‘Knockout’ rose should be named Plant of the Decade

‘Knockout’ rose should be named Plant of the Decade

By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
The powers that be on the national ornamental gardening scene honor, from time to time, certain plants of exceptional merit.
The U.S. Perennial Plant Association names a perennial of the year, for example. Past winners have all proven their merit in dirt gardening experience and my garden and yours harbors several of them at just this moment.
Outstanding annuals, tropical plants, roses, trees and shrubs all have their moment in the sun as various organizations extoll their worth by naming this or that as the such and such of the year.
When the year 2010 rolls around there should be — must be — a plant named “Plant of the Decade” (quotes and caps intentional). There can be only one plant, in my humble opinion, deserving of the title. In fact, I will say, hands down, that the (drum roll) ‘Knockout’ rose deserves any accolade that can be laid in its lap.
I’m not a rosarian. Hybrid teas and most floribundas turn me off because of the incessant poisoning of fungus and varied fauna that prey on them. Black spot fungus is a continual and ongoing problem and, without that constant spray schedule they go down, or are severely debilitated by it.
Likewise, they fall victim to animal life ranging from insects to two-legged vermin such as deer. Yes, believe it or not, deer love roses, thorns and all.
Pruning roses is an exercise in life preservation. In the case of a vigorous climber, for instance, the vicious thorns stab you when your back is turned and, when you spin around to defend yourself, there are other reserves lying in wait to butcher your forefront.
All in all, roses are a problem way out of proportion to their performance. Most of them anyhow. So, why honor one of those derelicts as “Plant of the Decade?”
It’s easy. ‘Knockout’ roses are beset with none, or few, of the troubles that ail most roses and, for once, a plant does everything the hype says it will do.
We have one of the original pink (literature says red) ‘Knockouts,’ in a mixed border, and for its life of four years it has been almost totally free of any kind of problem.
The “almost” is a caveat only because of Japanese beetles, which have become an enormous problem here in recent years. Their palate isn’t confined to roses, as you already know, but they prey on almost anything with a green leaf.
Recently I have added a ‘Blushing Knockout’ and a ‘Rainbow Knockout’ to the repertoire and I have high hopes for them as well. They are, likewise, ensconced in mixed borders, along with perennials, other shrubs, annuals and foliage plants.
With me, roses must be, first of all, quality garden plants. The ‘Knockouts’ are.
Not mentioned in the hype on this line of roses is the fine foliage, particularly on the original pink one and a true red, ‘Home Run.’ The leaves flush a bright maroon, almost as fine as some Japanese maples, and stay that way until bloom starts in early May.
That bloom, incidentally (or not so incidentally) continues, non-stop, right through until fall, and even after the first few frosts. I shear my bush back a bit after the initial flush of flowers and in early spring the plant is cut halfway to the ground, which seems not to delay bloom more than a week or two. In my case I want the shrub to stay under three feet or so.
If a larger bush is desired, the shearing back can be omitted, though it does tend to thicken and shape the plant, creating a more shapely figure. In fact, one of the better shapes among any roses, and certainly no comparison to the bony outline of a hybrid tea or most floribundas.
I have never seen the first indication of black spot on my ‘Knockout,’ and have never sprayed it, except in a futile attempt to thwart Japanese beetles. You might as well let them have their fill until they run their course.
I will predict that the ‘Knockout’ series will continue to be developed with, perhaps, a climbing form in the wings. Imagine, a climber sans blackspot.
For an eye-opening experience in comparing roses, take a short drive to Jackson and view the rose bed at the West Tennessee Experiment Station there. Do it in mid-summer, after blackspot and other devilment have had their day with roses. You will be surprised to see ‘Knockout’ roses in fine fettle, while other lessers around them have gone to the dogs. More of the experiment station anon.
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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Roses are fun. The right ones, that is.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 5.6.08

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