Propagating Antique Roses

A sprawling Cherokee Rose at Peckerwood Gardens. Photo by Dr. Bill Welch

Two years ago, I was training for the MS 150 outside of Cat Springs, Texas.  As I turned a corner and started down a long straight path, I saw something very unusual up ahead of me; a cedar tree covered in big white flowers.  Well, I knew that couldn’t be right so I pedal closer.  When I got close enough to be able to tell what I was seeing, I was shocked to discover that the white flowers on the cedar tree were coming from an incredibly large rose-bush.  I am not kidding, this rose-bush had sent out runners that were 30 to 40 feet long.  They were so long that they went all the way up the back of the tree and hung over the front almost down to the ground.  I was excited. 

I wasn’t sure but I thought this lovely, five petaled white rose with the bright yellow stamens was an antique rose called “Cherokee”.  The Cherokee Rose is truly an antique rose.  It has been here so long that some think it originated here.  In fact, the people of Georgia were so certain it was native that they made it their state flower.  I quickly pulled out my pocket knife and took a dozen cuttings.  This is why I love “antique roses”.  You can be on a bike ride in the country, find one, take cuttings with a pocket knife, stick them in your back pack, leave them there for over two hours and still be pretty certain that they are going to root. 

Propagating antique roses from cuttings is a fairly easy process. 

  1.  As a general rule, you should cut new wood that has just finished blooming.  This is usually in the spring but can be in the fall.  The rose is not particular as to where you cut it.  I use sharp shears to make 45 degree cuts to create stems that are about 6″ to 8’’ long.  Leave a few leaves on the stem.
  2. Next, I fill four-inch pots with a good quality garden mix and wet it.  Some people root in pure perlite, but you will need to add a little fertilizer if you go this route.   Most cuttings need two things to be successful: moisture and root aeration.  The perlite provides excellent aeration to the roots.
  3. Stick the cutting in the pot.  Many people like to dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone.  This is your choice.  It can increase your chances of getting the cuttings to take.  However, I am not certain they are necessary.  Roses naturally produce auxins at the cut.  Auxins are hormones that stimulate root production.  I have used both methods and have had success both ways.  Also, some people like to “wound” the cutting at the base.  This involves making little cuts at the base of the stem.  Roots will grow from the wound sites.
  4. Place the well watered pot in a produce bag and seal with a tie wrap.  This will keep the humidity high as the plant roots.  Open the bag every few days and make sure the soil stays moist (not wet). 
  5. Roses love the sun so find a place that is sunny but gives some shade during the hottest part of the day.  Since they are in the bag, it is very easy for them to get over heated.

Propagating plants is undoubtedly my favorite task in the garden.  Roses (especially old varieties) are very tough and very easy to grow from cuttings.  Don’t get too bogged down in the details.  Just go for it!  Remember, many of these antique roses came here in a box of dirt on the back of a covered wagon with mason jars stuck over them.  If they survived that, surely they can survive anything we do to them!

"Use of The Water Feature When Ill With Diarrhea is Prohibited"

Would they write this if there weren't a problem?

Last week, I attended the 2011 National Floriculture Forum.  It was hosted by Texas A&M (Whoop!) at the Dallas Arboretum.  We got a private tour of the gardens by Jimmy Turner.  If you are not familiar with Mr. Turner he is the research director for the Dallas Arboretum and a true “Master of Horticulture”.  Jimmy is an entertaining, engaging and incredibly knowledgeable speaker and we were very lucky to spend the morning with him in his garden.  In fact, he is the one that pointed out the sign that lead to this post.  The Forum was awesome!  I learned so much and met so many talented horticulturists from around the country.  And, what a place to hold it.  The Arboretum was spectacular!  According to Jimmy, they plant half a million bulbs each year for their spring show.  As the following pictures will illustrate, the time, effort and expense of this monumental effort is well worth it.  Hope you enjoy the pics.

Tulips and daffodils at the Dallas Arboretum

One of the four frogs that make up the water feature that you can’t use if you have an upset tummy.  The crape myrtle allee is in the background.

Stunning container plantings featuring pansies (Viloa tricolor) and dusty miller (Senecio cineraria)

The sunken garden

A river of pansies

Yellow tulips and violas.  Notice the pecan hull mulch

Lovely setting in the tulips

More tulips

We ended the evening with a catered meal on the back terrace of the Alex Camp House which is on the grounds of the Dallas Arboretum.  The house was designed by John Staub who also designed Bayou Bend (the Ima Hogg house) in Houston.

Bluebonnet season is here!!!


Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes in the Yupneck's yard. Photo by Ramez Antoun

“The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland.”

That quote from Jack Maguire comes closer to describing the way we Texans feel about our state flower than anything else I have ever read.  The bluebonnet is as much a symbol of Texas as is the Alamo or the Texas flag.   The bluebonnet was selected as our state flower in large part because it is uniquely Texan.  The two most common varieties (Lupinis texensis and Lupinis subcarnosus) grow natively here and nowhere else.  This plant is so well loved that each year, millions of Texans load up their cars with kids and camera equipment and head out into the country.  I truly believe that no one in Texas has ever avoided being photographed in a field of bluebonnets.  

A yupneck family picture in our bluebonnets

I am fortunate enough to live in one of the best bluebonnet counties in Texas.  I live on two long, skinny, Washington county acres.  Because of the shape of my property I have about 600’ of road frontage.  My wife has worked very hard to ensure that every inch of that 600’ is covered in bluebonnets.  I am pleased to say, she has succeeded!  In fact, she has been so successful that we have actually come home and found complete strangers in our yard taking pictures.

The Farmall Cub that I bought to mow the dead bluebonnet foliage

While bluebonnets are definitely the most fabulous native flower ever created, they do have their problems.  Unless you have ever grown bluebonnets you may not be aware of what happens after the blooms fade.  Bluebonnet foliage can grow to about 2’ in height.  After they set seed the foliage and the seed pods begin to dry out and die.  This creates a very unattractive, “weedy” look in the yard.  However, no matter how bad it looks, you cannot mow them until the seed pods “shatter” and release their seeds.  Mow too soon and you will not have bluebonnets next year.  This “weedy” appearance in the yard requires very patient and very understanding neighbors.  Luckily for us, the people of Washington County are serious about their bluebonnets and no one would ever complain about our “seeding” bluebonnets (at least not to our faces).  One the bright side, the dry bluebonnet clumps are so thick and hard they almost ruined our John Deere riding mower.  So, in order to save the John Deere from the bluebonnets, my wife let me buy a 1946 Farmall cub with a shredder to handle this once a year job.

A slightly blurry but very cute picture of my wife in our bluebonnets

If you want some bluebonnets of your own, they are very easy to grow.  Just throw some seeds out in your yard in October or November.  Timing is everything.  They must go out at this time if you want them in the spring.  Bluebonnets have a relatively low germination rate.  So, to increase your success rate, mow your grass very close to the ground before sowing.  Once you have spread the seed, walk around on them and try and ensure that they have good contact with the soil.  Water them in.  After watering, you can forget about them until spring.  Only apply supplemental water if you do not receive average fall and winter rainfall.  Bluebonnets are very drought tolerant (they are a Texas native after all).  Over watering will kill them quicker than anything.

This weekend, my wife and I found the first bluebonnet flower in our yard.  Because of this, I am pleased to announce that Bluebonnet season is here again.  It is time to enjoy some of the best weather and scenery that Texas has to offer.   So, load up your kids, drive out in the country and make your kids endure the same spring rituals that your parents made you endure.  They will thank you later. 

P.S.  Don’t  go onto other people’s property without asking.  If you do, you may get to experience another Texas tradition – shooting trespassers!  Happy Spring Y’all!!!!

Texas Redbuds

Here in Central Texas, signs of spring start early.  Daffodils and narcissus begin blooming in early January.  By February, these bulbs have begun to fade and are replaced by the graceful Leucojum.  By March, big green mounds of dark green foliage in yards and pastures remind us that Bluebonnet season will soon be upon us.  Yet, in spite of all of these signs, I never really feel sure that spring has arrived until I see two things in my yard: purple martins and buds developing on my redbud trees.

This lovely redbud was captured by Bruce Leander at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This lovely redbud was captured by Bruce Leander at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis “texensis”) is probably the most loved ornamental native tree in Texas.  The bright magenta flowers burst forth when most of the earth is still grey from winter.  The flowers seem to appear over night.  You can drive past the bare branches of a dormant redbud tree everyday and never notice it.  Then, sometime around the first of March, the flowers arrive in all of their magenta glory.  They are so bright and showy that I am always pleasantly shocked when I see the first redbud of spring.


Redbud in bloom by Bruce Leander

Redbud in bloom by Bruce Leander

Redbuds are small deciduous trees with light grey bark covered in white spots.  They are commonly multi-trunked and rarely exceed 25 feet in height.  They flower in a variety of colors.  In addition to the most common magenta, you can find varieties that bloom deep rose, pink, purple and even white. Redbud leaves have a very distinctive “heart” shape that is dark green and waxy on the top and lighter on the bottom.  The tree produces a flat seed pod in late summer that is attractive to many birds and varmints.  Technically an understory tree, they do well in full sun but do appreciate some afternoon shade.  Their drought tolerance and adaptability to the alkaline soils of Central and South Texas make them an excellent choice for our yards and gardens.

Raindrops on redbud blooms by Bruce Leander

Raindrops on redbud blooms by Bruce Leander

Like fruit trees, it is best to plant redbuds in late winter.  If you are going to buy your tree from a nursery you might wait until early spring when they have bud development so you can be sure of the color you are getting.  Once purchased, the redbud should be planted like all other balled or potted trees.  Dig a hole about twice as wide and the same depth of the root ball.  Back fill and tamp.  Make sure and leave the plant high enough in the hole to keep the root collar exposed.  Water in well and mulch with a 4” to 6” layer of compost.

The blooms of the redbud are a sure indicator that Spring is just around the corner!  Photo by Bruce Leander

The blooms of the redbud are a sure indicator that Spring is just around the corner! Photo by Bruce Leander

Last weekend, several purple martins began to set up house in my back yard.  Seeing this, I immediately went and inspected my redbuds.  Sure enough, they were covered in buds.  Because of this, I am now pleased to announce that winter is officially over.  Why not get in the car this weekend and enjoy the show provided by the redbuds?  I promise, you will be glad you did!