Recently, a team of Marin Rose Society members were busy pruning roses in one of our client’s rose garden as part of our annual fundraising project. Some of the team members were gathering cuttings to try their hand at rose propagation. As they were selecting cuttings, most confessed they were not having great success in growing roses from cuttings.
Growing roses from cuttings is easy and an inexpensive way to expand your rose garden. Having some years of success in growing roses from cuttings, I was more than eager to offer some free advice. While not being a specialist on rose propagation from cuttings, my information seemed to exceed their own depth of knowledge. It was suggested that I should share my advice by writing an article – always a good way to get someone to stop talking.
Contrary to common belief, all roses, whether species roses, old garden roses, or modern cultivars, are easily increased from cuttings, even by gardeners with only limited space. Roses are propagated in basically three ways. Cuttings are easiest for most gardeners, although they are not recommended for producing high-quality plants from most modern hybrid tea or floribunda roses. Grafting or T-budding roses, methods favored by commercial growers, require some planning and rootstocks that have been grown on in advance, but they usually produce more vigorous plants. Growing roses from seeds can be very challenging and are usually most reliable with species roses. My experience so far has been confined to growing roses from cuttings, so that method is the one this article will address. I have been growing roses from cuttings for about eight years, and during that time my success rate has improved from dismal to exceeds expectations.
Choose a stem – about the thickness of a pencil or up to a half inch – from the rose you wish to propagate. The wood should be straight (no kinks), ripe (tell by being able to break a thorn off cleanly), and young (from this year’s growth). Cuttings smaller than recommend above, will have very little chance to survive. The cutting has stored food within that will be needed to provide energy to produce roots and leaves. A thin stem does not contain enough food to support the growth of sufficient roots to feed the growth of new leaves.
The cutting should be about nine inches long. Cut just above a bud at the top, and just below a bud at the base. At the bottom of the stem, cut a “X” through the bud. Then remove the leaves and thorns from the bottom half. You can leave a couple of leaf systems at the top of the cutting if you wish, but I remove mine. I want the cuttings to work on developing its root system before using energy on growing leaves.
Softwood Cuttings – Dip the base of the cuttings first in water and then in hormone rooting power, and place in pots of one-gallon or more and about eight inches of planting space deep. (I actually leave my cuttings in a bowl of water for several days before planting.) Sprinkle some sharp sand along the bottom of the pot to improve the drainage. I recommend using a mixture of organic soil and peat moss. I put about six cuttings in a one-gallon pot. Insert each cutting so that it is two-thirds buried, making sure that its base is well into the sharp sand. Firm the sand around the base, to exclude as much air as possible. Cuttings should be set about three inches apart.
The potted cuttings should be well watered and stored in a cool, moist, and shady spot. They should not be placed in sunlight until late summer and then in part shade till cooler fall weather. Exposure to direct sunlight encourages leaf growth before the roots have had a chance to developed enough to support the new leave growth.
Keep the cuttings watered throughout summer. By November they should have rooted well and be ready for transplanting. In warmer parts of the county, some people “tent” their pots with a plastic bag to retain a moist environment. If you are someone that needs instant gratification, this project may not be your kind of thing. But if you have the patience, the rewards can be substantial.
By Don Chapman
Edited for the website by Nanette Londeree, December 2019