Rooting stem cuttings is a common way of propagating herbaceous plants, but it also can work with woody-stemmed plants like roses. Native roses root easily—more so than grafted varieties— though you shouldn't expect every cutting to be successful. Around 25 to 50 percent of attempts will likely end in failure, so it's best to 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.
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 cuttings—select them in the early morning hours when the plant is well hydrated. Moreover, avoid taking cuttings when your plant is heavily blooming. The plant is putting most of its energy into flower production rather than root development, so a cutting won't readily root.
Equipment / Tools
- Pruning shears
- Mature rose plant for cuttings
- Rooting hormone
- Sand and vermiculite or a rose potting mixture
- Plastic bag or plastic wrap
Take a Cutting and Remove Any Flowers
Start by taking a 12-inch segment of a new stem that has recently bloomed, cutting from the plant at a 45-degree angle. The stem should be 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. The reason: Any flowers or buds leftover on your cut branch will consume energy, and you want to encourage the stem to refocus its energy on survival by 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 the remainder of the stem just above this top set of leaves. Removing the excess leaves again helps to divert 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 quarter of an inch up, splitting the stem into open quarters.
Use a 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 cutting-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 result in 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 lights.
Monitor the Cutting
Keep the soil moist until roots begin to form, which usually takes around 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.
Tips for Growing Roses From Cuttings
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.
Many roses are grafted plants, which is when a woody stem from an ornamental rose is attached to a hardier rootstock. This creates an attractive, durable rose plant. However, if you were to propagate a plant by taking a cutting from the ornamental portion, the resulting plant would often lack the hardiness of the parent plant. Thus, taking cuttings from grafted plants is somewhat of a gamble because you don't know exactly how the resulting plants will perform.
On the other hand, many shrub rose varieties are native species, not grafted plants. Cuttings from these plants will generally propagate easily and are likely to have the same hardiness as the parent plant. Shrub roses are often a good choice for those gardeners that are beginners in rose propagation.
Overall, remember to 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.