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CLONING ROSES:

Roses can be one of the most rewarding plants to grow in a garden. No matter what niche you are looking to fill, chances are someone has developed a cultivar to match it. Unfortunately (most) roses do not grow "true" when they are grown from seed. Additionally most seeds take a very long time to germinate. As a result, the preferred way to cultivate roses for commercial and home production is usually through asexual reproduction. This process has a lot of draw backs. Rose cuttings are even more susceptible and downright "finicky" than the plants they come from. From the moment you cut the stem (and the air touches the wound) you are fighting a battle with stress, nutrient loss, and infection.

Many people follow cutting guides for Rose propagation and find themselves disappointed with bags of rotted rose stems and molding leaves. This is unfortunately part of the process. In many cases its easier to root a more healthy base (Fortuniania is preferable in the south for instance and is more resilient to certain infections) and then simply graft stem or floral cuttings from another bush. Even then, getting the base to take root can be challenging, and prone to rot. Some prefer to combine both steps, but this process of course leaves two wounds that have to be sterilized and properly treated. Success with either method is a matter of out-pacing the process of death and infection that is set in motion by wounding the plant.

Here are some "secret" weapons I've come across that will help you beat the odds.

Cornmeal. Cornmeal can be introduced directly into the potting mix you are using. As the corn particles break down they attract/release Trichoderma fungus. This special type of fungus actually feeds off of the kinds of fungus that attacks the plant. Trichoderma can help to remove a lot of pesky fungal infections in your yard. This is especially useful when you are using a zip-lock bag and the fungus is inevitable. Trichoderma also do some interesting things when they come into contact with plants. They don't hurt plants, but they do stimulate their generalized defense response and this helps them resistance to pathogens in general.

Aspirin/ Willow root. Many people are surprised that Aspirin is a synthetic form of salicin. Salicin is a powerful plant hormone, abundant in Willow trees (any Salyx species), that modulates plant defense systems and their response to stress. Salicylic acid (which is what Salicin breaks down into) from willow trees was used for many years by Native Americans before the advent of "table aspirin". Its also used in Acne treatments (though these aren't suitable for plants, they are too stringent). Aspirin is Acetylsalicylic Acid. While aspirin has been used extensively in medicine for years, many people are surprised its medicine for plants as well. Plants even engineer volatile forms of the chemical to warn eachother about disease. Take a 500mg table aspirin and put it in a gallon of water. Shake vigorously and let your cuttings soak for up to 2 hours in it.

Honey. Honey is an amazing antiseptic. What makes honey so great? It contains a number of curious chemicals. Prominent among them are a class of enzymes that produce a steady stream of hydrogen peroxide. Not enough to damage the wound any further, but just enough to keep it sterile (this works on people as well). The best way I have found to use it is to actually coat the blades of your pruning shears with it. When plants are wounded they immediately begin to seal the wound in a process known as abscission. The plant notices the imbalance of various hormones (specifically ethylene and IAA) and this in turn promotes a series of enzymes and chemical reactions that seals the plant. Normally the exposed tissue would allow these hormones to basically evaporate right of the tissue. Coating the wound in honey helps to keep all the tissue from sealing (we want it to grow from these areas, not scab) and it spreads a nice disinfectant over it to prevent fungal infections. Honey also makes terrific mixing agent for the powder hormones you will have to apply. Rooting homes come in gels, powders, or concentrates. I am going to speculate that there are probably additional benefits to the honey. It is afterall a concentrated and processed by-product of flowering plants and contains all sorts of inert plant particles (most likely with hormone and hormonal analogs present). Regardless of the specific mechanisms, it just seems to work really really really well. Did I mention its cheap? (*Do not heat the honey in an attempt to sterilize it, this will just make it into expensive sugar goo and render it useless. Its fine the way you buy it.*)

Artifically long days: 24 hour (indoor) lighting. People have been playing around with photo period and color components for some time. Growing indoors allows you to choose just the right wavelenghts, moderate the temperature (roses lose food production efficiency at higher temps), and control its duration. I've had a lot of success rooting plants in an artificial environment with long days. This doesn't work with all plants, but I have had particular success with Fortuniania and other old garden roses using this technique. This simulates being in the deep of summer. For many plants, this puts them in a strong vegetative state (roses, camellias, etc). The extra hours also allow the plant extra time to make food and to help them out pace infection. Its a war of attrition when you are a rooting a cutting, and the extra light can mean a healthy response to the open wound, and the formation of roots. How to do it cheaply: go to a hardware store and buy a $6 dollar clip on light fixture. The kind that is sized for a standard bulb. You want to find a Compact Fluorescent Light bulb (yes, the dreaded 'curly' ones). The standard seems to be 2700K, which is just fine. Lower temperature bulbs will produce a larger amount of Red wavelengths which are most important in stem and tuber formation. They go up to 6500K, but if you stick with the lower temperature bulbs you will have a preponderance of the red wavelengths which correspond to the largest increases in stem/root size. Tweaking the lighting environment allows you to out-pace normal die off and infection processes.

Molasses. Great in combination with cornmeal. Place a cup of cracked corn and a couple of table spoons of molasses in a gallon of water. Let it sit for a couple of hours and mist the solution onto the plants. There is some debate over whether or not the plants directly absorb the sugar. Whatever doesn't make its way into the plant feeds good bacteria and helps to establish a healthier biology on the plant surface. Molasses is also a great source of nutrients for the growing plant. Often times as plants begin putting out new growth you will notice a yellowing effect. This is because the plant is depleting its own resources and not taking any in. Molasses is made from sugar beets and so it has a lot of "plant" reserves including Vitamin B, which can help plants deal with stress. You can do this once every two weeks without harming the plants. Go lightly at first.

Which rooting hormones to use? This is always a debate. Not enough and there is no effect, too much and the roots are stunted. Everybody has their own ideas. I believe there is a lot of good argumentation to using both

IBA( Indole-3-butyric acid) and NAA (1-napthyl acetic acid, a synthetic form of Indole Acetic Acid) together (at least with roses). They seem to balance well with many plants, but they must be kept directly against the tissue to ensure they are effective. I found the best approach is just to use a couple drops of NAA with IBH powder and to mix the two with honey. The honey will help keep the hormones right up against the tissue of the plant where it will have an effect.