The Great 2012 Summer Project
by Rich Baer
Last month we talked about how long a rose should live and how being on its own roots was supposed to give a rose a great advantage in having a long, productive life. In my own garden there are many roses on their own roots, and I have produced many roses over the years from cuttings. As I usually do whenever I tackle a project, I take pictures along the way because I may get asked how I do certain things and having pictures always helps convey the message.
I have been asked about propagating roses a number of times. Most recently, the Vancouver Rose Society asked me. I spoke to them in April of this year about the various processes that I have used over the years. Vegetative reproduction of roses can be done in many ways and most of them will work. Over the years I have been quite successful, and I am often rewarded with 80% or more successful rootings.
So what are the basic steps in making a new rose from another rose? The first step in the process is selecting a piece of rose stem to work with. If you have the mother plant growing in your garden already, selecting the right stem is just a matter of waiting for the plant to produce
it. I believe the ideal stem is that which supports a bloom.
When the bloom fades the stem is old enough to be used successfully in the rooting process. Older wood can also
be used but let’s stick with stems that have recently bloomed. After you have decided what you want to reproduce, cut a stem 10- to 12-inches long below the bloom, (much the same as you would if you were deadheading but a little longer), you will want to have 5-6 sets of leaves on the bud wood stem.
Cut off the bloom and the top 3-inches or so of the stem so that you are left with a stem with 4-5 leaves. You will then want to remove the bottom two leaves from the cutting. I usually just pull them down and away from the stem and they will usually break off cleanly. Take the cuttings and dip them into a container of water so that the lower 4-5 inches gets wet. The wet end of the cutting should then be dipped into Rootone which is a root stimulating hormone preparation that can be purchased as most nursery outlets for under $10. I have been using the same bottle for years. There are other brands on the market, and I am sure that they all will work, but I stay with what has been successful over the years.
Now that the stem has been treated from the rose we want to reproduce, what should we put it into? I usually try to use the least expensive potting soil that I can find. Cheap potting soil is getting harder to find because the ones you find at nurseries all tend to be national brands which contain one additive or another to boost the price. So, still go with the cheap one. The advantage of using bagged potting soil is that it tends to be pretty sterile so you cut down on the chances of introducing some fungus or bacteria that will kill the new cuttings. I like to use one gallon pots for starting cuttings because they are large enough to keep the new rose in for 6-9 months and yet they are easily portable if they need to be moved. I pack the potting soil into the pot and then add enough water to the top to saturate the soil, which I know has occurred when water starts seeping out of the bottom of the pot. Using a pencil, or other similar shaped object, I make a hole in the potting soil about 3- to 4-inches deep. The treated end of the cutting is then pushed down into the hole. I then use my fingers to push the soil very firmly around the cutting so that it is lodged solidly in the soil. You do not want the cutting to be able to move around because this could very well disturb the tiny new roots as they are beginning to grow. The last step in this procedure is to provide the cutting with protection from dehydration. Here is where your imagination can go to work. I have successfully used a number of different techniques to achieve this outcome. One of the simplest is just to place a produce bag over the cutting and the pot. It can be sealed at the bottom in a number of ways including tying a string around the bottom. You will not be disturbing this for the next month or so, do not worry about taking it on and off.
Before you put the bag over the cutting it is suggested that you put two or three small sticks into the pot, a little longer than your cutting to hold the bag up off the leaves of the cutting. I am not sure if it makes a difference but it makes your work look better. Now find a place in your garden that gets bright daylight but no direct sun and place the pot or pots with the cuttings in them in that area and forget about them for the 4-6 weeks. Check the cutting visually on a regular basis. You should see that there is condensation on the inside of the bag which means that the air inside the bag is still saturated and the cutting will not dry out. If you see that your bag(s) look dry, you will need to add water to the pot. This rarely happens but if it does, loosen the bag, add water to the pot and re-tie the bag. In about six weeks you will find that all of the original leaves on the cutting have fallen off and new growth should be starting. Look at the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. The most exciting thing you may see in the drain holes is the tip of a root. The presence of a root means that you have successfully gotten your new cutting to produce a new plant. At this time remove the bag, but do watch the new growth for a few days. If you notice any wilting of the new growth replace the bag for a few days. If you see no wilting, your new rose is ready to be put out into the sunshine to allow it to develop as quickly as it can.
When can I plant my new plant in the garden? If you start your cuttings after the first bloom in June, you will not have rooted cuttings until late in August. If they grow the rest of the summer they will still not be very large by the end of the season and would still be vulnerable to a cold winter. I tend to keep my new cuttings in the pots over the winter. They can spend their winter in the garden if the weather is not too cold. If a cold snap appears eminent I will move them into the shed or garage to keep the pots from freezing. I have even put them under lights in my shed to keep them growing all through the winter to get them off to an even faster start the following spring. However, this is not necessary.
The next spring find a suitable place for them to grow in the garden and plant them. Turn the pot upside down, support the soil with your fingers and gently shake it. The newly rooted cutting should come out of the pot with the soil ball intact. If you plant them early in the spring you will probably be rewarded with flowers with the first bloom cycle of the rest of your garden. If they are in a suitable place they can be almost full size by the end of the first growing season.
SO BACK TO THE SUMMER PROJECT
Back to the meeting at the Vancouver Rose Society. One of their members is connected to a major public rose garden in the city. When the garden beds were dedicated, each of them was identified by a large cement marker with the name of the rose. It is sort of like the names of the roses were set in stone. Over the years a number of the bushes have succumbed to various natural forces, mainly some of the severe winters because these beds are given no winter protection which we usually is not necessary in our area of the NW. Because the names of the roses are “set in stone” they really like to keep the right roses in the right places. However, a number of the roses in the garden are no longer available in commerce.
So what to do. Since I had just given a program on rose propagation, I challenged the members of the FVRS to make it a summer project to root cuttings of the missing roses to restore the garden to it original splendor. I really did not think that challenge would be taken too seriously, so I decided that I should take on the project myself. I start a few roses every year by the methods used above, but this is a little cumbersome for the number of new plants that needed to be produced, 60-70, so I decided to go back to rooting cuttings the way I did it 30 years ago when I produced almost a thousand bushes over a period of 5-6 years. To do this I had to construct a couple of propagation beds in my vegetable garden. My vegetable garden is comprised of a number of raised beds all four feet wide and either 6 or twelve feet long. I converted a six foot bed into my propagating bed by making a PVC and plastic sheeting cover for it, much like a cold frame. I still had mist heads that I used 30 years ago, but they put out almost three gallons an hour and I would need two to do the job. I remember turning part of my garden into a swamp because I would run these misters 24 hours a day, that was 144 gallons of water every day and eventually the ground became saturated. I found some new mist heads this year from Dripworks.com that emit only ½ gallon an hour so two of them emit only 24 gallons per day. The cost of these misters was about six dollars for five of them and the PVC connectors made just for them sold for about the same price. So far there has been no swamp effect. These misters were attached to the top of the cold frame so that the mist falls gently onto the new cuttings keeping them completely hydrated.
I was fortunate to have a number of the varieties that were needed growing in my garden, such as ‘Silver Lining’ and ‘Headliner’. But for many of them the bud wood needed to be collected from the garden because it still contained the only plants of some of varieties needed, like ‘Rotary’ and ‘Helene Schoen’. So a trip to the garden netted a large bag of cuttings and the adventure began.
The pots were all prepared and the labels printed. All that needed to be done was the prepping of the cuttings and getting them into the pots. Much of the bud wood collected from the garden left much to be desired because many of the plants were not thriving. Only time will tell how good that bud wood was. The pots were all placed into the propagating bed, the lid closed and the misters turned on. Then the wait began and continues. Over the next four weeks many of the leaves on the cuttings turned yellow and fell off. Each day I would clean out the fallen foliage because it was just something some fungus could feed on and I did need not provide any additional avenue for failure. Cuttings that came from healthy bushes that had been sprayed with fungicide tended to lose their leaves at a much slower rate and some kept all of them during the first month. The wait continued. Checks were made of the drain holes every few days to hopefully see the emergence of new root tips. Finally after about six weeks, two pots showed roots growing from the drain holes. “Success.” Well at least some.
At this point I still needed to produce more plants from cuttings and needed more room in my propagating bed, so I started moving many of the new cuttings to a halfway house. I had prepared a second raised bed, this time a full 12-foot bed, by building a cloche cover for it. Producing these covers was relatively inexpensive. The propagating bed cover was probably less than $25 and the bigger cloche was less than $40. The major cost was the 2×4’s used for the frame. The PVC pipe and the plastic sheeting were probably less than $10.
I felt that the cuttings were not ready to face the rigors of the outside world yet, so the halfway house had some cutting friendly amenities. I installed a couple of my old misters at each end of the cloche. These were attached to a water timer that turned them on for three minutes every hour. This was more than enough to assure that the environment around the cuttings was still near saturation and that the afternoon sun, yes we have had some of that, would not lead to the death of the tender young cuttings through dehydration. At the time that I moved the cuttings to the halfway house, most of them had not yet shown roots at the drain holes, but I was confident that if they stayed protected that they would continue to mature into viable plants.
While I was in the mood, I decided to continue producing cuttings of roses that are no longer in commerce in the United States but still highly desirable. I had a special request for ‘Loving Son’, and a rosarian friend wanted ‘Dolce Vita’ which was planted in our garden during the royal rosarian planting ceremony in 1999. Mine seems to be the only one that survived and it looks like the cuttings are doing well. There were also requests for ‘Rock & Roll’, the floribunda, not the new striped grandiflora. The HT rose ‘Flamingo’ is special to me because I started the one I have from a cutting that I brought home from judging school in 1991. I have made a number of cuttings of this bush for many people and they have all loved it. I am not certain if it was ever for sale in the US. Then there are bushes such as ‘Lysbeth Victoria’ that I obtained many years ago from Dennis Konsmo and they have been passed around the NW over the years. Additionally there are bushes such as ‘Anne Letts’ which was a favorite of long time PRS member Dr. Richard Franklin, and I probably have the last remnants of this bush in the PNW. Now every time I see a particularly beautiful bloom on one of these old varieties, I cut a couple of stems and prepare them to be placed in the propagating bed. I am hoping that there are those who may see the same beauty that I see in these roses and will want to contribute to our rose society so that they can have one for their garden. As time goes on I will let you know what is available and how you can get some of these special varieties if I am as successful as I hope to be.
To download a digital copy of this article, click here.