Some observations about roses…and producing them

At this time of year (well the last couple of months really) there are so many columns in papers and magazines about making cuttings of things, especially it appears, of roses. I sometimes wonder if these various authors have ever tried any number of cuttings themselves to prove their wise theories, or whether they read it from a book. The same book as everyone else… The thing is, I’ve “planted” a lot of cuttings over the last 20 years, tens of thousands I guess, and I find much of the advice rather tiresome and unhelpful.      

From the beginning, the “golden rule” appears to be that your cutting must be the length and diameter of a pencil. This must  be true, because every one says the exact same thing. That same old pencil. Well good luck to you finding a pencil on any miniature, china or polyantha rose,  can cuttings not be made from them??? Turns out they’re 3 of the most readily rooting rose families, despite being devoid of pencils ! And cut a suitable branch from a big grower and you’ll have to discard 90% of it and just keep the tip, all the rest of the wood will be way wider than a pencil…

Then of course the cutting must be straight, have no branches, at least 4 leaf nodes bla bla bla. Well it’s all rubbish. (in my humble opinion) The likes  of Mme Alfred Carriere or Variegata de Bologna will provide pot after pot of these text book cuttings each season. They’ll tick every box …until some weeks pass and they all go brown, with not a root in sight. Maybe the very odd success to keep you trying. On the other hand a pot of Old Blush with bent and twiggy pieces, varying in size from tiny twigs to stumpy branches, all shorter than pencils and with multiple side branches to cut off each messy cutting…you might expect a 90 to 100% success with those! Cos Chinas love to make roots , and quickly, as do Wichurianas and Multifloras. Gallicas prefer to sucker and are usually painstakingly slow to make roots, ditto pimpinellifolias and rugosas, in general. So when it comes to attempting cuttings of modern roses, they are so hybridised, having been crossed species to species for literally centuries, you won’t know ,until you try, to which side of their complex families they have thrown.

And so the instructions continue…always use a pencil with at least 4 leaf nodes. Another reason to not even try a variety of roses. A Tea rose for example, often is quite sparsely clothed (not many leaves) , therefore if you’re sticking with your pencil length cuttings you may be lucky to include 4 nodes in the required stem…what to do ? throw the wood away? I say not. I say take all instructions with a hefty handful of salt and give it a go…stick them in and see what happens…you may be pleasantly surprised.

The most unlikely cuttings can often take and as a rule I find the thinnest twigs usually make roots a lot faster than the bigger pieces of wood.

So that’s my rave over for the year, and onto some other observations I find interesting…

Growth habit in roses varies immensely and is obviously genetic. A rose for sale is most often bought for the flower, when you buy a young bush you will know little of what’s going to happen to the bush in the future, unless you know the genetics.

Nowadays, modern hybridisers tend to spend more time producing the complete picture, rather than just a pretty face. Therefore experienced rose breeders will pass over many beautiful bushes they have bred due to “bad “habits, like disease,blooms dying badly, unsightly die back on the bush after flowering etc etc The David Austin company has recently copyrighted the majority of their roses to protect the name from usurpers after the PVR is expired. The growth habit and die back is obviously one of the standards in choosing which to copyright. Interestingly many of the true old roses sport many of these ” genetic faults” but that doesn’t stop people wanting to grow them!Souvenir de la Malmaison with its bad habits of mildew, mean thorns and balling is still possibly the world’s favourite old fashioned rose. Certainly it’s one of my favourites!