Gardeners' Dirt: Rose propagation - participating in the creative act
By James Grumman - Victoria County Master Gardener intern Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
May 3, 2012 at 12:03 a.m.
Roses have enchanted humankind with their beauty and fragrance for millennia. First cultivated in Asia 5,000 years ago, the fossil record reveals their existence for more than 35 million years.
Interest anew with training class
I first was captivated by them when I lived in Northern California where they grew abundantly in my garden (despite my casual approach to their care). After moving to Victoria, I continued to cultivate roses with admittedly variable success.
After a recent retirement, I had the opportunity and privilege of taking the Master Gardener training course and was again captivated by their beauty.
I was introduced to propagation in the course by Master Gardeners Lupe and Roy Cook, and realized it was a doorway to participation in the creative act and a way to collect a variety of roses for my garden.
In writing this article, I had much communication with Jerome Janak, a fellow rose aficionado and Master Gardener. He is a true collector, and regaled me with stories of finding what I call "forgotten" roses on roadsides and in older cemeteries, which his skills at propagation, gained by long experience, have enabled him to grow and preserve.
As a member of the "Rose Rustlers" (founded by among others, renowned landscape horticulturist Dr. William Welch) he exchanged cuttings and built his collection over the years. Much of what follows is based on Jerome's approach and advice regarding propagation.
Multiple methods of propagation
Roses can be propagated by multiple methods, including from cuttings, seeds, grafting, division and micropropagation. While all are successful, most are more for commercial purposes, and I will focus on managing cuttings.
Roses vary in their ease of propagation. Many of the "old" or "antique" roses are quite hardy and easily propagated (especially old roses like Belinda's Dream, Mr. Lincoln, Grandma's Yellow Rose, etc.). Hybrid roses are sometimes difficult to root and require more of a greenhouse atmosphere to get a start.
So sticking with older or antique roses would be more satisfying. Propagation is best attempted in this area in the fall of the year, when it is cooler.
Most effective from stem tips
Cuttings are most effective from the stem tips, especially of stems that have recently bloomed. A 4- to 6-inch length should be obtained with four to six nodes, and cut with clean shears at a 45-degree angle just above the next lower node or leaf cluster. The older bloom should be removed, as well as all but two sets of leaves.
Type of medium
While the cleanliness and sterility of the medium is important, the type of propagation medium varies from one propagator to another. According to Jerome, a 50/50 mixture of perlite and coarse sand works well.
Also a good potting soil mixed 50/50 with perlite can be successful. Other experienced propagators have been known to simply stick the cutting in the ground at the drip line of a roof with some success.
Rooting hormone can be helpful
A rooting hormone may be used (the powdered form is preferred by Jerome) by dipping the stem in the powder, and, with the use of a "dibble" (or pencil) to create the hole, the stem may be "stuck" into the medium and packed in lightly. He states he has used "willow" water with some success as well for root stimulation.
Indirect light, moisture control
He usually sticks several cuttings in the same pot of rooting medium and keeps them in an indirectly lighted area with frequent moistening as in a greenhouse.
It is important that the cuttings do not dry out, and too much moisture also can cause rotting from fungal invasion. Some have used continuous misting, and also "clutches" or plastic coverings over the pots to retain moisture.
While the cuttings should be warm, they should not be overheated. Propagating indoors can help maintain modest warmth without over heating.
Test cuttings before moving outside
Testing the cuttings by gently tugging on them every 10 days to two weeks helps to discern whether roots have formed. If resistance is met, (propagation can occur in as little as two weeks or usually longer in six to eight weeks), then the cuttings may be (gently) transferred to larger pots and later brought outside. Once cuttings are rooted and ready to be planted in the garden, a sunny, well drained spot is best. Their need for continued moisture persists, however.
Fertilizing may be helpful, but rooting the new cuttings does not require it. Fish emulsion has often been used for this purpose. When rooted, a product which contains granular food like alfalfa meal, blood meal and green sand works well for roses in the garden. One such organic option is Rose Glo. It has all kinds of good, organic nutrients in it.
Much of success in rose propagation often depends on trial and error, experimentation, and gained experience. Certainly, the above recommendations are a fundamental part of this success.
There are many variables that can be tried to increase your percentage of successful propagants, and all are part of the process of participating in this creative act.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.