Propagating herbaceous plants is very often done by rooting green stem cuttings, but the process can also be successful with woody-stemmed plants, including some roses. Rooting stem cuttings of roses and other woody plants works best with so-called "wild" or "native," pure species, rather than hybrid shrubs. That's because many hybrids are created through a grafting process in which branches from showy but delicate species are melded onto rootstock from a sturdier species. The result of grafting can be a spectacular plant with exceptional root hardiness. But this means that if you propagate a new plant from a branch clipping, it will lack the parent plant's root hardiness.
Thus, it's best to use stem clippings only to propagate non-grafted roses, which include many so-called shrub roses.
The stem clipping method is a bit tricky with woody plants, and you should expect that 25 to 50 percent of your attempts will end in failure. Take extra cuttings to ensure you have at least a few viable prospects. Still, if you take your cuttings from a healthy rose plant and follow the proper steps to root them, your odds of developing new plants will be high.
What Is a Shrub Rose?
The term shrub rose is defined by the American Rose Society (ARS) as “a class of hardy, easy-care plants that encompass bushy roses that do not fit in any other category of rose bush.” Many people use the term to refer to any type of non-hybrid rose, but there are several types of hybrid roses that do fit into the ARS's definition of shrub roses, including Moyesi hybrids, hybrid musk roses, Kordesii roses, English roses, and Knock Out roses. These join the many native rose species to form the category of shrub roses. However, any of these hybrid roses described as an "own-root" rose rather than a grafted rose may lend itself to successful propagation from stem cuttings.
When to Propagate a Rose by Stem Cuttings
Rooting a stem cutting can be done almost any time, but cuttings taken from new growth that has recently flowered (rather than old, hardened wood) are more likely to root successfully. Spring or fall is the best time to take softwood stem cuttings—select them in the early morning hours when the plant is well hydrated. Moreover, avoid taking cuttings when your plant is heavily blooming. At this time, the plant is putting most of its energy into flower production rather than root development, so cuttings won't readily root.
Before Getting Started
Sharp pruners are necessary when taking rose cuttings. Dull tools can crush the rose's woody stems instead of forming a clean slice, which can make the cutting susceptible to fungal rot. Furthermore, make sure to clean your pruners before and after each cutting to avoid transmitting any diseases.
Be patient when growing roses from cuttings. It may take several years for your new rose to produce flowers, but you'll appreciate those first blooms even more when they've come from a rose shrub you've propagated yourself.
Equipment / Tools
- Pruning shears
- Mature rose plant for cuttings
- Powdered rooting hormone
- Plant pot
- Sand and vermiculite or a rose potting mixture
- Plastic bag or plastic wrap
Start by taking a 12-inch segment of a new stem that has recently bloomed, cutting it from the plant at a 45-degree angle. The stem should be about the width of a pencil. 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 cut stem—any flowers or buds on the cut branch will consume energy, and you want to encourage the stem to refocus its survival energy on sending out new roots. If you're taking multiple cuttings, place them in a container of water to keep them hydrated until you're ready to propagate them.
Remove Most Leaves
Remove all but the top two sets of leaves on the stem. Then, cut off the remaining portion of the stem just above this top set of leaves. Removing the excess leaves will help the cutting divert its energy to root production.
Prepare the Stem for Rooting
Using sharp pruning shears, make a fresh cut on the bottom of the stem just below a stem node (a bump where new growth typically forms). Then, slice into the bottom of the stem about a 1/4 inch up, splitting the stem into open quarters.
Apply Rooting Hormone
Although not absolutely necessary, applying a rooting hormone can help spur your rose plant into developing new roots. Rooting hormones can be found in powder, liquid, and gel form—you'll have the best success with the powder version when working with roses. To apply, slightly moisten the split end of the rose cutting, then dip it into the powdered rooting hormone. Shake off any excess.
Plant the Cutting
Fill a small pot with at least 6 inches of a potting mix formulated especially for roses. Poke a hole in the potting medium then insert the stem sliced-side down, taking care not to rub off the rooting hormone. Gently pack the soil around the stem, and water well.
Cover the Cutting
Loosely cover the cutting, pot and all, with a plastic bag or plastic wrap to help retain soil moisture. Be sure not to let the plastic touch any remaining leaves on the stem, which can cause them to remain wet and susceptible to fungal disease. Putting a tall stake into the pot can help hold the plastic away from the leaves. The bag also needs to be slightly vented, so condensation can escape—if you seal the bag too tightly, the stem can rot. Place the cutting under grow lights or near a bright window.
Monitor the Cutting
Keep the soil moist until roots begin to form, which usually takes about two weeks. Check for roots by gently tugging on the stem—if there's resistance, roots are probably present.
Your cutting can be transplanted into a pot or the ground as soon as the roots are firmly established or when new leaf sprouts begin to appear along the stem. Make sure to harden off the new rose before planting outside.