Propagating and growing roses from cuttings is much easier than you think. As with all plant propagation it’s all about timing and technique and timing is usually more important than technique.
(Note: Did you notice that there are two different kinds of bees in that rose bloom? Just thought I’d point that out.)
Hardwood Cuttings Verses Softwood Cuttings.
First thing, let’s me and you have a chat about hardwood cuttings and softwood cuttings. I really want you to grasp this concept, it will make your plant propagation life so much easier. Let’s set the clock back to early spring. Here in Ohio the growing season usually kicks off around the second or third week of April. That’s when all deciduous plants (a deciduous plant is the opposite of an evergreen) start to make leaves in the spring. First we see new leaves, then immediately the plants go into a very active period of growing and most plants put on the majority of their new growth in the first six to eight weeks of the growing season. Often putting on from six to ten inches of new growth.
That new growth is very soft and pliable. It bends very easy and the new stems are so soft that they can be easily crushed between your fingers if you tried to do so. As the growing season progresses that growth starts to harden off and progressively gets harder as the growing season goes on. Come fall the plants quit growing as winter approaches giving all the branches a chance to harden off. The new growth has to harden off so it’s strong enough to go through the harsh winter conditions.
By fall the stems are quite hard and rigid, they can’t be easily bent without breaking them, and it’s unlikely that you could crush them between your fingers. That’s the difference between a hardwood cutting and a softwood cutting. Any cutting taken early in the growing season is considered a softwood cutting. Cuttings taken later in the growing season and even into the winter are considered hardwood cuttings.
Softwood cuttings root much faster than hardwood cuttings because they are soft and supple. However, softwood cuttings are frail and can fail easily where as hardwood cuttings are tough as nails but it takes them much longer to root. If you can keep your softwood cuttings happy, they will root for you rather quickly.
When is the Best Time to Take Cuttings from Roses?
Lock this in your head because this is true with just about all plants. The time to start taking softwood cuttings in the spring is six weeks from the time they start making leaves. Here in northern, Ohio, zone 6, we usually see the first true leaves around the third week of April. Count six weeks from that date. So if you are in zones 4, 5, or 6 a good target date for you would be mid June. If you are in zones 7 or 8 you might get started as early as mid May. If you are in a really warm zone like 9 or 10 you can start even earlier than that.
Mark your calendar right now for next year. You can do cuttings the other times of the year and I’ll get into that. But those early and mid summer cuttings root really, really easily. And between now and then I am going to share with you the system that I use that makes it even easier than that. But I can’t get into that just yet. You have to be patient! Stay tuned to channel Mike.
Can I do Roses from Cuttings in the Fall?
Yes you can, but the wood is harder and they are going to be much slower to root. But it certainly won’t cost you much to try. And if you warm their little bottoms they’ll like that and root for you much easier. You can buy plant propagation, or seed starting heating mats that are designed for the purpose of starting seeds or rooting cuttings. All you do is plug them in, set the thermostat, then place your flat on the heating mat. Make sure the heating mat that you use is designed for plant propagation. Danger of injury, death or fire can occur if you use any other kind of a heating device. Don’t take chances!
Do I use heating mats at “Mike’s Plant Farm”? No. Not at this time. We usually work out the timing so we never have to do that. We do tens of thousands of cuttings during the summer months, more in the early fall, then we do some in the winter as hardwood cuttings. But at this time we are not doing anything that needs that bottom heat.
If you are on my newsletter list I will keep you informed as to what we are rooting when and why we are doing them at that time of the year.
How to Make Rose Cuttings.
Making the actual cuttings is really, really easy. Just pick a branch, from any part of the rose, and take a cutting from the end of the branch. Make the cutting about 5″ long. If the branch has a flower bud at the tip just prune off the flower bud. Some people wound the cutting on one side side which is nothing more than taking a knife and scrapping the bark or outer tissue on just one side of the cutting at the very bottom of the cutting. The scrape only needs to be about 1/2″ long and making a wound really is an option. Just clipping the cutting from the plant creates enough of a wound to make the cutting feel as though it needs to make roots to stay alive.
Do Roses and other Plants Actually Think?
No they don’t. But they do respond to certain conditions just like human beings and other mammals do. When we humans break a bone the first thing our body does is start building a callous around the broken bone to keep it stable while the bone heals itself. Doctors don’t repair broken bones, our bodies actually do the repair work. Our bodies develop that callous cast inside our limbs just in case there’s no doctor around to help us out.
Plants are very similar. When you remove a cutting from the parent plant you take measures to keep the cutting as healthy and happy as you can since it no longer has a root system to support it. Since the plants is healthy but has no roots it goes to work to correct that problem. The first thing it does is builds some callous over the wounded part of the cutting. Then it makes new roots to support itself.
So our job as gardeners is to keep the cutting healthy and happy while it does all of the other work of making roots for us. The cutting does the heavy lifting. At that point we are just idle bystanders.
Once you make your cutting to length, wound it on one side if you like, wounding is optional, then dip the cutting in a rooting compound and stick the cutting or cuttings into your rooting medium. Always make a lot more cuttings than you need. More cuttings increases your chances of getting a few successful rooted cuttings dramatically.
After the cutting has been dipped just stick it in the rooting medium, water the medium well to make certain there are no air pockets around the base of the cutting. After that I suggest covering the cuttings with plastic, or in this case I used a plastic water bottle because I didn’t have a mason’s jar. Mason’s jars work great! Put your cuttings in the shade so the direct sun can’t get to them.
Keep Your Rose Cuttings Watered but not Soaking Wet.
This part is critical. Remember, your cutting has no roots! So it needs you to take care of it until it gets roots. Your job is really easy. Just make sure the rooting medium is moist, but not soaking wet all the time. It should be loose enough that it drains well so when you do water you don’t have to be concerned about over watering. Water all you want when you water, just don’t water too often. And make sure the rooting medium drains well. That’s important and why usually use sand. A rooting medium that does not drain well will cause the bottom of the cutting to rot and the cutting will fail.
Rooting Compounds. Which One should I Use?
It really doesn’t matter. I like liquid rooting compounds because I can buy one bottle and use it all season because it’s a concentrate. During the summer months I just mix a weaker solution, in the fall a little stronger and in the winter I mix at the maximum rate for hardwood cuttings. The directions are on the bottle and are very easy to follow. Some places you’ll read that you need this many parts per million of xyz. Blah, blah, blah. All of that is true, but you and I, we don’t need to know that. Just buy a good rooting solution and follow the directions on the package.
Keep it simple. Don’t over complicate a simple thing. It’s not as scientific as some make it out to be.
Powder rooting solutions can’t be changed or diluted so you have to buy a powder for softwood cuttings and a powder for hardwood cuttings. No matter what you read elsewhere, big nurseries have tested liquid rooting compounds against powder rooting compounds and found that both performed equally as well.
Me? I usually buy Dip-n-Grow or Wood’s Rooting Compound and the deciding factor is which one is the easiest to get my hands on. I have a local supplier that I buy from and whatever they have on the shelf, that’s what I’m using this year. Next year if they switch brands, then chances are I’m switching brands too. Why? Because . . . it doesn’t matter.
Rooting Compounds are Not some Kind of Magic Potion or Powder.
Here’s the deal with rooting compounds. This is important so write it on the back of your hand. They help. They increase your chances of success at rooting cuttings, but they do not determine or control your success. What did we learn earlier? Timing and technique. Those are really the two things that matter. Erase that other stuff and write that on the back of your hand. “Timing and Technique Matter”.
How Do You Keep a Rose Cutting Healthy and Happy?
You keep it warm but not hot, and in a fairly humid environment but not wet. The rooting medium needs to be damp, not soaking wet. Keep the sun off the cutting while this rooting process is taking place. In most cases cuttings that are trying to make new roots are happiest in shade, maybe just a smidgen of sunshine to keep them fed via photosynthesis, but not much sunshine.
If you are doing cuttings in the fall the wood is harder and therefore sun isn’t as much of a culprit as it is during the summer months when the cutting wood is soft, pliable, and much more vulnerable.
Using Sand as a Rooting Medium for Rose Cuttings.
Saaaaaannnnd? Are you crazy? No, I’m not. I root tens of thousands of cuttings in coarse sand every year. Why? Because it stays just moist enough, but doesn’t stay so wet that it will actually rot the cuttings. But for you at home, you can use sand, but if it’s too much trouble to find the sand just use a potting mix. The potting mix should be light and fluffly, not heavy and sticky. Adding Perlite to the mix is a good idea. How much? I don’t know, just mix some in until it feels good. Tain’t rocket science!
Below are five or six rose cuttings in potting mix. As you can see, these containers that I am showing are not very large. All you really need is just a few square inches. When I root thousands of cuttings in my outdoor propagation beds each cutting gets exactly one square inch of space. That’s it.
Remember. Softwood Cuttings Root the Fastest and You Do them During the Early Summer.
Not spring. Nothing roots well in the spring because the plants are growing so fast and the new growth is very frail. We do 9o to 95 percent of our cuttings as softwood cuttings in June, July and some in August. There are few things that we do in winter or later winter as hardwood cuttings. Dappled Willow, Golden Curls Willow, Purple Sandcherry, Pink Flowering Almond and Grapes. That’s about it. Those we do as hardwood cuttings. Maybe Rose of Sharon but they do well as softwood cuttings.
Questions? Comments? Post them below.