You probably have a favorite rose bush in your collection, and now you’re thinking that you’d like to have more just like it. Fortunately, roses are surprisingly easy to grow from rooted cuttings. This is possible with today’s hybrids, but the old-time heirloom roses are easiest to propagate. You won’t need any fancy equipment to start roses from your own cuttings, and you can look forward to roughly 50 to 75 percent of your cuttings growing into mature rose bushes of acceptable quality.
Prepare your site for the cuttings. Choose a spot that receives lots of bright direct light but is protected from the hot midday sun. A bed facing east or north is great, especially if it’s sheltered by a building or other structure. Sandy soil is best, but any well-draining garden spot will work just fine. Cultivate the area well to a depth of about 6 to 8 inches. Amend the soil so that 25 to 35 percent of it consists of peat moss. Adding some organic compost is a very good idea, too.
Choose a root stimulant for the cuttings. You can use commercial rooting hormones; however, if you want to create a natural root stimulant, cut a half-inch diameter branch about 2 feet long from a healthy willow tree. Cut it into 1-inch lengths. Split those in half lengthwise, then split the halves, too. Add them to a gallon of rainwater or distilled water, and bring to a roiling boil. Turn the heat off and steep for 24 hours. It should resemble weak tea. Cool it to room temperature and then refrigerate it in a covered container. It’s also a healthy first drink for newly started cuttings.
Between November and February, take cuttings from your healthy rose bush’s current year’s growth, while there are still withered blooms on the plant. The best stems will be free of disease or discoloration, and will have hips forming from the spent blooms. Use sharp, clean shears to make a 45-degree cut about 8 inches below the spent flower head, just above at least one set of healthy leaves, which the cutting will use to produce food via photosynthesis. Plunge the cut ends in cool water immediately. You mustn’t allow them to dry out even a little. Take your cuttings during the day’s cooler hours, not when the sun is high and hot. Process them immediately.
Strip the leaves from the lower halves of the cuttings, leaving those at the top. If you are using willow water, pour about an inch of the willow rooting tea into a shallow bowl and let it set until it comes to room temperature. Add the cuttings to the bowl and allow them to soak for several hours. Alternatively, dampen the lower stems with distilled water and dip them in commercial powdered rooting hormone. Tap excess powder from the stems.
Poke holes 6 to 8 inches apart in the prepared soil with a pencil. Plant the lower halves of the stems in the holes, and gently firm the soil around each. This is known as “sticking.” Add an inch of organic mulch, if you wish. Water the cuttings thoroughly with the willow tea or regular water. The planting medium should be evenly moist, but not soggy or wet.
Water as often as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist. The cuttings must never be allowed to dry out. You can use tap water or the willow tea until you run out (after which ordinary tap water will suffice). The only times that you shouldn’t water is during periods when the ground is frozen. Don’t worry about the cuttings surviving the cold as they will fare quite well.
Run out and place overturned boxes over the cuttings to protect them from being buried by heavy snows. Otherwise, leave them exposed to the elements. By the time spring arrives they’ll have sprouted roots, and vigorous new growth will begin emerging by April or May. Leave them right where they are until the end of the growing season, and continue to keep them evenly moist as they work hard to develop robust root systems.
Transplant your healthy young rose bushes to their permanent, sunny locations in late winter, when they’ve gone dormant. They’ll need at least six hours of full sun daily. Trim off excessively tall or lanky stems at this time. Add an inch or two of organic mulch. The plants will look small, but they’ll continue to grow quickly and will probably bloom a little in the spring. You can include the babies in your regular rose feeding schedule at that time.