Welcome to the June 2001 edition of my web site! This month's article is by Mel Hulse who shares his technique for propagting roses. Now is the time to start taking cuttings for propagation! For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see "Other resources on this site". To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. If you wish to buy roses, please visit my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose. Thanks!
Rose rustling is great fun! Whether admired in a bouquet, a friend's garden, or found on a Sunday drive, knowing that you can clone the rose that takes your fancy expands your love of your rose growing hobby. Hardwood rooting is a classic amateur method of propagation, but is available only in the winter when you can't see most roses bloom. Bud grafting requires ready root stock and is mostly suited to professionals and experienced amateurs. Softwood rooting is available when you see the rose blooming. I have had the good fortune in turning softwood cuttings into growing bushes planted the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden and others. I've started 1,000s of cuttings with near 100% success when cuttings meet the specs I'm giving you and good success with less select cuttings. Remember that all roses started out as seedlings on their own roots so grafting is not essential to their growth. Old Garden Roses, English Roses, Shrubs, and Miniatures are generally good candidates for rooting cuttings because most grow vigorously on their own roots. Most modern roses such as Hybrid Teas and Floribundas are sold budded onto rootstock. Most newer ones grow well on their own roots; a few do not. A small number of old varieties, such as Spinosissimas and some other roses with dense prickles as well as a few modern roses, are difficult to propagate and may take many tries to gain success. Please remember that asexual reproduction of roses still under patent protection (now 20 years) is illegal, especially if for sale. This technique stresses three goals - Simplicity, successful rooting of your softwood cuttings, and ease of transfer of the rooted cutting to your garden.
At left: An ideal cutting.
For climbers that are sports of a bush form of the same rose. Use the end of a climbing cane rather than a lateral even though it has no bloom on the end. Use of a lateral may cause the climber to revert to the bush form. Nature doesn't always give you the ideal and all of the above guidelines can be broken if necessary, but try for the ideal. Keep the cutting damp until ready to use. Wrap loosely with a wet paper towel and put in a plastic bag. Keep cool. Refrigerate, if possible. Use within a week.
At right: I always try to take the new years growth right down to where it attaches to last years cane. The heel wood is a part of the cane that roots most easily.
At left: The baggie filled with soil and the sides rolled down.
AND INSERT THE CUTTING:
At right: A typical cutting, about 6 inches long with bottom leaves trimmed off.
The cutting will form a whitish callus along this score and along the cut end of the cane. This is where roots emerge.
Dip the bottom inch of the cutting in liquid rooting compound or for powdered rooting compound, water and then the compound and knock off any excess. Place the cutting in the hole you made with your finger with the leaves running the same way as the zip grooves at the top of the bag. Press the potting soil around the cutting. It is best if the cane is slanted from one end of the bag toward the other. Be careful in this process to avoid letting thorns puncture a hole in the bag. If this happens, use another bag. Unfold the top of the bag to be ready to close it. Spray the inside generously with the spray bottle you prepared. If any foreign material got on the zip groves, wash it off with the sprayer. Close the bag from both ends toward the middle leaving an inch unclosed. Be sure you do not catch leaflets in the zip grooves. Blow into the bag to expand it like a balloon and zip it up completely. Put the baggie in bright, indirect light preferably inside. Direct sun will scorch and kill the cuttings.
At right: Inserting the cutting.
From now on, handle the bag from the top. Set it down only on a hard, flat surface (not your knee.) The idea is minimum displacement of the cane and new roots. Note: While not recommended, it is possible to root 2 or 3 cuttings in a single bag if you are pressed for space. Sorting out roots during potting or later planting will be a potential source for loss. I have found that with 4 or more cuttings some usually die.
WATCH IT GROW:
At left: The bags with their cuttings placed under lights. A bright place with indirect light is also a good choice.
Below: After 10 to 30 days, you should see roots forming inside the bottom of the bag, as shown here.
AND PLANTING YOUR TREASURE:
At right: Once the root system is sufficiently developed, as it is here, carefully remove the plant with soil intact. Be sure to cradle the root mass carefully to avoid too much trauma. The roots are delicate at this stage!
Some potting soil will break off, but don't worry. Once the mass is into the pot, add the soil that broke off and gently firm it into place maximizing the plant position without significant root displacement. Make a tag with the info from the bag. Stick the skewer in the side of the pot and hang the tag on it. Later, when you have a solid cane, you may place the tag there, but don't block buds. Return the potted rose in its saucer to the same location you had it while in the bag. Keep water in the saucer to a level where some air can enter the top of the pot drain holes. This keeps the potting soil "sweet." Leave it there about 4 days. Your eyes will tell you when it is happy enough to move. If your weather permits, 50's nights or above, move it outside. Start in a bright, dappled, shaded location with a little morning sun and slowly move it during a week or two into full sun. Depending on your climate (I'm in USDA zone 9b, Sunset 17), you may need to move it inside at night for a while (I don't). Your eyes should be the judge of how strong the rose is and how fast it can progress. It ain't rocket science, just judgment and, Hey! patience.
If you have a lot of gallon pots with cuttings, an old plastic garbage can lid can be a saucer to seven. After a week or so of success in full sun, continued growth, and given warm weather, plant it in the ground or a large container as you would any other potted rose giving regard to the variety, vigor, and its requirements for space and sunlight. Always plant it or place it in a larger container if roots show at the drain holes. Through all this and for the first month in the garden, make sure it gets water every morning. All of this timing depends on watching the rose. Proceed if the rose is growing and gaining strength, back off if it droops or the leaves brown. And, just like teenagers, some try to flower too soon! Pinch off buds until you have a good strong plant, at least 3 months. (You may cheat and leave one bud to see the first bloom. But then, pinch it off!)
At left: A plant produced by the baggie method, one year after cuttings were taken.
Fertilize with liquid fertilizer or fish emulsion at least every other week. I've also found that misting each morning with the fertilizer/baking soda mix definately promotes healthy growth. Stop fertilizing at the beginning of September in cold country; later in warmer climes. Provide extra protection the first winter.Repeat-blooming roses will usually put forth a first bloom in about 8 weeks. Once blooming roses won't bloom until the next year because they bloom on old wood.
Growing roses from cuttings is not hard. Both the process and the results are fascinating and the roses you grow are somehow more yours to enjoy. This paper expands on instructions in the Rose FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.ars.org.
I acknowledge my debt to rosarian Cheryl Netter who first described the baggy method, nurseryman friend Tom Liggett and others who provided added details and insight. These instructions are tailored to my area (USDA zone 9).
May 23, 2001