such as two hair salons, a doctors’ office, and a local restaurant, to place bouquets in their businesses along with my business cards advertising that fresh bouquets are available by order for delivery. I will do the arrangements and deliver bouquets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and will then bring what roses are available to the Saturday farmers’ market. Since I work in town, and would expect to have 2 to 4 bouquets available, it would be a feasible approach to selling the roses. I have been exploring other marketable products I can make using roses, in order to utilize those roses that are produced, but not suitable for bouquets. Roses unsuitable for fresh bouquets can be dried for arrangements and wreaths, made into dry and moist potpourris, sachets, rose-scented bath waters and soap, rose honey and vinegars. These products could supplement the fresh flower bouquets at the Saturday farmers’ market.

I have identified the following roses that have had vigorous growth in my area of Kansas, have high disease resistance, high bloom production numbers with great fragrance, long vase-life, and are well-suited to fresh bouquets. I would like to buy more of these to supplement the number of blooms available for fresh bouquets. However, I will experiment with the marketing, starting with just a few clients and try to develop more of a “word-of-mouth” market for fresh bouquets, before I purchase more plants.

The following plants have proven themselves excellent for growth and numbers of blooms produced suitable for fresh bouquets that last at least four days in the vase:

Double Delight
Jude the Obscure
Sheila’s Perfume
Frederic Mistral
Star of the Nile
Gold Metal
Paul Shirville
Fragrant Plum
Sheer Bliss
Welsh Gold
Lady Jane Grey
Louise Clements

I hope to purchase at least two more of each plant listed above in early 2006 to supplement production of fresh roses for bouquets in following years. Existing roses, which are not suitable for fresh bouquets will be picked as buds for drying, or used in other products to be sold at the farmers’ market on Saturdays or through on-line internet orders.

I learned that growing fragrant roses for selling as fresh flowers or bouquets may not be as profitable as I had anticipated. Based on the amount of work required to keep roses pruned properly and disease-free, it may not be possible to make enough money to be a cost-effective endeavor, if the current bloom production doesn’t improve in the existing rose plants.

However, at this point, I must also take into consideration that fact that all the plants were adversely affected by the late freeze in 2005 and that this coming year will be the third full year of growth for these plants. Some of those plants may just be “slow to establish themselves,” explaining their poor growth rates, other’s may just not be suitable to the Kansas environment and may never thrive or become vigorous enough to produce usable blooms. I expect to see a significant increase in bloom production this year.

I also learned which of the 56 species are well-suited to Kansas and vigorous enough to maintain production rates of 5 to 10 blooms per plant per week (see above list.)

I planned an on-farm workshop with a grower from the company that supplied my roses. I worked with the grower to establish an agenda for rose growth and maintenance, with an afternoon session devoted to products that could be made with roses. Unfortunately, the person who was scheduled to come out had a death in her family and an accident that caused the workshop schedule to be delayed, until it was too late in the season for such an event. I had worked with horticultural extension agents and three local rose societies to secure promotion of the event.

The original proposal also included a study of bloom vase life with a graduate student under Karen Gast, the state farmers’ market representative at Kansas State University. However, she retired in 2004, and that part of the project couldn’t be completed. I would also not have had the budget to complete this part of the project due to the number of rose species that have not produced as expected. However, I did track the vase life of each species. (A table, showing the vase life of the roses Davis studied is available on request. Please send your request to: [email protected] and include the project number: FNC02-422).


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.