Budding Made Easier
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 reproduction.
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 new one.
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 their surroundings.
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, Fortuniana.
late 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
When exposed buds form their
the cuttings are removed from
the sand and will show the callus and first roots on the
hurled end of each stick.
AND 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
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.
The outer living skin of the shield is separated from the
woody growth beneath it.
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
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
— 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 stem,
A successful grafted bud begins to swell in early spring (above).
rootstock stem is cut off
graft, the grafted bud begins to develop into a new rootstock
(middle). Potted budded bushes can be grown indoors under shop
lights in the
give them a head start for developing into rosebushes once placed
outdoors when the
POST-BUDDING CHECK, CARE
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 system.
GRAFTED 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
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 swab.
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 WINTER
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
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 ground.
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 garden soil.
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
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 yard.
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 for budding.