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Propogating Roses from Cuttings and Overwintering Them

There are many reasons for taking cuttings and growing them to increase one's stock: the rose may be rare or irreplaceable; one might be financially challenged (or cheap); or have the choice of admired cultivars growing in other's gardens. I could be accused of all three (or four) of those reasons.

Fred Kristoff wrote in issue #35 of the Rosebank letter his methods for propagating roses, to which I can add little. However, a review is in order before attempting to explain a method for over-wintering the little darlings successfully in Canadian Zone 6b or US 5.

Most people take their cuttings after a rose bush has just finished flowering. The only good reason for doing this is to experience the pleasure of the bloom. Others write that it is important to use canes that have aged a little and are not too young or soft, that are pencil thick or so. I have not found this the case. I have taken the tips of cuttings, which I had planned to discard, and planted them too, only to have them take as well.

Where most agree is that cuttings should have four leaves with usually five or seven leaflets. The bottom two should come off. From there, I make a fresh cut under water, on a diagonal just below the bottom node, that is, where the bottom leaf just came off. I score up the cane from there about 1" (2.5 cm) on each side of the cane through the bark. This increases the numbers of new roots dramatically.

Many prefer bagging their cuttings in Ziplocks, with a little moist soil. I must be fumble-fingered because I have lost more rooted cuttings transplanting than any other way. Those tiny new roots are terribly fragile. I have most success striking the cuttings in 6" pots filled with coir (ground coconut shells) and a little compost. I use such large pots firstly because the distance between the nodes on the cuttings is far, and I want both lower nodes under soil; and secondly, because I only want to have to disturb the roots once: when I plant the new rose in the garden. Professional greenhouse growers of roses for the cut-rose trade also use coir as their preferred growing medium for both striking their stentlings and growing roses.1 I have had far more and far sturdier roots growing in coir than anything else.

Dip the prepared cutting in a strong rooting hormone, such as Rhizopon AA#3 powder (0.8% IBA in talc). The powders work better than the liquid, perhaps because the concentration of active hormones is higher. There does not seem to be a toxic upper limit.2 One does have to be careful though with cultivars with many, many prickles, like the rugosas and spinosissimas, which tend to retain too much of the hormone and fare poorly.

Once cutting and soil are prepared, it is a simple matter to sick a finger deep into the pot and replace it with the cutting, firming around the cane and covering with a baseless 2 L pop bottle. The base can be removed with hacksaw or scissors. The caps are useful to monitor the humidity in the bottle, but more on that later.

I place my cuttings on the North side of my house. Fortunately for me, the North side is out of view, and the bowels of my garden pass unnoticed. More importantly, cuttings will generally fry in the mid-day sun (though others and I have had successes), and the bright light on the North side is perfect for rooting roses. I wet the soil thoroughly, cap on. One of the main advantages to using coir is that it drains perfectly. One only has to water often enough to keep a little condensation appearing on the inside of the bottle. (Recently, I have learned that waterings of H2O2, hydrogen peroxide, {5 ml/ 95 ml of water} increases root development in olive cuttings. Chances are it will also abet rose root development too.) Otherwise, leave the wee darlings alone until new canes develop. Oblige them then by removing the bottle cap, so that the chances of mildew and other disease are minimized. Sometimes, a bud will form. I know I am supposed to remove it, so that the new rose can use its strength to make new roots and canes, but I have never been able to do it. I let the bloom amaze me and show it off proudly.

Come autumn, come dormancy, I dig holes where I plan to grow them and un-pot them for the first time. I cover them with their plastic hats, caps on, once planted, mulch around them and leave them for the winter.

It is now early April. A month ago, I removed the caps, but left the bottles. It is yet a little cold for them to be without any protection, but one year, I lost three quarters of my cuttings to mildew in the spring from too much moisture, so the caps come off. Too, the little greenhouses are giving the cuttings a head start. Some have already leafed out, and the crocuses are in bloom. By the end of the month, I will probably remove the bottles. By that time, there will be enough new growth in the garden that the bunnies will be lunching elsewhere I hope, and I will no longer be accused of growing pop bottles.

This has been a discussion of growing roses from cuttings outdoors in a cold climate. George Mander, the great Canadian hybridizer3, has a success rate with cuttings of some 99% in greenhouse conditions. Last summer, I started only 24 cuttings and lost one by the end of summer, but all remaining came through the winter unscathed! I have started HTs, floribundas, shrubs and OGRs; it does not seem to matter, so enjoy. Visit a friend and ask for a cutting of a rose you fancy. Let nature astonish you with its ability to start a new life from so little.

1. Further discussion of commercial, cut-rose, greenhouse growing can be found in the minutes of the Wm Saunders Rose Society 2/3/02 & 1/3/03
A stentling is a one-leaf cutting clothes-pinned together on a rootstock such as Natal Briar and grown thus in the greenhouse.

2. For pictures of the results of using different hormones and strengths visit:

3. George Manders' website http:

Many thanks to Roses-Canada for kind permission to reprint this article.

P.S. During the summer, I have spoken to own-root nurserymen who repot in larger and larger pots (1 and 2 gal) once the cuttings have rooted. They say, "Give the plants a chance to establish a root system before planting them in an established bed." I recently visited a friend who had begun doing the same this summer, and his plants were huge, easily the largest cuttings I have ever seen from an amateur, almost like a two-year grafted plant.

Steve Elkerton
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