Can You Root a Rose by Putting a Cutting in Water?

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Propagating a plant from a cutting is a little like magic. You have one rose plant (​Rosa spp.​), you make cuttings and root them, and suddenly you have enough for a rose hedge. The procedure doesn't actually work quite as smoothly as magic, but you're likely to succeed if you follow a few simple instructions.

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It's not too hard to root a rose from a cutting, but you need to use appropriate rooting medium, not water, to do the job.

Propagating Roses From Cuttings

Roses are the reigning queens of the flower garden, and that may seem to rule out cutting propagation. But nothing could be further from the truth. In times past, the grand old rose varieties were handed down from one generation to another by cuttings, and any rose that grows on its own roots can be successfully propagated in this manner.

Which roses don't grow on their own roots? Some rose cultivars are commonly grown grafted on tougher, hardier rootstock. If you take a cutting from a grafted rose, you'll get the cultivar's original roots, which may or may not provide the plant you want. Another reservation: Rose cultivars are under patent for 20 years from the patent filing date or date of introduction, depending on the individual patent. During that period, only the person holding the patent — or someone paying them a royalty — can legally propagate that cultivar, whether for personal or commercial use.

How to Take a Cutting

According to experts at Texas A&M University, the best time to take rose cuttings for propagation is during the cold months, although you can take cuttings any time of year. That means you should optimally act between November and February.

Look for the healthiest, most vibrant plants for your cuttings — ideally stems that have recently flowered and are ready for deadheading. Don't pick stems that have turned brown. Using sharp, sterilized hand pruners, take stem cuttings that are 6 to 8 inches long and at least as thick as a pencil. Make the cuts at an angle directly through the slightly enlarged area where the stem branches from a larger stem. Make a straight cut across the top of the stem so you don't confuse the top and the bottom.

How to Root a Cutting

If you live in an area with mild winters, you can root the cuttings outdoors in a planting site that gets morning sun, but that is shielded from the hot afternoon sun. Make sure to select a site with good drainage, and work the soil well. If it's too cold to plant outside, fill a flowerpot with moist potting medium.

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Remove the lower leaves from the cuttings; then dip the bottom of the stems in a rooting hormone powder. Poke a hole in the soil with a pencil, deep enough that half of the cutting will be under the soil surface, then insert the bottom of the cutting in it and tuck the soil in. Place a jar or plastic bag over each cutting to keep the moisture in since moist soil is essential to rooting the cuttings. You'll need to water them regularly.

Over the next few months, the cuttings will develop "callus tissue," that is, swellings on the lower half of the cutting where roots will develop. As spring arrives, the roots sprout and new growth begins. The rose plants will be well-rooted by late spring.

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From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.