Rose Rustlers and Methods of Propagation
by Steve Sherrell; TCRS member

You might as well know that roses are not allowed to totally control my life. Actually, they probably occupy about one hour out of every five or six during the summer. During the winter, I water once every month or so, if the ground is not frozen. I cut back my roses in the spring, as opposed to the fall, because I feel that the long canes help them during the winter months. I mound up leaves and grass around the plants in the fall and trim them just enough to make them appear respectable. It is during the fall that I use the big hips that I find to gather in the seeds. I am always hopeful that I may create the next great rose.

My luck at creating seedlings from this harvest has never YET become a reality. No wonder it took Francis Meilland 50 hips, which produced 800 seedlings, to create one weak appearing, nicely bloomed rose that he later sent to America, where it was called 'Peace.' This was his Piece de Resistance,' and also the greatest rose developed up to that time. 'Peace' has been both father and mother to close to three hundred more marketable roses. Many were AARS winners. Many of these great roses and others not related to 'Peace' are now just talked about in books and remembered by the folks like you who loved them. So many great old roses are disappearing that groups of individuals have started to locate famous, hard to find roses and root them on their own roots. Some of these ROSE RUSTLERS use another means of propagation known as grafting.

Most nurseries graft roses to a cultivated or wild rose rootstock. Once they have determined that they are going to offer a plant variety for sale, they must find the fastest and most cost–effective way to get that plant to market. The nursery may use several types of rootstocks that work well in each geographical location to which they sell. 'Dr. Huey,' Fortuniana and Rosa canina are three of these. Nurseries will propagate these rootstocks in their fields until they have developed strong roots, ready to accept a graft of the desired variety. This may be a new variety or an old favorite, such as 'Peace' (over 50,000,000 'Peace' roses have been sold around the world) or 'Double Delight,' the most popular rose of the last 20 years.

These nurseries hire very good grafting workers who are paid on the percentage of good grafts that they can make. With all the rootstock they grow in the fields, a nursery can deliver a marketable plant in one season. A good worker will have up to 80% of his grafts survive to be sold on the market. The same grafting process is used to create fruit trees, wine grape plants, etc. A well-known Master Gardener has many varieties of apples on the same tree. A rose bush could also have several varieties grafted to the same plant if there was a market for it, but knowing which combinations to create would boggle minds.

Pictures of the 'T' shaped slit in the bark, down low on the base of the rootstock, make grafting seem easy to understand. I always try to follow instructions carefully when they say to insert the fresh bud eye into the bottom of the 'T,' close the flaps around it, and hold the bud in place with a rubber band that has been cut. I have watched experts do it and it seems easy, but I have had no luck yet.

Having no luck with grafts, I decided to try rooting cuttings. I've heard people say that they just leave a cutting in a glass of water for several weeks and voila, roots develop. They claim all they have to do then is plant it in the ground and it grows to blooming stage like a proverbial rocket. Well, that may be true of some older varieties, but all I get from hybrid teas and other modern roses is smelly swamp-like water and very dead cuttings.

The best time to take cuttings is in the fall. I carry a cutting kit in my car. When I travel, I stop at city parks that have rose gardens. Grandview has a very large rose garden, as do The Dalles and Walla Walla. Certainly you have heard of the Portland Rose Test grounds at Washington Park, but are you aware of the stunningly lovely test garden in Prosser on King Tulle Road at the WSU Agricultural Test Center? The WSU garden has many 60's era roses - 'Scarlet Knight,' 'Color Magic,' 'Charlotte Armstrong,' and 'Comanche,' for example. Unless people make a concerted effort to propagate them, many of these will most certainly disappear. Grandview has even more roses, and most are older varieties yet. Tri-City Rose Society's public garden at Lawrence Scott Park also has many older roses and others approaching the end of their patent rights, such as 'Duet', 'Mikado', 'Touch of Class', 'Sheer Elegance', 'Brigadoon' and 'Olympiad'. I love them all.

I carry a large plastic jar filled with water for my cuttings. And as any ROSE RUSTLER would, I pack my trusty clippers. Locating healthy stems with spent blooms, I try to take pencil or near pencil size stems 10 inches or so in length. When I get home I will still have a lot of preparation work for planting, so I spend time on each cutting while still in the garden. A person can label each cutting with tape if he knows the name of the variety, but I find that by the time a cutting has rooted and I need to know the name, every clue has disappeared into oblivion. I find it easier to label the whole lot as having come from a certain garden and keep notes of the ones I took. To prepare each cutting, I scratch the bottom of the cutting until the outer layer of green skin is tattered. I strip off the lower 6 or 7 inches of leaves. Of the leaf sets that remain, I usually remove three of the five. The idea is that my cutting has no root system yet, and the leaves are helping to dry out the stem.

Sometimes I carry a kind of soup that I make from willow bark (anybody want to come over for supper?). I cut fine willow branches into little pieces, put them into a three pound coffee can, add boiling water, and then 1/8 cup of vinegar. I have even boiled the brew for awhile but don't recommend combining this stuff in the house. The TEA is supposed to be made with willow bark alone; however, I added vinegar to the recipe because roses like the acid environment so much. I keep this soup in the refrigerator, sealing it in a plastic jar so it doesn't get moldy.

When I have my willow soup with me, I put the cuttings into that instead of water. Once I have arrived at home, I usually get right to work. I spade the soil in a shaded area that faces north, or any shady spot, especially during the hotter months. The location should afford a bit of winter protection as well. I pile leaves around the protective container, but always allow light to enter.

I sit down on the ground and start the next phase. One company claims that all they need to start cuttings is willow soup, but I also use some 'store bought' helpers. One of these is a liquid concentrate that is diluted in water. Directions say to dip cuttings into this liquid for ' no longer than three seconds'. Well, I don't like to be told what to do. So, of course, I soak them for 10 seconds or more. Then I double the insult and dip the cutting into ROOTONE growth hormone (ROOTONE has a fungicide in the mix that I feel is helpful when rooting cuttings in garden soil), coating the bottom half inch or so with the powder. Then, after using a screwdriver to punch a hole in the dirt, I push the cutting into the newly created hole, down to almost half of the cutting's length. I press the soil around the cutting, trying not to slide the cutting up and down. I continue to load an area approximately the circumference of a medium pizza. Sometimes one cutting touches another. But what the heck - in this hit or miss business, who cares. In this circle of space, I have 30 or 40 cuttings. I don't worry about crowding. The greater the number of plants, the more humid my greenhouse will be.

My 'secret weapon' greenhouse is a five gallon water jug with the bottom cut off. If you’re a married woman, be sure to get your husband involved in cutting the bottom off the water bottle. The heavy plastic is a challenge. I found that drilling a hole 2–3 inches from the bottom allows you to insert a saber saw, which works great until the bottle becomes a limp rag and is impossible to hang on to. Carefully work the bottomless water bottle down over all of the cuttings. If you measured correctly and you gently twist the bottle and shove the leaves under, all of them should be sealed inside the water jug “greenhouse.” Pile dirt around the bottom for a good air–tight seal. I find plastic party cups work pretty well to seal the top of the bottle. Sandwich sacks and rubber bands also work well.

I water daily in warm weather. Spray the leaves as well. Don’t remove the bottle; just peer down into it through its neck. Have patience. If you’re lucky, you might get 5–8 cuttings to root. I just take my shovel (after I think they can make it) and move the whole clump to a sunny location. I have some very interesting bouquet groups.

One society member roots cuttings in zip-lock bags under grow lights with great success. A Victory Garden TV show showed a 24 hour timed misting bed for cuttings.

Minis are no–brainers; they root easily. Someone in the club told me they rooted a ‘Peace’ cutting and I’m very impressed. I find that large yellow roses are tough to root. Even nursery houses say that certain varieties are very resistant to rooting or grafting. I have found that 'Mikado', 'Touch of Class,' 'Brigadoon,' 'Love,' 'Sexy Rexy,' 'Purple Tiger,' 'Iceberg,' 'Ginger,' 'Fragrant Cloud,' 'Sheer Bliss' and 'Olympiad' can be rooted. When your own little cutting grows roots and becomes a plant, you’ll get that 'miracle worker' feeling.

Remember, rose patents are good for 20 years; so if you manage to root a patented variety, it should be kept only for your private garden. Once patents have run out, you could sell rooted roses. It will take as many as two years to get your rooted darlings up to snuff, and in some cases they may never equal the vitality of a grafted rose.

Please come view the ROSE RUSTLER'S garden. It's overcrowded with 150 roses. I love my roses. I marvel at their beauty as I wander among them. I have many AARS winners and most are over 20 years old. Feel free to take cuttings. I still wonder about the names of some of the roses I have started, but that gives me more things to discover when I'm out Rustling Roses in the Wild West. separation bar
This page last updated: April 28, 2001.
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