Happy Mother’s Day! I hope that all the mothers among my readers receive the attention they deserve from their children and grandchildren today, at least a phone call, but even better, a restaurant meal, a bouquet of roses or a potted plant… and lots of hugs and kisses!
But did you know that there is actually a ‘Mother’s Day’ rose? One that is rarely sold on any other occasion? Maybe you’ll receive one today (kids, take that as a hint!).
The Story of Rosa ‘Mother’s Day’
The rose we now call ‘Mother’s Day’ was discovered in the late 1940s by nursery owner F. J. Grootendorst of F.J. Grootendorst & Sons nursery in Boskoop, The Netherlands. He noticed a mutation on a plant of ‘Dick Koster’, a small polyantha rose very popular at the time. Rather than medium pink flowers, the normal color for this cultivar, this one branch bore dark red blooms.
Grootendorst took a cutting of the mutation and rooted it. He soon found it was stable (not inclined to revert to its original color) and began to produce it and sell it, launching it in 1949 under the name ‘Morsdag’, Danish for Mother’s Day.
No one knows why exactly why Mr. Grootendorst chose this name, nor why a Dutchman would have picked a Danish name for his new rose, but it turned out to be an excellent marketing ploy. The public loved the idea! Right from the start, it was distributed with its name translated into the local language of the country where it was being sold: ‘Mother’s Day’ in English-speaking countries, ‘Muttertag’ in Germany, ‘Fête des Mères’ in France, etc. (That would be considered an illegitimate practice today, but in the 1950s, you could still get away with it.)
Moreover, the rose was of modest size and easy to force under greenhouse conditions, therefore, it was simple to produce commercially for sale around Mother’s Day.
‘Mother’s Day’ quickly became a classic plant for this special day. Today, nearly 70 years later, hundreds of thousands are still produced annually, solely for a sale on and around Mother’s Day weekend. You simply can’t find this rose at any other time, so, if you want to offer it to your mom, now’s the right time!
Cute as a Button
‘Mother’s Day’ is a small shrub rose about 12 to 30 inches (30 to 75 cm) high (taller in mild climates). It’s a polyantha, a small size rose bush with clusters of flowers, just a few steps up from a miniature rose. ‘Mother’s Day’ produces abundant stems of semi-double globular dark red flowers in clusters of 5 to 20. They are also quite fragrant. The plant reblooms sporadically throughout the summer season.
After the success of ‘Mother’s Day’, other rose bushes with similar colors but different colors appeared on the market, most in fact mutations from ‘Mother’s Day’. There is now a ‘Mother’s Day Orange’ (orange-red), a ‘Mother’s Day White’ (white sometimes flushed with pale pink), a ‘Mother’s Day Pink’ (deep pink) and others.
You’ll also see miniature roses, often with no cultivar name, on sale at Mother’s Day. They come in a wide range of colors and shapes. All these small roses make interesting living gifts for Mom.
Into the Garden
Given that this rose sells so well at Mother’s Day, it’s surprising that it’s not seen more often in gardens. But there’s a reason for that.
Since ‘Mother’s Day’ is offered as a “gift plant,” Mom presumes it’s designed to live out its life indoors and sets on a dining room table or on a mantelpiece. And it’s tough enough to tolerate that … for a week or two, maybe three, but not much more. Soon, not only have its flowers faded, but its foliage has rolled up, yellowed and dropped off, a victim of spider mites. Thus the little rose bush ends up dead, not because of any true negligence, but because it was placed in an environment that didn’t suit it.
For real long-term success with ‘Mother’s Day’, remember it’s a rose bush, not a houseplant, and that roses belong outdoors. It simply will not tolerate the constant warmth, weak light and low humidity of the average home.
When you offer it to Mom—and it’s a gift I’m sure she’ll appreciate! —, tell her she shouldn’t keep it indoors more than a week; that after that, she has to put it outdoors. As it comes straight from a greenhouse and is therefore not acclimatized to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, suggest she harden it off by putting it in shade for two or three days, then in part shade two or three days before exposing it to the full sunlight it will eventually need.
Of course, spring is spring and frost is possible in many areas throughout May. If frost threatens while hers is in bloom, have her move it overnight to a frost-free spot. Better a shed or garage, where it’s cool, than inside her house.
Care is pretty basic while ‘Mother’s Day’ is in bloom: just make sure Mom waters it when the soil is dry to the touch. Plus she can remove any faded flowers. Otherwise that’s all the care it needs… for now.
When that first flush of bloom comes to an end, it’s time to plant it out permanently.
Remove the faded flowers and flower stalks and plant the rosebush in the ground (it’s best in the garden, but can be grown in a large pot in zones 7 to 9) in rich, deep soil somewhere in full sun. Although it may try to rebloom that first summer, don’t let it: remove any flower clusters that form. That’s because you want to encourage the plant to develop a strong root system, which it will fail to do if it’s putting its energy into blooming.
A good thick mulch will probably suffice as protection for its first winter (‘Mother’s Day’ is quite hardy, to about zone 4 or 5). In spring, cut back any dead or weak branches near their base, apply an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer … and let it grow. Normally, ‘Mother’s Day’ will bloom sporadically from June to October, although the first flush is usually the most abundant.
No, in most climates, Mom’s ‘Mother’s Day’ rose will probably never bloom again at Mother’s Day, as the event is held fairly early in May, while in most climates roses start to bloom later than that, in late May or, more likely, June. If you want force it to bloom for Mother’s Day, you’d have had to grow it in a cool greenhouse. However, I’m sure that Mom will love the rose you gave her even if its blooming season is just a bit later than the first year!
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, future mothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-law!