I’m very fond of my single yellow ‘Canary Bird’ rose (Rosa xanthina ‘Canary Bird’), a species hybrid that blooms in May with a generous number of long-lasting, cascading yellow flowers. The graceful mahogany-red canes with small, fern-like foliage are long and arching, and if given free rein, the shrub fills quite a bit of space. This is a perfect rose shrub for the back of a border or for bringing character to an empty corner. The small leaves and cascading form are attractive even when out of bloom. Adding a skirt of perennial cranesbills (Geranium spp. and cvs.) makes it an interesting feature all season.
I’ve been searching for a second ‘Canary Bird’ to fill a large vacant space in the front garden opened up by the removal of a large tree. Unfortunately, I’ve been unsuccessful in finding it anywhere. So, my idea is to try my hand at starting some hardwood cuttings from the shrub I already have.
Hardwood cuttings are taken from woody plants in late autumn, about two weeks after their leaves have dropped and the plants aren’t actively growing. (Softwood cuttings are taken in spring and early summer, when plants are actively growing.) It’s a simple process, requiring only a clean, sharp blade or pruning shears, clean pots and a fresh bag of soilless mix.
Select a straight, first-year cane (grown this past summer) that shows no signs of disease or fungus spots. It should be about pencil-thick with several dormant buds (small bumps) on the cane. Now here’s the tricky part: it’s important to mark the top ends of the cuttings, because it’s crucial that these point upward and the bottom ends be set in the pots. Cut off three or four inches (8 to 10 cm) at the top of the cane where it begins to taper, making a straight-across, horizontal cut. I add a bit of insurance by using a felt-tip marker to put a small black dot on the top of each cutting. Then, measure down about eight inches (20 cm), and count the dormant bud sites. Four dormant bud sites are good, and six is better. Make the bottom cut on a diagonal that’s clearly different from the straight cut at the top. The end with the diagonal cut is inserted in the pot.
Fill small pots with moist soilless mix — it’s better to give each cutting its own pot. If you’re going to use a liquid or powder rooting hormone product, poke a hole with a pencil where the cutting will be placed in the soil. This prevents the rooting hormone from being brushed off when the cutting is inserted in the soil. Check to be sure you can recognize the bottom ends, and insert the cuttings, allowing two buds to remain above the soil. Firm the soil around the base of each cutting.
Give each pot a light watering, and set them in an unheated garage or shed where you can check them regularly to be sure they don’t dry out. I’ll set mine in an open plastic garbage bag with the top loosely folded over, but still open enough for air to pass through. I expect they’ll need watering two or three times through winter.
In spring, carefully observe the top buds for signs of swelling and red coloration. When the cuttings show signs of active bud development, move them outdoors in shade, protected from wind. Leave them in this location until night temperatures are consistently above freezing, then place them in a garden bed where they won’t be shaded by other plants. Or, grow them on in their pots until early summer; at that time they should be planted in the garden to begin establishing a bigger root system.
I’m going to start several hardwood cuttings from ‘Canary Bird’, knowing that some might fail. But I’m hoping for at least one cutting to succeed, so I can keep this rose going for a long time.