Tag: benches

Grow roses with cuttings taken from your own yard

Hundreds, if not thousands, of garden-worthy varieties of roses are in danger of disappearing. I could give a long rant about the reasons why – but it really is as simple as this: for various reasons, even wonderful roses can fall out of fashion, sales fall below a certain level, the big nurseries can’t make money propagating them in large numbers, so they fall “out of the trade”.

Here’s where the little guys like you and me come in, and here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Collect out-of-patent and garden-worthy roses before they disappear from the nurseries
  2. Take cuttings
  3. Once rooted, sell them or give them away
  4. Accept my thanks for keeping old & uncommon roses alive and for sharing the hobby!

Of the actions listed above, numbers 1 and 4 are pretty easy… I suspect if you have any questions, it’ll be about the “taking cuttings” and the “rooting” part. Happily, there’s plenty of information out there about how to take semi-hardwood cuttings of roses (my preferred method). My part is to encourage you to get some experience doing it, and to answer any questions you may have. My own success rate varies according to how much time I have to attend to the cuttings, but I still manage to root in the range of 1000 per year on a part-time basis.

Here’s an introductory video I made on the topic:

Some people learn from watching, but I really need to emphasize that the best way to learn propagation is by throwing caution to the wind and just doing it. Get those clippers into your hands and get snipping – even if you’re not sure you’re doing it right. You’ll get a feel for it as you get experience handling the roses and cuttings.

To recap and detail the points on the video:

  • Start with clean, sharp clippers. I use a Felco, but any decent quality blades will do as long as you keep them sharp and clean.
  • Select a section of the rose’s stem – a good section has at least 3 or 4 nodes and is somewhere around 4 to 6 inches in length, the thickness of a pencil or slightly thinner. What’s a node? It’s a place where a leaf emerges from the stem. If the section doesn’t have leaves at every node, you can recognize the node by the bud – see this picture as an example:
  • It may take some practice to choose the right “firmness” or ripeness of the wood. See in the video for the way I try to bend the stem – if it bends very easily, it’s too soft. If it wont bend without feeling like it will snap, it’s too hard. If you’re not sure, just take and stick the cutting anyhow. Your success rate will tell you if you got it right.
  • Cut just below the bottom node, and just above the top node. Strip off most of the leaves. In my cuttings, I leave two leaflets on the top node and that’s all.
  • To help with your success, you can dip in a rooting hormone.
  • Stick the cutting in a sterile, well-drained potting mix. No fertilizer please. You only have to push it in by an inch or two – just enough to keep it stable and upright under the mist.
  • Yes, there are alternatives to mist. I’ve had decent success with a humidity dome or tent in the past. It depends on how many you’re doing. Let me know if you need any tips! It’s important not to keep the cuttings water-logged while they’re trying to root.
  • You’ll know your cutting is beginning to “take” if it’s forming white callus along the base of the cutting. Here’s an example:
  • Reduce the mist / humidity when the cutting “pulls back” when you gently tug upward on it. At this point, the early callus tissue have begun to form roots, as pictured here:
  • If you grow in the 9cm size pots I use, you can leave the cuttings to fully root and grow for 6 months, a year, or more before you have to do anything with it. Here’s an example of one I overwintered from last year:
  • And that’s it… you have a well-established rose, ready to go into a larger pot or to be sold, traded or given away.

“Sooner or later, every gardener comes around to roses” was a quote from Christine Allen, I think, in a book I read. The prospect of that seems pretty bleak right now… it appears that gardening trends have placed the rose, with all its associated baggage, in an unfavorable position. Those of us who have come around to the hobby, we have the great good fortune to inherit 2000+ plus years of rose varieties, passed down from ancient China and Rome and the middle-east – along with the efforts of hundreds of breeders in modern times from all around the world, including Canada. Let’s take the opportunity to gather those hybrids we like the best, and share them with each other so that if (when?) all the other gardeners “come around to roses” there’s something of this magnificent hobby left for them to enjoy.

Seed stratification

I know my weakness. This time of year, when things are less demanding at work, and my roses no longer need daily attention, I’m particularly susceptible to the overtures of the seed companies. They send me catalogs with what I can only assume are lightly photoshopped plant pictures, and liberally embellished descriptions… and I don’t even bother to hide my wallet. Lisa knows what I’m up to.

Can you really blame me? I go outside to this:

Don’t get me wrong… I do love how the freezing rain looks encasing the remaining rose hips on our stock plants. However, there’s nothing like a six foot snow drift to remind me why spring is my favorite season, and gardening my favorite hobby. Seeds are my earliest and most hopeful connection to the upcoming season.

I made a quick video on starting seeds – particularly seed stratification. Here it is:

On the topic of seed stratification, the key points are these:

  • Not every seed needs pre-treatment. It’s more commonly required for temperate climate trees, shrubs, and perennials – and largely unnecessary for annuals and veggie starts.
  • The reason the seeds need to be treated is to fool them into thinking they’ve been through a winter outdoors. Some people skip the middle step, and simply sow their seeds into a prepared bed in the fall outside, letting nature do the work. I prefer to stratify seeds myself in my own containers – sometimes nature can be a bit inconsistent, even cruel. Outside, my seeds can be eaten by critters, before or after germination.
  • The most common treatment is approximately 8 weeks of cold stratification. That means placing the seeds in a moist (not soaking wet) sterile medium (sand, perlite or vermiculite usually) and keeping them in the fridge at around 2 to 4 degrees celsius.
  • Even though this is the most common treatment, research your particular seeds. Some benefit from a warm moist duration before cold. Others need two full winter cycles with a warm duration between. Be sure and check the seeds every now and again. My roses, for instance, quite often begin to germinate while in the fridge towards the end of their stratification period.

I’ve grown a few hundred varieties from seed – some easily, and some by trial and error. If anyone out there wants advice on any specific varieties, I may be able to help.

Do-it-yourself Heated Propagation Bench

It’s a good thing that my hobby is neatly divided into seasons. It gives me time to forget how foolish I was to buy and save all those seeds last year, and how hard pressed I was to find warm places to germinate them. My wife Lisa (who I may have mentioned having the patience of a saint) tolerated it when my seedling trays migrated into the house, but drew the line after all the appropriate windowsills and nearby table tops reached capacity.

At some point those early-season seedling trays need to migrate out the greenhouse – not only for the sake of my marriage, but also because the plants benefit from the better lighting conditions of the greenhouses. I won’t confess here which was my greater motivation.

The difficulty: at the time when I’m starting many of my seeds (February, March) weather conditions can still be quite variable, and if I put newly sprouted seedlings out on an unheated bench, a bitterly cold night could knock them right down.

All of this explanation is by way of justifying another heated greenhouse bench. Here’s the video of us building it:

I won’t spend a lot of time recapping what I already said in the video, but I will say this: root heating has an incredibly beneficial effect of young plants. It increases root development in those vital early weeks, which in turn means a quicker, healthier plant. The nursery I work for uses a much larger an more robust boiler system with microtubes to distribute heated water to all the benches – and the results are phenomenal: big healthy plugs that are ready to transplant and finish in a larger pot within weeks.

I can’t duplicate that entirely, but I do get good results on these inexpensive benches. Because of the insulation, and because all the heat is released relatively close to the roots, they actually don’t take much electricity to get a good result. Later in the season, I use the same benches for rooting my semi-hardwood rose cuttings.

Winter project – greenhouse benches

Thanks to the support of our local customers, 2016 was a year of real progress for Fraser Valley Rose Farm. We hosted a successful farm tour, attended a number of new events, and plant sales in particular were much improved. We still have a long way to go, but we also have many reasons to be optimistic.

One pressure of the increase plant sales was growing space. Or bench space, to be more particular.

We actually still had a fair amount of available room on the floor of the greenhouses, but our greenhouse benches were overfull.

So why should that make such a difference? Wouldn’t it be just the same to grow our plants on the floor?

Not exactly. If you’re interested in the reasons why, go ahead and watch the following video I we made on the topic:

Given the need for new benches, we followed the basic design of the old ones: treated 2 by 4 lumber, topped with 1″ wire mesh. We built 5 in total – one of which I’m converting to a heated propagation bench. I’ll post a quick video on that when I have all the supplies ready.

Anyhow – with nearly twice the bench space, we’re well prepared to increase our young plant production for 2017. Catch us at the Mission Farmers Market starting in May (in our brand new location!) to see what’s new and interesting.