is from the 1997 American Rose Annual, reprinted with permission
All rights reserved
addendum for his new experimental method of rooting rootstock
Sooner or later all rosarians get the
idea that it would be fun to multiply their favorite roses in their gardens.
However, after reading conventional rose manuals on the common method of
satisfying this urge — the grafting process called budding — most rosarians
discard the idea. It seems just too complicated. The manuals relate that you
need special grafting tools and supplies to bud roses — and that you must obtain
special plants called rootstock — and that you need to contort yourself into a
backbreaking position to perform the task on rootstock planted in the ground.
It's enough to skip the chapter on budding and look into some other aspect of
Well, budding roses is really a
simple task. It requires no special tools or supplies. The rootstock you need
probably is growing wild within a stone's throw of your garden — and is free for
the picking. And there's a convenient back saving way to bud roses without
bending yourself into a hairpin to get at the base of the rootstock.
Budding is a form of asexual
reproduction by which an axil bud from a desired rosebush is grafted to the
stem of a wild, vigorously growing root-stock. Axil buds are located on
rosebush stems just above where the stipules emerge into leaf clusters.
Normally, if you cut back a rose stem to an axil bud, the bud breaks and grows
into a new stem that eventually yields a rose bloom. If, instead, you
successfully graft this axil bud to the stem of a rootstock, the bud breaks —
but this time to start a new rosebush that carries all the genetic material of
the original rosebush. The new rosebush is a clone that grows and blooms like
the original one that supplied the axil bud. Most books on rose culture cover
budding techniques in detail. Once a rosarian gets into budding roses, the
shortcuts and enhancements of starting one's own roses become evident. They are
the focus of this article.
Virtually all hybrid teas and
floribundas and many shrubs sold in the United States are started by bud
grafting. Even miniature roses are being grafted by some nurseries today. It's a
quick, efficient and economical way to reproduce — or clone — roses. If you
purchase a rosebush you may see a tag on it that states that it is illegal to
reproduce that rosebush by "asexual" reproduction. (Remember, budding is a form
of asexual reproduction.) That information means that the rosebush is patented
and, for 20 years, the breeder has rights for a fair monetary return for his or
her investment in producing the new rose. By honoring the patent, rosarians
maintain the breeder's incentive to continue providing us with new varieties.
There are, however, plenty of roses whose patents have expired, including such
favorites as Peace, First Prize and Royal Highness. Check Modern Roses or the
Combined Rose List for introduction dates and patents. Any rose patented before
1977 is no longer under patent and is now free to be reproduced by asexual
TOOLS OF THE
A budding knife is generally the
first tool rose manuals recommend buying if you want to get into bud grafting. A
budding knife? It looks like a jackknife with a very sharp blade. Use the knife
to make a T-cut in the rootstock stem into which you slip the axil bud to be
grafted. The knife may also have a tapered handle to assist in slipping the bud
into the T-cut. I own two budding knives and never used them mainly because they
constantly need sharpening. Instead, I find that single-edge razor blades, which
can be purchased for pennies apiece, work better than any expensive budding
knife I've ever tried. Once a razor blade dulls, I simply discard it and use a
The other device the manuals tell you
to buy is a budding tie to bind the grafted bud of the desired rose variety to
the stem of the root-stock. You can buy these ties labeled as grafting strips
or budding ties. Nursery grafting tape, raffia, or grafting wax also can be
purchased for this purpose. From experience, I find that these commercial
budding products all work well; however, they are no better than ordinary No. 64
rubber bands you can buy in bulk at a stationery store. Cut the rubber band, and
you have a cheaper, readily available 4-inch long budding tie.
The odds are that you have the
rootstock you need for budding within a short distance of your rose garden. In
most of the northern half of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, the
rootstock of choice is Rosa multiflora. It's a species rose that grows as a weed
in uncultivated fields and along highways. In some sections of the United
States, multiflora grows so wildly that it is considered a noxious weed. When
multiflora blooms, it is covered with hundreds of tiny, white, sweet-smelling
blooms. Multiflora varieties come with or without prickles. Both work fine as
rootstock, but it is easier to bud on the variety without prickles.
Another common rootstock is Dr. Huey,
a climber that was popular early in the 20th century but is now used as
rootstock by most commercial rose nurseries in the United States. Dr. Huey
throws long climber canes that yield dark crimson, semi-double blooms with
attractive yellow centers. The easiest way to obtain this rootstock is to find a
U.S.-produced rosebush whose graft is dead but whose root-stock has survived and
sent out Dr. Huey shoots. These shoots, frequently called suckers, emerge from
below the dead knot of a previously grafted rosebush.
If you have access to either
multiflora or Dr. Huey growing on your property, leave it there, and each fall
judiciously prune some stems from the bush to start rootstock. By next fall,
these vigorously growing wild roses will replenish themselves with more stems
than you removed. Or you can plant one or both in an out-of-the-way spot in your
backyard, but it's a job to keep these vigorously growing roses from taking over
Generally, multiflora produces a
better root system in clay soils while Dr. Huey performs better as a root-stock
in sandy soils. Multiflora therefore is the preferred rootstock in the
Northeast, for instance, where soils tend to be heavy clay. However,
satisfactory rosebushes result from budding on either rootstock. Other types of
rootstock used by rosarians include Rosa odorata, Rosa canina and, in the South,
fall, rootstock cuttings are buried in sand. All axil buds on the rootstock
cutting are removed except the top two, which are
exposed above the ground. Oak
leaves are placed loosely over the cuttings to protect them in the winter,
and are removed when the buds begin to
swell in the spring.
exposed buds form their
first leaves, the cuttings are removed
from the sand and will show the callus and first roots on the
hurled end of each stick.
PLANTING THE ROOTSTOCK
Gather wild multiflora for root-stock
in November after a killing frost has ended the growing season. Prune
first-year-growth stems, at least the thickness of a pencil, in 10-12 inch
lengths. With a razor blade, remove completely all the axil buds from each
rootstock stick except for the first two at the top of each stem. Take extra
care to totally remove the axil buds that will be below ground level once the
rootstock is grafted and growing into a desired rosebush. Any bud, even a
portion of one, left on the original rootstock stem below ground might develop
into a "sucker" on a grafted rosebush. Suckers, being lower on the budded
rosebush than the desired grafted growth above them, have first call on the
nutrients the roots send up the bush. By sapping these nutrients, suckers from
the rootstock eventually take over the plant and kill the desired growth above
it. The best way to remove an axil bud in preparing a rootstock stick is to cut
it off the stem with a razor blade. It's also advisable, but not necessary, to
shave off any prickles in the area where the grafting will occur. If removed,
they won't accidentally prick you when you are grafting a bud to the root-stock
stem. Gather the rootstock stems into bundles of about a dozen sticks each, and
bind them together at the top and bottom with rubber bands. In a 2-gallon pot
filled with sand, bury the bundled sticks upright just to the point where the
two top buds were left on the stem. Place several bundles of sticks in each pot.
Bury the pots in the ground in a protected spot, (against the foundation on the
south side of a house, for instance), for the winter. The top of the pot should
be at ground level. The tops of the bundled sticks with the remaining axil buds
must be exposed above the sand in the pot. Place oak leaves over the top of the
pot to minimize sun-scalding of the exposed part of the stems. A collar of
plastic or aluminum circling the top of the pot holds the oak leaves in place.
During the winter, the buried end of each stick will callus over with white
plant tissue from which roots will grow.
In the spring, leave the bundled
rootstock sticks in the pots until the exposed buds break and develop 1-to
2-inch stems with leaves. (In Connecticut, this occurs by mid-April.) By this
time, the bottom ends of the sticks will not only have callused, but white root
hairs will start growing out of the callus. Some, in fact, will develop a tiny
ball of white, succulent roots.
When I started budding roses 17 years
ago, I had a back problem. It was exacerbated anytime I bent over to graft a bud
into the base of a rootstock at ground level. I knew there had to be a more
comfortable way to bud roses with or without a back problem. The answer was to
grow the root-stock in pots. Then, when it came time to graft onto a rootstock,
the pot could be placed on a bench, and the bud grafting could be performed in a
comfortable position. As soon as the rootstocks are carefully lifted out of the
ground in the spring, plant them about 3 inches deep in a pot of soil.
Two-gallon pots work fine. Fill them with a mixture of equal parts garden soil
and compost, and a little course sand. Once the root-stock is planted, firmly
tamp the soil around the stem with your hand. Leave the potted rootstocks in
dappled sunlight for about two weeks. By then, the roots will become
established in the soil, and the stems will start growing in earnest. At this
point, it's time to move the potted rootstocks into open sunlight. In about two
months, the rootstock will be established in the pot and ready for grafting.
An area that gives the potted
rootstocks five to six hours of sunlight, preferably in the morning, is best.
It's vital to keep the potted bushes well watered. In the heat of summer, it may
be necessary to water them once or twice daily to prevent the soil in the pots
from drying. Allowing grass to grow along the sides of the pots shields them
from direct sunlight and helps to keep the soil moist for a longer period.
outer living skin of the shield is separated from the woody
growth beneath it. (above, left)
The budshield is ready for
insertion into the rootstock (above, right). A T-cut is made into the
rootstock and the budshield is inserted into the stem (below, left). The
budshield is securely tied to the rootstock (below, right).
THE BUDDING PROCESS
Many rose manuals describe the
budding process in detail with excellent diagrams or photographs. Consult them
for the process. Here are some hints you won't find in the manuals.
— When preparing the bud shield,
always direct the cut away from your body. That way, if the razor blade or
budding knife slips off the rose cane, it's less likely to nick you if the
stroke is away from your body.
— Keep the potted rootstock well
watered once they start growing, but don't water the bushes the day you plan to
bud. Resume the daily watering the next day. For some reason, the number of
successful budding takes diminishes if the grafting occur when the rootstock
contains excessive water. Don't let the rootstocks dry out, however, either
immediately before or after the grafting. Dry rootstocks when budding are a sure
way to minimize the number of successful grafts.
— The hardest part of budding is
pulling away the green outer skin on the rootstock stem from the woody part
beneath it in order to insert the grafting bud into the T-cut you made. The skin
separates easily if the bush is succulent and has been kept well watered. Gently
lift each flap of the T-cut with the sharp corner of the razor blade starting
where the two cuts intersect. If the skin doesn't lift away easily with the
razor blade, gently insert your thumbnail under each flap of the T-cut and pry
away the green skin.
— To minimize the growth of weeds in
the pot, cut newspaper several pages thick in a circular shape that is roughly
the diameter of the pot. Next make a straight cut halfway across the circle of
newspaper. Slide the straight cut to the stem to cover the top of the soil with
the newspaper. The newspaper, now on top of the soil, also serves as a mulch to
help keep the soil moist. — If you obtain a hard-to-get variety and have only a
few rootstocks, you can graft two buds on the same stem to raise your chances of
getting a successful take on that plant. Graft the two buds on opposite sides
of the rootstock, one slightly higher than the other. Don't celebrate — or worry
— if both buds take and start growing. Eventually one bud dominates, generally
the lower one, and the second one dies off. The same principle applies here as
with suckers that break below the graft. When the grafted bud closest to the
roots develops into a stem it gets the first and dominant call on the nutrients
being shipped up the plant. In time, the second bud, even if it develops into a
A successful grafted bud begins to swell in early spring (above).
After the rootstock stem is cut off
above the graft, the grafted bud
begins to develop into a new rootstock (middle). Potted budded bushes can be
grown indoors under shop lights in the
winter to give them a head start for
developing into rosebushes once placed outdoors when the
growing season begins
You should know if the grafting
effort was successful about three weeks after you inserted the bud into the
stem. By this time, the rubber band may have disintegrated and fallen away from
the bud shield. If the band is still on the grafted shield, carefully remove it.
Look closely at the bud and the shield. If it's not black or dried out brown,
the odds are that the bud graft was successful. Don't give up on the graft if
the bud itself appears dead, but the shield around it looks either green or
reddish brown. If the shield is alive, the odds are that the guard buds next to
the main dead bud will develop and eventually break into a new rosebush.
Continue to water successfully budded bushes for the rest of the summer. To
minimize their drying out, place them back in the tall grass where they continue
to get five to six hours of sunshine.
Some rosarians, especially those in
the South who have a longer growing season, will cut off the rootstock stem just
above the grafted bud as soon as they know they have a successful take. Since
the roots of the rootstock are still producing nutrients, these nutrients are
taken in by the grafted bud and force it to break into a new rosebush. In
Connecticut, with our short growing season, I wait until the following spring to
cut back the rootstock to give it added time to develop a more extensive root
ROOTSTOCK UNDER LIGHTS
It is feasible to grow grafted
rootstocks, often called maidens, under lights indoors. I grow about 30 maidens
under lights every winter. A maiden started indoors can grow into a mature
rosebush in one season in a northern climate. In fact, maidens grown indoors in
the winter and then planted in the ground outdoors in the spring have produced
Queens by the following September.
To grow maidens indoors, thoroughly
spray the rootstocks with a general insecticide and miticide late in the fall.
Leave the rootstocks outdoors until mid December, allowing them to go into
dormancy. At this time, bring them indoors and cut off the main stem of the
rootstock bush about a quarter inch above the grafted bud shield. Leave them in
a dark garage where the temperature hovers around 40 degrees.
(Some rose manuals recommend that you
cut only halfway through the same side of the stem just above the grafted bud
and bend the stem. The theory behind this practice is that the nutrients rising
from the roots, in attempting to feed the partially severed stem above the
graft, will more quickly stimulate the grafted bud. I have found no difference
in the rate of successful breaks of buds or the speed of growth whether the stem
above the graft is totally cut off or severed only halfway through it.) By early
January, the grafted buds begin to swell. The pots are now brought into the
warmer cellar, and placed under lights. I place all 30 on one picnic table under
two shop florescent light fixtures, each containing two 40-watt florescent
tubes. I currently don't use special grow lights. I've never noticed any
difference in the growth or development of rosebushes whether they are placed
under grow lighting or under regular shop lights.
In one to three weeks, the buds will
break and vigorous stems will develop. Since the bushes were sprayed late in the
season and most of the bush above the graft was removed, the chances of
encountering insects over wintering on the maidens indoors are minimal.
Occasionally mites or aphids may be found. They are easily combated by dabbling
them with rubbing alcohol, diluted to half strength with water, on a cotton
Keep the bushes growing indoors
throughout the winter and until all danger of frost has passed in the spring.
It's not unusual for some maidens growing in the cellar to yield blooms within
seven weeks after they are placed under lights. The blooms are a pleasant sight
for a rosarian in the dead of winter. The maiden bushes should be carefully
staked as they are moved outdoors — in early May in Connecticut. First place
them in dappled sunlight for about a week to enable their leaves to adjust to
the sun's rays. Then move the maidens into full sun for about two weeks. Within
a week or two of being placed in open sunshine, the maidens develop vigorous
basal breaks. It's now time to plant them in the ground. Pop them out of the
pots without disturbing their roots and then plant them. By September, these
winter-started maidens produce blooms worthy of rose shows.
BUDDED BUSHES LEFT OUTDOORS FOR THE
Budded bushes left outdoors for the
winter should be cut back as soon as the growing season begins, in early April
in Connecticut. Like the ones grown indoors, maidens put out first stems that
grow vigorously. It's important to stake a developing stem as soon as it has two
sets of leaves to prevent a strong wind from ripping the new growth away from
the root-stock. It takes up to two years for the graft to become strongly
attached to the rootstock stem.
Budded bushes growing in pots that
break in the spring can also be replanted anytime during the growing season,
provided you remove them from the pot without breaking the root ball. It's
generally safer, however, to wait until the fall to allow the fledgling
rosebush a chance to mature in the pot before giving it a permanent home in the
October 2004 Addendum:
I hate to describe a new rose technique I
discovered until I can repeat it at least two, if not three times. But
here's one that worked for me for the first time last winter which I plan to
repeat this year, which is even easier that the rooting of multiflora I
described a few years back.
1 -- I filled 10 two-gallon pots with good
2 -- I cut 10-12 inch long multiflora sticks
and gouged out all the eyes except the top three of the stick. (If your
variety of multiflora has thorns, I recommend you remove them only to
facilitate budding next summer.)
3 -- Recut the bottom of the stick just under
where you gouged out the bottom eye of the stick...and then lightly score
the opposite side of this stick for about 3/8 inch up from the bottom. (This
increases the callusing from which roots will occur.)
4.-- Push the stick about 2.5 - 3 inches into
the soil, and firm the soil around the stick.
5 -- Place the pots in a "semi-protected"
area...I put them out in the heavy woods among the trees at the end of my
All 10 plants took and were solidly rooted by
mid July for grafting.
One other observation. Sticks that are about
the thickness of a pencil to slightly larger make better budding plants than
thicker multiflora sticks. The former tend to be more succulent and the skin
separates easier in T-budding. The skin on the thicker sticks becomes harder
to separate as the summer progresses, and the skin also tends to develop
vertical cracks in it as its grows. Thus it is harder to find a clear area