A reader asked me about “Rainbow Rose” seeds, offered on the Internet with a photo of a spectacularly multicolored rose. She wanted to know if it was true that she could get flowers like that from seed.
The answer is no. No rose seed will ever give a flower like the one above. The whole thing is a rip-off.
You can, however, easily create your own rainbow rose at home. All you need is a long-stemmed white or cream-colored rose (easily available at any florist) and vegetable dye.
For the multicolor effect, prepare 3, 4 or 5 glasses of water and add a different color of vegetable dye to each glass. Now, using a knife, split the rose stem lengthwise into 3, 4 or 5 sections about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) in length. Next insert each stem section into a different glass. Within hours, the dye will rise into the petals of the flower, giving you a rainbow rose (also called a tie-dye rose).
You can also make rainbow carnations or even rainbow orchids using the same method. The important thing is to start with a white flower or at least, one of a very pale color. The vegetal dye won’t be as effective if you use a dark-colored flower, as its natural color will dominate.
What Is in a Packet of Rainbow Rose Seeds?
Who knows? The type of vendor that sells seeds based on a false photo may well have put any kind of seed in the packet. Even weed seed!
However, assuming the pack does contain rose seeds, here’s what’s likely to happen.
Vendors of “rainbow rose” seeds and other impossible plant oddities rely on the fact that very few people actually succeed in germinating the seeds they sell and even fewer ever get them to bloom. If the plants don’t germinate, or die before blooming, who’s going to complain?
I suspect that, if the vendor is at least semi-legitimate, the seed packet actually does contain rose seeds, but seed from a mix of rose varieties: reds, pinks, whites, oranges, etc. That really would give a “rainbow of colors” of a sort. If so, I guess they can legitimately claim that they delivered the goods: rainbow-colored roses, although nothing that even remotely resembles the photo accompanying the ad.
Don’t Trust the Germination Information
Suppose you do buy rainbow rose seeds. If so, do not follow the instructions that come with them. They simply suggest sowing the seeds and keeping them in a warm spot … pretty much a guarantee you’ll get little or no germination. That’s because most rose seeds need a cold treatment (cold stratification) to germinate well.
Here’s how to really get rose seeds to germinate:
Sow the seeds in a pot of moist potting mix, ideally in December or January, covering the seeds with about 1/4 inch (5 mm) of mix. Place the pot in a transparent plastic bag and seal it. Put the bag in the refrigerator and leave it there for at least 10-12 weeks. Afterwards, place the bag in a warm spot (about 72?F/21?C) with good light but little or no direct sun.
Germination can take 2-6 weeks. When the plants do come up, remove the bag and move the seedlings to a sunny window. Water as needed so they don’t dry out. When they have four leaves, transplant them into individual pots.
When summer arrives, acclimate the young plants to outdoor conditions, then plant them in a sunny location. Most roses won’t bloom before their second or even third year. Be forewarned these will not likely be award-winning roses, but are more likely be small-flowered and rather scrawny plants.
The Laidback Route to Rainbow Roses
So, do you still want to grow roses in a rainbow of colors? My suggestion is to buy a half dozen or so quality, disease-resistant, reblooming, and, if you live in a cold climate as I do, hardy roses from a local nursery. It’s faster and the results really will meet your expectations!
Based on an article originally published on September 8, 2015.