There seems to be a great to-do over germinating and growing roses from seeds. Some grass-roots gardeners find that amusing, because roses have been propagating themselves from their own seeds since ancient times, without grow lights or other human intervention. Although the final rate of germination may be a little higher when using artificial means, it stands to reason that given the chance a rose plant can reproduce itself just fine. If you suspect that nature’s way just might be best, then give it a shot and offer only minimal assistance. It’s easy to lead a rose to the propagation path outdoors, and this simple project may convince you that you’re probably right.
Allow fading roses to remain on your plants, and don’t de-head them. As a bloom fades and drops its petals, it will begin to form a seed pod, or “hip” at the enlarged part of the stem, just below the sepals of the spent flower. The hip will begin to swell as it develops, and in most cases gradually change from green to orange, red, yellow or brown, depending upon the plant’s variety.
Snip the ripe hip from your rose plant when it’s completely turned color, which means that it’s now mature and ready to be harvested. This usually occurs about four months after the flower fades, often just after the first hard frost in November or December. It’s all right if the hip has shriveled just a little bit.
Cut the hip in half with a sharp knife. Don’t worry about damaging the 1-50 seeds inside, because they’re protected by hard coatings. Dump the seeds into a kitchen strainer and rinse them under cool running water while rubbing them against the strainer to loosen any remaining plant material.
Add 1 tsp. household bleach to 1 cup of water and drop the seeds into the solution. The ones that sink to the bottom are more likely to be viable than those that float.
Select a nursery spot in your garden for raising rose seeds. It should be a sunny, well-drained location, preferably sheltered from wind and heavy weather. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate a 12- to 14-inch growing pot. Cut the bottom out of the pot and bury it in the hole so that the top 1 inch remains above the soil line. Mix equal parts sterile potting soil and vermiculite and fill the buried pot with it to ½ inch from the top rim.
Push the seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep into the medium, about 1 inch apart. Dust them lightly with seed starting fungicide. Mix 1 to 2 tsp. of peroxide with 1 cup of water in a plastic spray bottle. Spritz the planting medium with enough of the solution to evenly moisten the surface. Your rose seeds will germinate and sprout quite naturally in about six to eight weeks when the weather begins to warm a little, though some can take as long as two years. Always water with the peroxide solution to prevent damping off.
Water the seeds just enough to keep them from drying out, but don’t water during periods when the ground may be frozen. If weather turns particularly ugly, run out and cover the nursery with an overturned box to keep it from being buried by snow. Don’t worry that your rose seeds will freeze, because they’ll tolerate that just fine. Remember that when the rose plants its seeds without your help, the babies just sleep right through inclement conditions.
Transplant rose seedlings to their sunny permanent garden locations when they have at least six true leaves, after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is workable.