Rooting stem cuttings is a very common way of propagating herbaceous plants, but it can also work with woody-stemmed plants, including roses. Roses root rather easily, however many roses are grafted plants, in which a woody stem from a carefully developed ornamental rose is attached to a hardier rootstock. This creates a highly attractive rose shrub that has the sturdiness and durability of a native species.
When you propagate such a rose by taking a cutting from the ornamental portion of the shrub, the resulting plant will no longer have the features of the hardy rootstock, and thus it often lacks the hardiness, disease resistance, and durability. Rooting the cuttings from such roses is not be hard to do, but it is always something of a gamble since you don't know how the new shrub will perform.
When to Propagate Roses From Cuttings
Rooting a stem cutting can be done almost any time, but softwood cuttings taken from fresh new growth are more likely to root successfully. Spring or early summer is the best time to take these softwood cuttings. Avoid hardened wood, since these cuttings are more prone to failure.
Avoid stems heavily laden with flowers or buds. A heavily blooming rose is putting most of its energy into flower production rather the root development, and thus a cutting does not root quite as readily. If you must propagate when the rose is blooming, make sure to remove the flowers as well as any flower buds from the cutting.
Make sure to take your cuttings from a healthy rose plant. Take cuttings in the early morning hours, when the plants are well hydrated.
Working With Roses
Sharp cutting tools are necessary when cutting rose canes for cuttings. The woody stems can be crushed if dull tools are used, which can be an invitation to fungal rot. Make sure to clean the blades on your pruners both before and after cutting to avoid transmitting any diseases.
Roses are very susceptible to a variety of fungal diseases. To root stem cuttings successfully, keep the sand or potting medium moist, but don't allow the stem and leaves to be so moist that fungal disease can take hold. It's best to take several cuttings, as you can expect some failure when attempting to root roses.
- Working Time: 15 minutes to cut and plant each cutting
- Total Time: About 2 weeks until cutting is successfully rooted
- Material Cost: Less than $25 ($15 if you need to buy an 8-quart bag of potting soil; $10 or less for rooting hormone)
Don't expect every cutting to root successfully; about 10 percent of all attempts end in failure.
What You'll Need
- Rosebush for cuttings
- Rooting hormone (available in most garden centers)
- Container with sand and vermiculite or a well-drained rose potting mix
- Plastic bag or plastic wrap
Take a Cutting and Remove the Flowers
Cut a 12-inch-long segment of woody cane, cutting off the stem at a 45-degree angle. The best cuttings for rooting usually come from the sides of the bush rather than the center.
Remove any flowers or flower buds along the cutting. The flowers are consuming most of the plant's energy, and by removing them from the cutting you will encourage the stem to refocus its energy on survival by sending out new roots.
Remove Most of the Leaves
Remove all but the top two leaflets on the stem, then cut off the stem just above this top set of leaves. Removing the excess leaves also helps divert energy to root production. However, the stem does need to continue to photosynthesize and feed itself until new roots form, so a single pair of leaves need to be retained.
Prepare the Stem for Rooting
Use sharp pruners to make a fresh cut on the bottom of the stem, just below a stem node (a bump where new growth typically forms). Use the pruners to slice up into the bottom of the stem about 1/4 inch, splitting the stem into open quarters.
Use a Rooting Hormone (Optional)
A rooting hormone, though not absolutely necessary, can help spur the plant into developing new roots. Rooting hormones come in powder, liquid, or gel form; a powder form is recommended for roses. Slightly moisten the split tip of the rose cutting, then dip it into powdered rooting hormone. Shake off any excess.
Plant the Cutting
Plant the cutting in a tray or container filled at least 6 inches deep with a mixture of coarse sand and vermiculite, or a potting mix designed for roses. Poke a hole in the potting medium, and then insert the stem, taking care not to rub off the rooting hormone. Gently firm the soil around the stem, then water well.
Cover the Cutting
Cover the cutting loosely, pot and all, with a plastic bag or plastic wrap, and keep the soil moist. Putting a tall stake into the pot can help hold the plastic away from the leaves. Plastic touching the leaves can cause them to remain wet, which can cause fungal disease. The bag also needs to be slightly vented so that condensation can escape. If the bag is sealed too tightly, the stem may rot.
Keep the soil moist until roots begin to form, which usually takes about two weeks. You can check for roots by gently tugging on the stem; if there's resistance, roots are probably present.
Your newly rooted cutting can be transplanted into a pot or into the garden as soon as the roots are firmly established, or when new leaf sprouts begin to appear along the stem.
Tips for Rooting Rose Cuttings
- Many shrub rose varieties are not grafted plants but are instead native species. These cuttings will generally propagate easily and are likely to have the same hardiness as the original shrub. Shrub roses are a good choice for beginners getting started in rose propagation; beginners sometimes have trouble propagating cuttings from hybrid tea roses and other cultivated roses.
- Experienced gardeners sometimes try their hand at grafting their own roses. Grafting is done by splicing stems from various cultivated roses onto hardier native rose plants. Skilled gardeners can even create shrubs with different varieties of roses grafted to a single rootstock.