The Antique Rose Emporium hosts a rose-cutting clinic every fall to teach would-be rose rescuers the nursery's time-tested, streamlined cutting method.
"We know it works," says Emporium owner Mike Shoup, "because customers come back and tell us, 'Yes, they rooted.'"
Whether you're taking cuttings from a friend's garden rose or from a mystery rose at a country cemetery, all you need are zippered food-storage bags, paper towels, potting soil, and cutting shears.
Choose the right time. No matter what your climate zone, bloom time is always the best time. "When a rose is in bloom, it is primed for rooting," Shoup says. "Select a branch or a cane from that rose that is in bloom. Preferably, the flower has just finished and fallen off.
Make the cuts. From the chosen cane, "nip the flower or spent flower off about one inch below the flower. From that point down the cane, you can get several 3-inch long cuttings in most cases. Make sure that there are at least two leaves on each section. Cut the stem right below the (lower) leaf and remove that bottom leaf."
Pack up your cuttings. Shoup recommends quart-size zip-top bags to stow and label cuttings in the field. "If you're out in the wild, at an abandoned home site, or at somebody's house to get cuttings, (label them and) wrap those rose cuttings up into a moist paper towel." Put everything in a zip-top bag until you get home and take the next step.
Prepare the rooting medium. Fill the bottom third of another zip-top bag with potting soil. "Wet it to the extent that when you squeeze it, it's not going to drip. It should not be saturated. Saturation with water is the biggest killer of rooting plants. If there's too much water, the air is forced out." If you have perlite, Shoup recommends adding some for better air retention, but "potting soil will work."
Add the cuttings. Put the leafless bottom inch of each cutting into the soil, up to 6 cuttings per bag. "If you've got the ability to go to a garden center and buy a root hormone, it speeds up the process, but it's an optional thing," he says.
Close the bag. "Zip the bag up, and you've got a terrarium. There's no moisture lost," he says. That means no misting or additional watering.
Find the right light. Put the bag on a pie pan or a plate in an east-facing windowsill to allow for the right amount of light while protecting the sill from condensation.
Wait three to six weeks. After three or four weeks, you might see white root tips touching the edge of the plastic. You can transfer the rootings then or you can wait six weeks, as Shoup does, to transfer those rootings very carefully to a 4-inch pot or a 1-gallon pot with the same kind of potting soil and put them in a transition area. That can be outside if it's not freezing, or in a greenhouse where they can be tended to until it's the right time to plant them outside.
Casey Kelly-Barton is a Texas writer.