Rose Cuttings – October, 2007

Whether we are offered cuttings from a friend’s rose, find interesting varieties while traveling or just want to increase numbers of our exiting roses, successful rooting of roses can appear to be a daunting task.

But we have a method of rooting cuttings that rarely fails us: The Zip-Lock Bag Method, casually known around here as the clip-it-and-zip-it method. You will only need: one-gallon size zip-lock bags, all-purpose potting soil (not coarse screen), perlite, rooting hormone (optional).

As a collector, grower and distributor of many old, rare or unnamed varieties of roses, I have been exposed to dozens of methods of rooting cuttings that homeowners and nurserymen have invented in order to duplicate their roses. They range from large greenhouses with automated mist systems to a simple upside-down mason jar. Ours is one of the best methods, and, ironically, one the easiest.

To start, fill the bottom of the bag with 2 inches of moist potting soil and coarse perlite, mixed in a one-to-one ratio. Perlite acts as an aerator, preventing the potting soil from compacting and helping to avoid over-saturation. Air is a very important component of successful root formation.

Create holes (1/4-inch wide) in each bottom corner of the bag to allow excess water to drain. Water is added only to create a moist, not wet, medium. Properly moist media will NOT drip if squeezed in your fist. (The greatest percentage of rooting failure I have seen has always been due to water-soaked media.) You can place up to ten 3-inch cuttings (cuttings taken from stems that have just bloomed are best) in each bag. Stem cuttings that are 3 to 4 inches long containing 2 to 3 leaves usually root well. Remove only the bottom leaf to allow the stem to easily enter the medium. You can dip your cuttings into rooting hormone containing IBA to aid in the speed and percentage of rooting. I have found that most cuttings will still root without it.

Remember, rose cuttings have a short storage life. They can be refrigerated in moist paper towels, wrapped in plastic, and preserved for 5 to 6 days without affecting rooting. However, if left in open air, the cuttings will desiccate within hours, so “plant” them in their bag as soon as possible.

Placement of the bag is important while roots are developing. Direct sunlight can cook the unrooted plants in the sealed bag. Too little light won’t provide the energy the cuttings need to form roots. I have found that a northeast- or northwest-facing windowsill offers excellent light for rooting. East- or west-facing windows are good as well, as long as some relief from the direct sun is offered. Optimum temperatures for rooting are from 55 to 85 F. To maintain the 100 percent humidity that the bag environment provides, you may need to add up to two tablespoons of water every third or fourth day. Condensation on the bag’s inside walls is a good sign that this “terrarium environment” is being maintained.

You can actually see roots emerging and, later, touching the bag’s sides in 3 to 5 weeks. In 5 to 7 weeks, the bag can be opened from the top to start weaning the cuttings from their 100 percent humid environment. You will need to water more often as the newly rooted cuttings acclimate. In 10 to 18 weeks, rooted cuttings can be planted into small pots with regular potting soil or into protected areas of the garden.

This method of rooting works with many other types of plants as well. I have also found that some cuttings without leaves or even dormant hardwood cuttings will root, but at a lower percentage and at a slower pace.

So when you want to get a start of that rose you always wanted, yet have failed repeatedly, remember, success is in the bag!

About the author: Mike Shoup is owner of The Antique Rose Emporium, a Texas nursery dedicated to the reintroduction of old garden roses.

Antique Rose Emporium’s Fall Festival of Roses will be held November 3, 4, & 5 in Independence/Brenham. Go to our Web site at for more information.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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