Friday, October 5, 2012

Propagating Roses

You can go online and find tons of information about propagating roses, but in my opinion, a lot of it is unnecessary.  Sure, a lot of what is written may be helpful, especially in certain situations, but it is still mostly just their opinion of what is better, and some people like to overcomplicate things.  It is not that I cannot do it, it is that I do not want to.  I do not want to take the time, I do not want to spend the money and I do not want to waste space with clutter.  There are too many other things I would rather be doing.  So!  Here is the crux of the matter when it comes to rooting rose cuttings.  Take it, modify it to fit your needs and have fun making more plants! *

Fresh rose cutting.
Take the rose cutting, obviously from a healthy rose.  It should be a shoot that has already produced blooms and has hardened off.  If it is still very flexible young growth, even if it has produced a bloom, it will likely wilt and die.  Some of the previous year's growth may be useable as well, but you do not want a stem that has matured and turned brown as it will not be as productive in growing roots.  Not too young or old is the important part.  Size is secondary; sometimes you have to take what you can get.  Best is about the diameter of a pencil, but I have been successful with smaller and larger.  The length should be two to three leaf sets (about four to five inches in length).  Get more than one cutting if you can; backup is always a good idea.  If possible, take the cutting in the early morning or on a cool day for maximum moisture content.  Watering the day before also helps.

If you cannot plant the cutting at the time, be sure to store it properly.  If I get a cutting while I am on a job, I put it in a little dish of water and keep it as shaded as possible until I get home. You can also wrap it in a wet paper towel and put it in a plastic bag.  If it is going to be stored for any length of time, it needs to be on ice or in the refrigerator.  Moist and cool are key.

Prepared cuttings. Note the angle of the cuts.
Prepare the cuttings.  Here you will get lots of advice to cut, slice, peel or otherwise wound the cuttings in order to expose the cambium layer.  This is a bit more precise and I have not found better results for the amount of time it takes.  I simply make a fresh cut at an extreme angle, just below the bottom leaf node, and more than enough of the cambium is exposed to provide a healthy root system.  Obviously make sure the cutting is not upside down. Take the leaves off, do not take the leaves off, it is up to you.  If you leave them on, cut them back to about two leaves per set to help prevent transpiration, and they will likely fall off anyway.  If you cut them off, new ones will grow back soon.  Definitely remove the bottom set of leaves and the remains of any blooms.

Rooting hormone may improve results, but I have had good results with and without.  In my experience, growing conditions (quality soil, moisture, shade and temperature) have played a bigger role in successful rooting than whether or not I used hormone.  If using hormone, put a small amount in another container so as not to contaminate the entire bottle.  I am not using hormone for the roses being rooted here to show how simple the entire process can be.  Willow water (tea made from cuttings of the Salix family) is also effective to promote root growth.

Freshly planted cuttings.
To plant the cuttings, select a shady location, use a tool to create a hole in the soil, put the cutting in deep enough to cover the first set of leaf nodes, gently push the soil into place and water.  Keep watered.  It is a good idea to label the cuttings and you may want to put the date on the tag as well.

My house is in the shape of an L, forming a cool area of shade with the sun blocked from the south and west.  I like to use this area, whether planting directly in the ground or in pots.  If using pots, I have found that large clay pots work best as they do not dry out quickly and allow the soil to breath; a 50/50 mixture of quality potting soil and sand works well.  Again, to show how simple it really is, I am starting these cuttings directly in the ground.  This area has quality soil and a lot of sand for good drainage.  The main things to remember are shade, moisture and drainage.  The cuttings cannot cook in the sun, dry out or stand soggy soil.

After a short period of time, leaves or small shoots may begin to grow.  While this does not necessarily indicate root growth, it is a good sign.  If at any point the cutting turns brown, it has died and should be removed.

Callused over cut and new roots.
Eventually the area around the cut will callus over.  This is the precursor to roots.  While I do not recommend digging cuttings up to look for this as it can fatally damage the cutting, I did so here for demonstration purposes.  This particular cutting, which not only has callused, but has also begun to form roots, is just over a month old.  Other cuttings may take much longer.  Some cuttings root easier than others and the length of time for roots to form varies, depending upon the variety of rose, time of year, temperature and other factors.

Rooted cutting.
After roots have begun to grow, the cuttings start to branch out more.  The rooted cutting shown here is about two and a half months old.  Though you can leave the rooted cuttings where they are for some time longer, I dig and gently pot the roses in high quality potting soil and continue to keep them in an area that only gets morning sun.  Some recommend leaving them this way for quite awhile, and if you are patient or unable to watch them closely to give them the attention they need, so do I. However, I generally can watch them and am not so patient.  If the rose had a healthy set of roots and a fair amount of growth, I leave it in the shaded area for a week or so.  If it was still rather small, I wait longer to gradually harden it off in the sun.  After I put it in the sun, I monitor it for a week or so, returning it to the shade if there is any sign of a problem.  After the plant has hardened off and is thriving in the sun, I wait for a cool day, preferably before a rain, and plant it in soil amended with lots of organic matter. Again, keep the rose watered until it is well established.

* This same basic process can be used to propagate many different plants from cuttings. Patented plants (PP - Plant Patent or PPAF - Plant Patent Applied For) cannot legally be asexually propagated until the patent expires, which is approximately 20 years.


  1. My hubby brought home a whole bunch of cuttings from work that we stuck in the soil and they have taken. I did not dig them up to put them in pots and was just hoping to somehow overwinter them and then plant them in a different location in the spring. Do you have any recommendations on how to protect them during the winter. One section is about 2 feet wide an about 12 inches long that has about 6 cuttings. I have a few others in other places. Would you recommend just leaves with maybe some pea gravel on top to hold them in place? I'm really not sure what do use to help them survive.

    Thank you!

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  2. That's something I have been experimenting with the last few years. I had a lot of rooted cuttings in a few big pots last fall that I needed to put in the ground for the winter to give them a better chance. The only place I had enough room was in the raised veggie beds. As the weather reached freezing, I mounded the soil up a bit higher on them. One of the biggest problems is heaving (repeated freeze and thaw pushes them out of the soil), but these did much better than others in the past that I had mulched or done nothing with. A good share of them did survive the winter, but then I had to transplant them too early ... that's another story.

    There was one hard to root rose that stands out in particular. I tried a second cutting late in the season and it still had no roots come spring. It was almost completely heaved out of the ground when warm weather arrived, but still green. I stuck it back in the ground with little hope (it never worked before), and for added measure, put a juice bottle with the bottom cut out and lid off over it as a little green house. A few weeks later I took the juice bottle off to look at it, and the whole thing came up, roots and all! I gingerly potted it up, kept it in a protected place until it got a bit bigger, planted it in June, and it's still going.

  3. That's great to hear. I will do that then, just add a whole bunch of soil to cover them up a lot more. And the ones that I have in pots I will also bury in the ground.

    I have read that in very cold climates, some recommend digging up roses and digging about a foot underground to lay it flat and completely bury it to overwinter.

    Thank you!

  4. Ooh, that sounds like a lot of work ... says the lady with a banana tree that looks like a body wrapped in an old comforter in the attic hoping it doesn't freeze too much. LOL

  5. That's funny. I have a few plants that I'm overwintering indoors, but trying to focus more on perennials so I don't have to. LOL

  6. That's what I do for the most part. Once in awhile I find (as in the banana trees that were put by the road for someone to get) or am given something that requires a bit more care and I have some fun with it.