Growing Dr. Huey Rose

Dr Huey, introduced in 1914, is a dark red hybrid wichurana climbing rose now used primarily in the rose breeding business as a rootstock for budded roses.

The discovery and identification of this rose growing in our new garden solved a long-running mystery for me. I’d often wondered, as I drove through the older neighborhoods in our former stomping grounds, what that variety of dark red rose was that was growing in everyone’s front yard. When we arrived at our new home in 2009, I noticed we had a sad looking little rose growing in an abandoned garden and recognized it immediately as the rose I had seen so often before. I guessed that it was the rootstock of a long-dead hybrid tea and as I nurtured it and watched it grow and flower beautifully, I dug in to do some research and discovered I was growing the Dr. Huey rose.

Dr Huey has semi-double flowers with approximately 15 velvety-red petals opening to reveal prominent yellow stamens.

Dr. Huey (sometimes referred to as “Shafter”) was bred by Captain George C. Thomas in 1914 and introduced in 1920 by Bobbink and Atkins. It is quite possibly, inadvertently, the most widely grown rose in the United States,  but more on that later. A Hybrid Wichurana (a rambler which can also be trained as a climber), Dr. Huey bears gorgeous clusters of deep red, semi-double blossoms with prominent yellow stamens in the late spring/early summer.

Dr. Huey’s scent is very light, almost completely imperceptible.

Dr. Huey is a gorgeous rose, but for me has one very annoying pitfall: it’s susceptibility to fungal disease. In our garden, after it blooms, every single leaf succumbs to black spot and eventually drops off despite my ministrations. Yet what Dr. Huey lacks in disease resistance, scent (I do not notice any), and lack of any repeat bloom, it makes up for in charm (when it’s blooming) and it’s sheer willingness to survive. In spite of it basically becoming completely defoliated by the end of summer and into autumn, it surprises me by returning the following spring grander than could be expected.

In our garden, Dr. Huey completely succumbs to blackspot, and yet still manages to return the following spring grander than before.

It’s due to this incredible vigor that Dr. Huey is widely used as a rootstock for grafting bud eyes in the business of rose breeding and large-scale production. It offers ease of propagation and adaptability to various growing conditions and it’s negative traits (such as it’s susceptibility to mildew and black spot) do not pass on to the grafted rose.

Dr. Huey is used almost exclusively as a rootstock for grafting bud eyes in the business of rose breeding and large-scale production.

It’s quite possible that like me, you’ve already seen Dr. Huey growing rampant in older neighborhoods, abandoned gardens, and cemeteries. Or maybe you’ve wondered what that dark red rose is that suddenly appeared where your hybrid tea used to be. In colder zones, we’re taught to protect bud unions by planting it several inches below the soil line, and to remove suckers (canes that emerge from below the bud union). However, more often than not, the wrong rose is chosen for the wrong place, and diseased canes are removed (or they just die back) and the stronger, healthier canes emerging from the rootstock are left to consume the original rose. Over time, as the grafted rose dies, Dr. Huey flourishes, and that’s probably why it has become so prevalent.

Dr. Huey’s blossoms start out a deep, scarlet red, and then change to a dark magenta as they fade.

Dr. Huey blooms on year-old wood so if pruning is necessary, it should be done immediately after flowering. Ramblers such as Dr. Huey often produce quite a few basal breaks (new canes), so removing older ones will make for a healthier and more productive rose. Training the canes horizontally on a support will also increase the number of blooms. (Strips of old pantyhose are great for attaching canes to supports; a tip I learned from Martha Stewart.)

Dr. Huey is hardy to zones 5-9 and is tolerant of shade and poorer soil conditions.

On paper, Dr. Huey is not recommended to grow for it’s own sake. Even the American Rose Society scores it as “below average,” and yet somehow I couldn’t imagine our garden without it. Does that make sense? Of course not. But sometimes, you just can’t quantify a rose’s charms.

20 thoughts on “Growing Dr. Huey Rose

  1. Fascinating! I have at least 5 of these red climbers that fit your description. I came to your site because I was looking for info about own-root roses vs. grafted. I had no idea these might be the roots of other varieties. Now I will probably dig all of them out, even though they are nice in spring.

    1. Hi Caroline! Glad I could help! ‘Dr Huey’ is a very pretty rose, but I agree, he really only looks best in the spring. Carolyn Parker of “Rose Notes” writes a nice post about ‘Dr Huey’ which can be found HERE if you’re interested.

  2. Do not panic when you have seen the unexpected guest emerge from the bottom below the bud union of your beautiful rose. There are three ways to deal with it.
    1. If you treat it like unexpected sucker, just cut and remove it.
    2. You can save it and let it grow stronger for future use as a rootstock cutting, I found the best time to make cutting in Las Vegas (Zone 8b~9a), Southern Nevada is September to October.
    3. If the sucker comes form the bottom of a dead plant or weak plant. Then you can save and train it to your favorite size and graft it with your favorite variety.
    4. For #2 & #3, make sure the Dr Huey sucker not showing any symptom of being virus infested. If so, just cut and discard, do not save for cutting or rootstock.use.

        1. Hi Joe, I’d be happy to look at your photos. You can reach me via the contact tab at the top of your screen.
          ~Laurie

  3. I’ve been trying to figure out who Dr. Huey was named after and the history behind the man not the rose? I know the doctor well in our garden.
    I’ve been working on a rose blog and today is Day 74. It is the 50th Anniversary of The Rose Cottage my Mother’s rose garden. She passed last October after a long hard journey with Alzheimer’s and it is in her honor. Over the last 50 years I have learned a great deal about roses that I am now sharing with photographs, illustrations, books, and the roses in the garden.
    thanks you
    judyaustin

  4. Thank you so much! I bought a house and moved last June and when I was looking at the house, there was a rose with a few red/magenta blooms. I was excited – my very own rose at my very own house! But it never bloomed again. Someone recently suggested that it might be Dr. Huey and that the original rose died and the remaining root stock has continued to grow. After reading your post, I think that indeed I do have a Dr. Huey. They person who suggested it also recommended that I remove him, but I have grown somewhat fond of him and don’t think I can do that.

    1. Hi Amber, I’m so glad this post was helpful to you!
      I think Dr Huey is very beautiful when it blooms, so I agree with you, if you love it then why not keep it? Roses are meant to be enjoyed after all! 🙂

  5. Before moving to my new house, took cuttings from all the plants in the garden of my old house, including a gorgeous David Austin rose, of which I planted 9 in a row at the front of my house. This means that all of the roses were self rooted. It came as a surprise to me to find that somehow, I managed to get a root cutting from the original parent plant as I found the Dr growing happily among my David Austin roses. I dug the Dr out and planted it in a pot, my neighbour saw it, liked it and so I gave it to her after explaining that it was actually rootstock. Last summer I discovered a couple more Dr Hueys popping up next to roses I have purchased since moving here, they too have been removed and are now growing in pots.

  6. I found Dr. Huey growing in my back garden just yesterday.

    When we bought the house almost 30 years ago their was an heirloom rose bush in back, one of the first to ever be deliberately cultivated, almost like wild roses except for the color. And this year two stems of it bloomed dark red and fully double, unlike the others.

    I kind of like the double bush, but I guess I’ll need to take a cutting from the older rose and grow it with its own roots if I want to protect it. I wonder why it took so long for Dr. Huey to show up.

  7. After all these years–we owned the house since the 90’s, I finally understand why I have all these red roses! Last summer I bought autumn Sunset; this spring suddenly it was vigorous, and came out red.
    Question: how do I know if the original graft is dead?

    1. Hi Edwina! Sometimes you’ll see both Dr Huey and the rose you wanted sort of growing together, in which case you can still salvage the original by removing the suckering Dr Huey canes. If you haven’t seen the other rose in a while though, chances are pretty good it’s not coming back.

  8. I have mixed emotions about Dr Huey. When I was first noticing roses in my mother’s yard some years ago, I was excited at ANY rose. And the flowers were pretty, passionately dark, and numerous when they came, seemingly without any effort on my or my mother’s part…so I enjoyed it for some years…until I really got into growing roses deliberately, which was about five years ago.

    I realized it had grown out from an old Bob Hope rose my dad had planted, back in the early 1980s. Then, after he died, we had forgotten to do anything with that rose…really didn’t know anything about them…and this other one eventually showed up in place of the original.

    So…after I became oh-so-sophisticated about this matter…once I knew it was a reliable vector for fungal diseases and only bloomed once in the year, and then the leaves would spot horribly and drop off, looking horrid for the rest of the growing season, I became annoyed by it and tried to eradicate it. I also would have liked the space it took up for something else—like another rose. Our flower beds aren’t that big, and we only have a few sweet spots around the house that get full sun; we have too many huge overshadowing evergreen trees my mother will not allow me to remove, even though they threaten the house. Oh yes. Well…

    Dr Huey does not wish to be eradicated, as anyone who has had it knows. You chop it down repeatedly, it grows back—a week or so later, it has burst forth with renewed vigor, sending up its dark red shoots. As I understand it, you have to go after the roots, which I never had the arm strength to do; they are too well established. But as of this year, I thought we had finally gotten rid of it—in fall of 2014, my mother put in propane tanks back in the late fall to run her new gas generator, and these tanks were put in on top of Dr Huey. I thought, no more of this! No room for it. Well, yesterday, in late June 2016, I found some canes growing up out of the seeming nothing below. Dark red ones. The old fellow. Dr Huey again. I chopped it back, but without any confidence I would succeed in destroying it. I’ll keep chopping, doubtless, but basically, I’ve given up on the idea it will ever die—at this point, I don’t intend to grow any more roses near this plant, so if it grows, it grows.

    My mother doesn’t mind it, in fact she thinks it deserves to grow if it is that insistent. But I’m totally over any great appreciation for Dr Huey…I can’t go back. It’s become a symbol of a gardener’s will being continually thwarted! A reminder almost as painful as the memory of all the rose bushes (at least twenty, after that great growing season of my first year, 2011) that I lost in 2012, 2013, 2014, to strange weather patterns, odd seasonal cycles, and deer munching in CT—through all this, Dr Huey prevails. (I finally gave up in 2013, 2014, and 2015 in putting in any new roses, except a couple in containers, which the deer ate. I just couldn’t take the disappointment of new failures. I tried everything to keep roses—but the weather was amok, stemming from the earthquake in Japan back in late 2011, which shifted the axis of our planet at least 2 degrees and messed up our seasons—too much wet at a time, too many bugs after the wet, too much heat suddenly and no rain, all in one summer—then cold spells in July—just constant awfulness that seemed designed to destroy anything but lilies and irises).

    I can’t afford to put in raised beds, so I’m doing container roses now. Better than none!

  9. Does anyone have ideas on how to encourage my rose plant, that’s probably a Dr. Huey, to bloom? I live in NH, zone 4. The plant has been extremely vigorous and the foliage healthy looking for 2 years, but no blooms. At another house 20 years ago and 20 miles from here, I had what certainly looked like current photos of Dr. H. It would be covered with beautiful dark red blooms for several weeks in June, but I think it only bloomed ever other year.

  10. I am so happy to have found this site! Ive been trying to figure out what happened to my once beautiful Snowfire. It was always my childrens favorite, but that was 20 years ago. The homestead was vacant for quite some time, and as i pruned the old roses i had planted many years ago, i was puzzled by this rose that had taken the place of my Snowfire. Dr Huey is a beautiful addition, and i now have a new Snowfire to add back to the rose garden. Thank you for this information.

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