Can a plant be an asshole? Yes.

(TW: bourgeois problems. Also: shameless repost of an old blog entry not shared to Groupthink.)

When I moved into this house, I got a bonus wreck of a garden living on the carcass of an earlier, nice garden. There were surprise day lilies, columbine, crocuses, tulips, vinca, irises, wild strawberries. Rose of Sharon. Quince. Honeysuckle. Many of the weeds are pretty: daisies, goldenrod. I've decided, British-style, that the ground ivy is a valid groundcover. And in the front there are roses โ€” roses! โ€” red and white and well established, though both gangly and victims of brutal pruning . All of the above were and are wildly overgrown and hurting in myriad other ways, but they present a pleasant challenge an a measure of excitement for a first-time homeowner.

Roses. At first I was charmed by the combination of red and white. In front of a white house, it's rather pretty, and it appeals to me more than hot pinks or purplish blooms. I like a pop of color among neutrals. Looking more closely, two of the bushes turned out to be red, though of clearly different varieties and slightly different colors. Two, inexplicably planted almost on top of each other, are white. Another proved to bear bicolor red/white roses, which are neat. One opened a mix of blooms, most red but a very few white.

Eager for a new opportunity for procrastination, I read up. Multiflora. Tea roses. Ramblers. Grafting. Hybrids. Rootstock. Huh. Looking deeper: can I identify my varieties? Well, I keep seeing this dark red, half-double, with a yellow center, and that's a dead ringer for the red blooms on bush with both red and white. Its name is Dr. Huey, and it is an asshole.


Turns out Dr. Huey is widely used as rootstock onto which less vigorous hybrids are grafted. Hybrid care involves watching out for Dr. Huey asserting himself by sending up its own shoots โ€” suckers โ€” from below the graft. They're called suckers because they suck up all the nutrients coming up from the roots before they get to the scion grafted on top, slowly killing it. It's a dick move, really, sending up suckers. Dr. Huey is a dick, and if you want to keep the lovely rose you actually paid for (not that I did in this case), you have to keep him down by tearing off suckers whenever they appear.

On this bush, some of these suckers are two centimeters thick at least. They are like small trees. They loop all over the place and reach through the other bushes over the lawn to a length of twelve feet. The white scion is barely hanging on with a few spindly branches low down.

There will be massive, brutal pruning next spring. It might finish off the white scion. I don't know, but I'm going to try. I'm gonna get you sucka.