Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Everyone knows that the song, The Yellow Rose of Texas, refers to a woman but not everyone knows that there is a rose called The Yellow Rose of Texas. And it's not even from Texas!
What is the Yellow Rose of Texas?
The Yellow rose of Texas is another name for Harison's Yellow which is a hybrid offshoot of Rosa foetid, a yellow rose native to the Caucasus mountains whose flowers have only six petals. Harison's Yellow is a double version. It first appeared as a sport in 1824 in the garden of George F. Harison, an attorney in New York City for whom the rose is named. William Prince, who had a nursery on Long Island, took cuttings from that rose and began to sell it to the public in 1830.
As people spread across the continent, they brought a few reminders of home with them. They had to be small because there was not much space in the Conestoga wagons. Pioneer women often collected seeds from their favorite flowers, herbs and vegetables. They cut canes (woody cuttings) from trees, shrubs, berry bushes and rosebushes. Kept moist during the journey, the canes would have developed roots and been ready to plant when the women reached their new homes.
Harison's Yellow can be found all over the West. They say that you can trace the Oregon Trail by following the bright yellow flowers of this pioneer rose. In Oregon, at the end of the trail, it is known as the Logtown Rose because it is found in so many abandoned logging towns. The buildings may be decaying but those tough roses are still growing heartily.
Harison's Yellow is a shrub rose with canes five to six feet tall. It is extremely hardy. It is rated as perennial through zone 4 but has been observed growing as far south as Texas and as far north as Alaska. It grows in almost any condition from poor soils to very rich soils. Most roses need full sun. In my yard, it grows in partial shade. Like other heirloom roses, it blooms once a year in the spring. My bush is always the first rose to bloom in mid- May. My other heirloom roses follow suit in late May/early June.
How to Prune a Yellow Rose of Texas
Pruning heirloom roses is easier than pruning modern hybrid tea roses. You prune once a year in the early spring just as the plants break their winter dormancy. All you need to do is remove any dead branches or suckers that have developed. Pay especial attention to the bottom of your rosebush. Very often heirloom roses are grafted onto the rootstock of another type of rose. Sometimes the rootstock sprouts and you get branches with different leaves and flowers from the rest of the bush. These are known as suckers. Remove those shoots when you see them start to develop. If you leave them, not only will they detract from the beauty of your rose, but they will also rob your bush of water and nutrients.
You can prune a second time if you like, after the bushes bloom to give them a little shape and to prevent them from sprawling. Heirloom roses can become enormous bushes unlike the well-mannered modern hybrid tea rosebushes.
How to Grow a Yellow Rose of Texas From a Cutting
To propagate your Harison’s Yellow, cut off a branch of your rose that is green and healthy. Strip off all of the leaves from one end and dip that end into rooting hormone. Then you can stick your prepared branch in a container of soil-less mix or directly into the ground in your garden. The rooting hormone will encourage the cutting to develop roots quickly, but you can also do as the pioneer women did and just stick the branch into the ground and keep it moist until it develops new roots.
Taking cuttings in the spring is known as soft wood cuttings because the branches are actively growing. You can also propagate your roses in the late fall or early winter using the same technique. In this case, it’s known as a hard wood cutting because the plant is dormant in the late fall and winter.
How to Grow a Yellow Rose of Texas by Layering
Another easy way to propagate your rose bush is using a technique known as layering. When your rose has finished blooming, bend a couple of branches down until they touch the ground. Anchor the branch to the ground and cover it with soil. You can use the same pins that your use to anchor floating row covers in your vegetable garden. Be careful not to cover the end of the branch with soil. It needs those leaves to feed the branch as it develops roots. Keep it watered. You will know that roots have developed under the soil when you see new growth begin on the exposed part of the branch. Now you can sever the branch from the main bush and plant it elsewhere in your garden.
No matter which part of the country that you live in, you can grow a colorful reminder of our pioneer heritage.
Questions & Answers
Question: Mine has grown quite spindly with a lot of branches with no leaf growth, the good branches aren’t producing any flowers, can you advise, please?
Answer: It sounds like your rose needs a rejuvenation pruning. The existing stems are old and no longer producing flowers. You need to prune them back to about 1 - 2 feet from the ground. This will cause your bush to push out new growth which will bloom for you next year in addition to making the entire plant fuller and healthier.
© 2013 Caren White
Caren White (author) on August 30, 2014:
Gary, not all settlers were farmers. Some were merchants who were very interested in settling in frontier towns. Their wives, sisters and mothers would all have brought reminders of home including their beloved roses. Thank you for reading and commenting.
GaryS1876 on August 28, 2014:
As the iconic Yellow Rose is found wherever settlers found good soil and put down (their) roots, I doubt that logging towns were very inviting for farmers. -- My understanding is that the so-called Logtown Rose was a local Harisons Yellow growing in Jackson Co., Oregon, for which a local poet/logger wrote a poem extolling its charm. It was later planted near the gates of the Logtown Cemetery near Ruch, Jackson Co., Oregon.