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Rooting Roses in a Terrarium - A Cheap and Easy Way

For years, I've touted the baggy method of starting rose softwood cuttings. It is an easy way to root one or two cuttings, but it requires daily attention, especially when opening the baggy to harden the newly rooted plants to the cruel world. Early in my use of that method, I found I had over 120 baggies on my deck starting roses for the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden! It took near an hour a day to keep the bags blown up and checked for roots! As Volunteer Director of the Heritage, I have a continuing need to root cuttings for the garden from declining plants and those given me. I don't have time to tend many baggies any more and I don't have room for a greenhouse. I needed another way.

The other way came from my friend, Jill Perry of Santa Cruz. She brought along her plastic bin full of rooting cuttings to the 2003 Northern California Heritage Rose Symposium at Ft. Bragg. She had gotten the idea from the Internet. I knew immediately that was my answer.

I call this the Terrarium method. Some advantages:
  • You can leave it alone for days.
  • It is easier to leave larger rooted cuttings to get more maturity before hardening them.
  • The total package is more compact than a number of baggies.
  • Rose rustlers can take the terrarium along and stick cuttings as soon as cut.

The Terrarium. Clear translucent storage or file boxes with clear translucent lids come in many sizes and are found in many stores. Check your drug chain or hardware store for good selections. Jill's is a file box that takes letter sized files one way or legal sized files the other. Mine are larger. Smaller will do. Some have lock mechanisms. These actually get in the way. Be sure the boxes are at least 12" high. 15" is better. Here is one model.

Location. Find a place that is very bright, but does not get direct midday sun. It is much easier to work with if you can put it on a box or table that raises it for ease of work. I have a wooden box turned sideways under it where I store tags, pencils, and tools. If you have a grow mat, you can put it under the terrarium.

Preparation. I use a mix of 1/2 Good soilless potting (not seedling starter) mix, 1/4 perlite and 1/4 peat moss that I mix in a 32g trash can. Pour about 5" of this potting mix into your terrarium to measure. Once you know how much to use, pour it into a 5g bucket. Add water slowly and mix until completely damp and let it sit overnight. The purpose is to insure uniform wetness and to allow excess moisture to drain to the bottom of the bucket. The next day, squeeze the soil in the bucket and drain excess water. Scoop the mixture back into the terrarium until it is 4" deep. Drain and reserve the remaining mix as replacement fill when removing rooted plants.

Rooting Cuttings. I have used both hardwood cuttings in the winter and softwood cuttings year round. For softwood cuttings, prepare as shown on the ARS web site identified above. Also prepare a stick tag with the name, source and date. Stick the cutting from one to two inches into the soil and place the tag next to it. Cuttings may be as close as three inches, just so they can be scooped out without disturbing neighbors.

Care. When I first stick a cutting I spray it lightly with a mixture of a level teaspoon of MiracleGro to a pint of water and a teaspoon of Volke Oil. From time to time I spray lightly with Safer sulfur based fungicide. There will be some evaporation, but be very careful in replacing water. It is easily possible to get too much in. Don't let them bloom. Remove fallen leaves. Bamboo skewers are handy for this. Removal. Don't be in a hurry to take your babies out and you won't have a hardening problem. I first transfer the rooted cutting to a band. Put 1/2 full of damp potting soil I the band. Have more soil handy. Scoop the plant out with about 2" of soil. You can use your hand or a scoop. Disturb the roots as little as possible. Lay the whole thing in the container and fill in with soil. Water to settle the soil around the roots. Return it to the terrarium for week or so to get used to its new environment. I then bring it out to a shady spot to harden and replace the soil in the terrarium.. After a few weeks, I usually transfer to a one gallon or larger plastic container.

Problems. Jill and I both had very small gnats. These don't seem to hurt, but I gave one light shot of insecticide and that was the end of them. I did get botrytis in one box. This turned all new growth to gray powder. I dumped the contents, washed with bleach and started over. It looks like the best approach is to dip cuttings in a 10% bleach solution then wash them before preparing them for sticking. Green fungus will probably form. You can pick this with your fingers, although I don't believe it is a problem.

I am still new to this as my terrariums have only been in operation for a year and a half. I already have many varieties out and growing for planting in the Heritage garden and all three containers are near full. I don't see a need to change out the soil unless disease ruins a batch. If I were you, I'd start with a small box, but don't skimp on height! Enjoy.

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