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.


  1. I have yet to try it, but I have heard that you can get rooting hormone naturally from willow by crushing young branches and soaking them in water. It's not nearly as concentrated or convenient as the powder, but as least it's something you can use after the powder isn't available.

    1. That's good to know. I saw something similar online and want to try it someday. This is the sort of knowledge that will be useful in 20 years.

    2. I read on another site how you would cook the willows and then use the water.

  2. Love this idea for the roses! (and gorgeous picture)

    Sad to hear about the end of the Canadian program...because the Cuthbert Grant rose in my yard is a favorite. (Got it from the Jung's catalog as 'sticks' about 7 years ago, and it's still going strong.)

    1. Hi Amy!

      The Cuthbert Grant is a Canadian Explorer rose- bred in Ontario or Quebec. Also a very good hardy rose. I think the rose breeding program that begat the Canadian Explorer series has been shut down as well- Morden's Parkland series breeding program lasted a little bit longer in Manitoba, and focused on breeding super cold-hardy shrub roses, while the best Canadian Explorers were climbers.

      William Baffin is a fantastic Canadian Explorer rose, by the way. If you want a climbing rose that grows quickly, flowers a lot and is pretty disease resistant, I would really recommend it. I've seen it do really well in a lot of situations where little else would grow. Before you commit to a high-maintenance rose, I'd check that one out.

  3. Also, you're reminding me how tempted I've been to order from this place after reading about them last year:

    But, haven't figured out yet if there's a spot in my yard where I can kill off lawn and add more garden space. :-)

  4. Hey Jeff - Something I am trying this year is using raw honey in place of rooting hormone. So far it seems to be working. I am rooting cutting of currants, goooseberries, haskaps, aronia, and tree collards. I haven't been able to find much on the science behind using honey as a rooting hormone substitute, but I imagine it has something to do with the sugar content and antimicrobial properties of good honey.

    Like John said, I have tried using willow "tea" a little bit, and it also seems to have some positive effects on growing roots. Either way, honey or willow tea are good options to commercial rooting hormone, I have heard that it is pretty nasty crap.

    Good luck with the roses!!

    1. Thanks for the tip Andy! Raw honey is easier to come by than fresh willow cuttings- at least in St. Paul.

      The rooting hormone is fairly nasty stuff. It smells like really strong vitamin supplements and gives me kind of a stomachache from the smell after using it. It's not my first choice, but I decided to use it anyway in order to give it a try.