Propagating Roses

Most gardeners can successfully propagate roses using everyday gardening tools and a little patience. Roses that have been grafted (typically modern Teas, Floribundas, and Grandiflora types) onto a hardy rootstock are more challenging to propagate. Softwood cuttings and cane cuttings rarely exhibit the same growth habits as the mother plant. Older varieties grown on their ‘Own Root’ stock will come true to the parent plant no matter what type of propagation strategy the gardener chooses.  

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Photo by Malcolm Manners, unmodified, Flickr, Copyright CC by 2.0

Methods To Propagate Roses

Softwood cuttings and hardwood cane cuttings are the most reliable way to grow a new Rose. Some Rose species also have a suckering growth habit, which makes multiplying the shrubs as easy as dividing the plant every few years. Collecting hips and growing the mature seed inside is possible, although this is possibly the slowest way to obtain a mature rose shrub. Even with the proper cold stratification, rose seeds can take anywhere from months to years for germination. 

Grafting Roses is possible for the home gardener, although it does require purchasing a hardier rootstock and growing the grafted plant in a protected location such as an unheated greenhouse until it is stable enough to be planted in the garden. Grafted Roses also have a much shorter life expectancy than own-rooted roses, which can often live for 50 years or more. 

What You Need To Propagate Roses

For cuttings: Use a potting mix that contains a large amount of perlite to increase drainage. Depending on the size of the cutting, you can use a 4-inch diameter pot or a one-gallon capacity pot with drainage holes on the bottom. Using a powder or gel rooting hormone on hardwood cutting is optional and will help to speed up root formation, reducing the chance of rot.  

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Photo by Malcolm Manners, cropped, Flickr, Copyright CC by 2.0

For seeds: You will need a damp paper towel, zip-loc baggie, and an undisturbed spot in the refrigerator for the cold stratification process. Plant the pre-treated seeds in shallow seed starting flats using either finely sifted potting mix or a specially formulated peat-free seed starting mix. Rose seedlings are delicate and prone to damping off and other fungal diseases, so sterilized soil, flats, and pots should be used throughout the seed-growing process. A fine layer of horticultural grit spread across the surface of the growing flat or pot will protect the potting mix from fungus gnats and help to discourage damping off diseases. 

For division: A transplanting spade with a narrow head makes digging up the root ball easier when it is planted amongst perennials or other shrubs. Two pitchforks placed back to back will give you the leverage needed to split apart the individual plants. Suckering growth can be separated with a sharp pair of hand pruners or long-handled loppers. A large capacity watering can or hose connected to a water source will be needed for watering in the new plants and settling the soil around the root ball.

For layering: Sterilized hand pruners will ensure that no diseases are transferred to your mother plant or soon-to-be offspring. Use heavy-duty sod pins or heavy flat rocks to keep the branch in contact with the garden soil. Dusting the cut branch with rooting hormone is optional. 

Best Time To Propagate Roses

The timing for Rose propagation depends on the technique being used. The best time to divide Roses is in late winter or early spring before the new growth emerges. This gives the new plants time to reacclimate and establish themselves in the garden before winter. Softwood cuttings should be taken in early summer before hard woody stems develop. Layering is also best done in early summer while the canes are still pliable and easily bent.  Cane cuttings take longer to establish and are best done late in the fall as the plant is going into dormancy.  Seed starting is only possible in the fall after the hips and seed inside fully ripen. 

Steps To Propagate Roses

By far, the best propagation method for Roses is through either softwood cuttings or hardwood cane cuttings of non-grafted varieties. The following steps are for both types of cuttings.

Step 1 - Cut an 8-10-inch length stem just above a set of leaves. Stems without flower buds are best for cuttings. Cane cuttings need to be 6-8 inches in length and have at least 2 sections of bud nodes visible. 

Step 2 - Fill a pot with either a potting mix high in perlite or just perlite, and firm it down to give the cuttings a solid base. 

Step 3 - Make an angled cut on the bottom of the cutting and strip off the foliage, leaving only a set of leaves at the top. If you are using a hardwood cane cutting, there will be no foliage.  

Step 4 - Slide the cutting into the pot, placing each stem close to the edge of the pot. Small pots (4-6 inches) can hold 3 cuttings while larger pots can hold 5 or more while still having enough room for the roots to develop. 

Step 5 - Water the cuttings well and place a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot to trap moisture and humidity around the cutting. 

Step 6 - Place the pots in a partially shaded location that will stay moderately warm and protected from harsh weather. 

Step 7 - Gently water the pots from the bottom regularly to prevent the potting mix from drying out. 

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Photo by Malcolm Manners, cropped, Flickr, Copyright CC by 2.0

Caring For Young Rose Cuttings 

Rose cuttings can take anywhere from 3-6 weeks (for softwood cuttings) and 3-4 months (for hardwood cuttings) to root. The first signs that the cutting is successful will be roots growing from the bottom of the pots or fresh new growth emerging from the top of the cutting. This is a good time to separate the cuttings from one another and either transplant them into larger pots to grow over the winter or plant them directly into the garden. Keep new plants well watered, allowing them to dry slightly between waterings. Light feeding with a diluted liquid fertilizer will help the new cuttings establish a sturdy root system. 

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Author Robbin Small - Published 8-12-2023