Sunday, February 24, 2013

propagating roses in the winter

winnipeg parks and morden blush roses- in july.  not now.

Edited January 23, 2014-   to follow up this posting from winter 2013, I have to report that this method didn't work for me.  Most of the cuttings rooted, but did not transfer to the growing media afterward.  I didn't get a single viable rose out of the almost 150 cuttings I tried to root.  If you try this method and are able to make it work- please leave me a comment and describe how you did it.

So of course I live in Minnesota and of course the winters are long and cold here.  That is not a surprise.  It's expected, and what is a surprise is the brevity and warmth of recent winters.  This one is fairly true to what the historic record shows, though not as harsh as the USDA plant hardiness zone map would indicate.

One very good thing about long and cold winters is that people who love gardening have time to do eccentric stuff like propagate roses from hardwood cuttings.  For fun.  Because there isn't much else to do, unless you like to ice fish or watch TV.  Which I don't.

 And I wanted to get an early start on raising something to sell at our community garden's spring plant sale.  I was fishing around and found some interesting articles on propagating roses from hardwood rose cuttingsThis video illustrates it pretty well and these two linked sources are what I used to figure out how to make a whole bunch of new rose plants from cuttings I'd normally end up composting.

I'll post some info on the plant sale later, by the way.  If you are in the Twin Cities, feel free to stop by Merriam Park on May 4th.  I'll elaborate on another day.

freshly cut stems- still had some leaves in january!
For my cuttings, I took a bunch of  one to two foot trimmings off of my Winnipeg Parks, Morden Blush and Bonica roses in the yard.  These are some cold-hardy and mostly disease-resistant roses that I've had in my yard for four seasons now, and which I feel fairly comfortable with.  I've never sprayed them with anything, and have never fed them fertilizer, except for once on the day that I planted them.  They're the only thing in my yard  (besides the  rescued azaleas) that I've ever given chemical fertilizer to.

They've all done pretty well, if you take into consideration the advice that's usually given when you raise roses (spray, spray, spray, feed, feed, feed).  I even get some pretty decent rose hips from them (which taste pretty good when they're not full of fungicide).

Not all roses have done so well.  I planted a 'hardy' variety of tea rose at the same time as these- 'Lily Pons' was the name if I recall  correctly.  It didn't make it through a single Minnesota winter.  That was my first and last attempt at planting high-maintenance roses.  If it can't survive winter on its own and summer without chemicals, then it's not worthy of a place in the limited space of the eighth acre farm.
stems after cleaning-

I did a little research, and found that all three varieties- which were once patented- are no longer.  Morden Blush just went out of patent last year, in fact.  And it's a gorgeous rose.

This is not to say I am a great believer in plant patents.  I'm not.  But I want to give some respect (and revenue) to breeding programs like that at the Morden Research Center in Manitoba that brought us a whole slew of roses fit to the difficult conditions of an Upper Midwestern (and Canadian prairie state) winter.

Unfortunately, the Morden rose breeding program has been discontinued, and even more unfortunately, some of their roses are already becoming harder to find.  Winnepeg Parks is now out of most catalogs, which is a sad thing because it's a fantastic rose for organic gardeners.

So I'll do my small part in continuing the spread of some good and out-of-patent roses. 

So once I had taken all of my trimmings in early January, I trimmed them down to about 5 to 8 inches long, removing the bottom few buds, and leaving two or three at the top.  I scored the bottom inch of the cutting with a paring knife, and dipped each cutting in water, shook it off, then dipped it in some rooting hormone.

Rooting hormone is something I've never used before and was a bit apprehensive about getting.  I've heard that agar works in much the same way, but didn't know if it would get moldy over such a long time, and besides didn't know where to find it.  So I took the easy way out and used IBA, which as it turns out, was not as much of an all-synthetic thing as I had assumed.

I had to look around  a fair bit to find it in midwinter.  I went to a suburban garden center and waded through the kitsch and leftover Xmas schwag and unusable purple birdhouses to find it on a sad looking shelf in the back of the store.  It cost about six bucks and the bottle said it could make a thousand cuttings or so.  Good enough for me. 

So I dipped all the cuttings in it, and wrapped them in damp (not wet) newspaper, then put the newspaper in three plastic bags from local stores.

and seven weeks later
And by golly it worked!

The original cuttings went into the bags on January 6th, and I unwrapped them today, 7 weeks later, to find roots and/or callouses on about 3/4ths of the cuttings.  That was way better than I had expected.

I potted them up in some old #1 containers that I washed in the laundry room sink, and put them in a large clear plastic container that will be a temporary greenhouse for the  new rose plants.  If all goes well, I should have a nice little crop of roses for the plant sale.

That is, assuming that I don't accidentally cook them all by leaving the lid on the greenhouse on a hot day, or forget to water them.  I'd probably do that in the summer, but right now my plant deficit disorder is making that unlikely.  Bringing anything to life right now is so deeply satisfying that I will go far, far out of my way to make it happen.  So I'm more likely to water these little things to death before I let them cook.

I ordered seeds last night too.  So many things to do to prepare for the growing season.  I'll be trying long beans  again this year, as well as WHD's rattlesnake beans.   And even though I've had lousy results with hot peppers most years, I've ordered Anaheim peppers to start from seed too.  And more parsnips again even though they make me itchy.

a banyan tree in hong kong
And in a total non-sequitur, I have a couple of travel pictures.  These are from Hong Kong, when we were there almost three and a half years ago on our way to visit Gita's family in Nepal. 

I was looking through travel pictures tonight- and appreciating the green- the life- and the remembering of what it's like relaxing outside next to the water in a short-sleeved shirt.

The picture above is a banyan tree- one of many we saw.  This one was on one of the smaller islands that make up Hong Kong.  It's a fishing village mostly, but a really densely packed one, made up of four-story apartment building and tiny little winding alleys.  The banyan had it's own little stoop among the concrete, and I think it was some sort of shrine, though I'm not completely sure.  

Even if it wasn't a shrine, it said a lot for the Chinese appreciation for nature.  Maybe due to the lack of actual natural space in a place like Hong Kong.

And below- that's us at a noodle house by the boat dock, within smelling distance of the fish market on the same island.  The little guy couldn't get enough of the noodles, even though he hadn't been eating solid food for very long at that point.   Maybe we shouldn't have given him the local street food- but then again, what other choices did we have?

He was perfectly fine by the way.  And is still an adventurous eater for a kid.

noodle shop on the street.  little man demolished the noodle soup at 16 months.
I love looking at pictures of warm places in the winter. 

There's not a lot of it left.  Three cheers for that.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

february blue

me.  enjoying the snow.
Oh, to be a kid again.  Not so much because it's fun being bossed around by grownups, or being made to eat food you don't like.  No, because today was a day made for kids, not for grownups.

When you get four or five inches of really wet, heavy snow, a grownup looks at it and sees a lot of work, and a potential car accident.  Kids see potential snowmen and snowballs and snow forts.

I got out with my shovel and dug paths through the snow, flinging it onto the roots of my fruit trees wherever I could- a little extra moisture in case we have a dry spring again.  I stopped to commiserate with the neighbors who were also not happy to be digging out yet again. 

But the kids didn't notice.  They were having a blast.  When I was done with my work, we went to the mini-sledding hill at a nearby church and sledded down a 5-foot slope a bunch of times- making a game out of who could make it to the bottom first.

our kids and the neighbor kid making a snow fort
The neighbor girl came over later and they all worked together to make a snow fort, with a kid-sized snow shovel, a hockey stick, a broken shovel handle and a snow-block maker.  It turned out pretty well, I have to say.

And as much as I complained about having to shovel show once again, I have to admit that I need the exercise and need to get out of the house.  I need to spend a bit less time in front of a computer screen, and a bit more time in nature, even if that nature is my front yard in the city, and I am communing with it by means of a snow shovel.  

I am ready, very ready, for winter to be over.  I am tired of looking out the window and seeing shades of white and grey and blue.  I am tired of smelling nothing but snow and diesel fumes when I walk down the street.  I'm in need of spring.

Gita is getting edgy too.  I've noticed and this doesn't make for a great deal of domestic tranquility.   She pointed out the obvious the other day- that I'm sitting on my butt in front of the computer too much these days- and of course I didn't like hearing it.  But she's right.  

I'm not really interested in joining a gym and working out.  I've done that before, and my feeling is that, now, I want to work hard, but I want it to serve some sort of a purpose.  Turning the wheel on an orbital machine or lifting a stack of metal plates a foot and a half again and again doesn't count.  I want to have a good honest tired at the end of the day.  But that's not easy to come by this time of year.  

In April or May, yes.  There are beds to dig up, stuff to plant, weeds to pull, things that need painting, stuff to move around the yard.  But in February?  Not much.  I pruned all of our fruit trees last weekend and pulled a bunch of dead Virginia creeper off of the garage.  Not much left to do now in the winter maintenance department.

the back yard today
So I shoveled the walk, and shoveled the roof with my 20-foot 'roof rake'.  Played with the kids some.   Made a batch of cookies with them and hand-printed some valentines for our son's preschool.  Tonight I feel tired.

And I sat down to write, as I try to do most Sunday nights, and set a beer- the first one of the night and last one in the house- and spilled it all over the floor when I turned on the light. 

Being a nice housebroken domestic husband and all, I kept my expletives to a loud whisper, since Gita was putting the kids to bed upstairs, and went to get a paper towel to take care of the mess.  And made a note to keep more beer on hand in the future.    I understand why they drink so much of the stuff in Canada by the way.  This time of year, it feels like the water of life. 
swelling buds on the blueberry bush
 My relationship with winter is more of a love-hate relationship than one of pure dislike though.  I've spent a couple of winters in warm climates and it felt all wrong.  Like I was cheating on winter.  Like I was supposed to be suffering in one way, but was suffering instead in a totally different and unfamiliar way- from the guilt of not facing the winter I was supposed to face.  For not paying the price of the really truly beautiful Minnesota summer I  had just enjoyed, or some such thing.

My first winter in a warm climate was in Puerto Rico.  I was an exchange student at a small college in the southwestern part of the island.  The climate, by most measures, is just about perfect.  It was hot when I got there in August, but the fall and winter months are sunny and mild, with fruit growing on the trees, and the smell of flowers always in the air.  There would be a light rain shower every day in the late afternoon, then sunshine again.  Perfect weather for being outside

After a few months I absolutely hated it.

Part of it was the unfamiliar culture-  but that wasn't all of it.  I had to get out of there by Christmas, and back home to the cold.  I was never so happy to shiver.

I chalked that one up mostly to culture shock- but when I spent a winter, years later, in Austin, Texas, I had the same experience.  I should have been happy to be away from the  cold, but in a perverse way- I missed it.  I had intended to stay there longer but only lasted four months.

In between both of those times, I had gone traveling- to see the world on a shoestring after college- and, through a series of coincidences, ended up spending most of the winter on a kibbutz in Israel.  At least there, they had thunderstorms, so it felt a little bit like winter, but still, I missed the cold.  After all my complaining about it- I missed the cold and misery of a Minnesota winter.
view from the front door
So here I stay.  I don't think I'll make the mistake of trying to cheat on winter again- at least not for longer than a week or two.  That much I can still get away with. 

At least we didn't get two feet of snow, or three  or whatever ungodly amount they got in some of New England this weekend.  At least it's only a few inches.  

Actually- I probably would have enjoyed it to be honest.  Two feet of snow gives you street cred.  Four inches is just a backache.

Now I need to get into my seed catalogs.  Where the hell did I put those?