Determine the health and size of the plant, to see if it's large enough and healthy enough to survive the loss of mass to cuttings. If not, what can you do to make it healthier so that you'll be able to take cuttings from it at a later date - can you help with food, water, sun, and root competition...?
Find stems that have already bloomed this year - look for spent flowers or rose hips, rather than fresh flowers or buds. These stems should be somewhat hardened, but not woody. Ideally, the stem should be about the thickness of a pencil, but this will vary with the type of rose. If there are leaves on the bush, the leaves on your target stem should match the rest of the bush in color and texture, rather than being lighter green or redder (that is, much younger) than others on the bush. Even if there are no leaves on the stem at the time you take the cutting (as is likely if you are taking cuttings in the winter), there should be bud points along the stem where leaves will form. Beware of a rose bush that actually has two different kinds of stems, foliage, or flowers - this will be a plant with a failing graft, and you don't want to take the rootstock, you want the good part of the plant - and because the graft is failing, it's even more important that you succeed on your first attempt at rooting it!
Using sharp clippers, cut sections of fairly straight stem from 6 inches to 3 feet long. For ease of transport, we usually cut each cane into pieces from 6" to 12" long. Each section should have at least 4 buds/leaf axils. Try to keep all cuttings oriented in the same direction, so you'll know which way is up....
If you are collecting cuttings from more than one rose on this occasion, be sure to keep the cuttings separate and identified....
Keep the cuttings moist and cool while you transport them home. Wrap the bottom of the stem in wet paper towels, put them into a plastic bag, and keep them out of the sun. For longer trips, put them in a cup of water. If necessary, keep cuttings in an ice-chest to keep them cool. Cuttings can be held for a couple of days if necessary, but don't delay getting them into pots.
Prepare your dirt mix. Many mixes work, but we use approximately equal portions of topsoil, composted pine bark (Nature's Helper), and composted manure, mixed well, to the consistency of coffee grounds. Fill one-gallon (6") pots with dirt. Using a pencil or small dowel, push holes through the dirt to the bottom of the pot. Make as many evenly-spaced holes in the pot as you will have cuttings - up to 4 per pot. Wash and rinse clear 2-liter soda bottles; remove labels and lids, and cut off curved bottoms.
Select and trim cuttings to 6-8" lengths. Make sure there is an axillary bud (the green bump where leaves join the cane) about 1/4" above the bottom cut, and try to include at least 3-4 buds along the length of the stem. Trim the top of the stem just above a bud, removing any spent flowers, flower buds, soft new growth, etc. Leave at most 2 (compound) leaves at the top, then trim off all other foliage along the stem. Make small vertical cuts in the outer layer of the stem just above the lower cut.
Moisten the bottom of the stem in water, then dip it into Rootone. Shake off any excess powder. Push the cutting gently into the prepared hole in the dirt, so that at least the bottom two bud points are below the surface of the dirt, and two are above. After all cuttings have been stuck into the pot, gently press the soil down so it is in contact with the length of the cutting on all sides.
Gently pour water over the pot until it seeps out the bottom. Cover the pot with the top 12" of a clean, clear, 2-liter soda bottle. Label the pot with the rose's name.
Place the pot where it gets filtered morning sun or dappled shade, not direct sun. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and keep the humidity level around the cuttings high. In winter, provide extra protection when temperatures are below 30 degrees by covering with fabric, pine straw, etc, or by moving pots to a coldframe. In warm temperatures, you may need to water and mist daily, or provide a sealed enclosure (put the whole pot into a sealed plastic bag) to maintain humidity.
Keep an eye on your plant. If the cutting is developing roots, then the stem will remain green, although some or all of the leaves may drop off. If everything turns yellow or brown and moldy-looking, it's probably dying. If the cutting takes, eventually it will start to put out new leaves. When it looks like it's about to outgrow the bottle, remove the bottle, but keep the plant out of direct sun, and keep it moist. Continue to care for your baby plant until it looks robust, which might take 6 months or a year for some varieties. When you see roots growing out of others), which varies greatly by rose variety and class.
If your cuttings didn't root, don't despair! We have an overall success rate of maybe 50% (worse some years and some seasons, better in others), which varies greatly by rose variety and class. That's why we use multiple stems per pot, and usually at least two pots for every rose. Take care of the plant your cuttings came from, so you can go back to it for more cuttings if necessary! If your first cuttings fail, try again!
If you have further questions or problems, contact a Consulting Rosarians. Or Contact Bobbie Reed .