Growing roses in general, is a wonderful (and quickly addictive) hobby, but growing roses from seed is truly a rewarding experience. If you're mad about roses like I am, you will try and grow them anyway that you can. The entire experience of germinating your own rose plant is a wonderful experience, and one I thoroughly encourage.
With rose cuttings, (taking a cutting from a rose plant) you will be guaranteed that you are going to end up with an exact replica of the cultivar you are cutting from. But with rose seeds, you're taking a gamble, and what may come from the mother plant, may not be what you end up with.
Let's start from the beginning. You may have heard that rose seeds are notorious for being difficult to germinate. Yes, they are- if you don't know what you're doing. And for many years, I didn't know what I was doing either.
For many years, I didn't know, and year after year, I grew frustrated and almost gave up on trying to grow roses from seed. I read countless blogs, DIY's and advice from many different sources, telling me to stratify, scarify and some saying to even boil the rose seed before planting (?!?!)
To get the rose seed, you need to pick a rose hip.
A rose hip is the bulbous part and forms under the base of the rose flower (the ovaries) after successful pollination has occurred. Once red or orange in colour, the hips can be picked from the stem, and seeds removed from the outer layer (hypanthium).
The seeds of the rose hip do not guarantee a true representation of the mother plant-unless you manually pollinate the flower by hand, and even then, results may vary.
If the hip is formed via 'natural pollination' i.e. the stigma pollinated by a bee or insect running all over it, well, you have then entered the world of 'lucky dip' rose hybridising, because nobody will know what you will end up with until the seed has germinated and flowered. And to get to even that part can be a challenge for some. Let me share with you my bag of tricks.
Once you have your ripe rose hips, and collected the seed from inside the hypanthium, you cannot just stick the rose seeds into the soil- not unless they've sat for a winter or two. You see, rose seeds are smart, and are in total attunement with the seasons of Mother Earth. In nature, a rose hip will naturally drop off from its stem when its ready, and will sit in the soil dormant all winter, followed by then usually 'waking up' when spring comes around. But even saying this, in nature, the hypanthium would be a tough old thing to remove, and it will probably take a couple of years for it to break down naturally, so that the seeds can disperse into the soil.
As someone that is wanting to germinate rose seeds, you have to mimic what a rose would do in a natural environment, and so once you have collected your seed, you need to 'trick' the rose seeds to think that they're going into winter. This is where some patience is involved. You need to put your rose seeds in the fridge for 8-12 weeks. If you can be patient, then I promise it will be worth it in the end.
To the left is the pink rose climber wherein is the source of the rose seeds I wanted to germinate. I stayed at this beautiful home on Mount Glorious in QLD in April 2019, and Bev (the owner) had beautiful pink roses all around the guest house, and their scent was amazing. I asked her if I could take some hips and after getting her blessing, took some. This climber, we speculated, was perhaps 35-40 years old.
When I returned to South Australia, I spent a couple of days removing the seeds from the hips carefully, soaked them for a night, and then put them straight into the fridge. I hadn't had any luck beforehand with rose seeds because my medium (soil) was always too wet and the seeds would mould.
I read a lot of information about rosarians putting their seeds in a bleaching solution, soaking solution, peroxide, all sorts of different methods to avoid mould. I didn't want to risk doing that and getting it wrong, and I felt good on following the advice of Jason from Fraser Valley Rose Farm, as he suggested to put the seed in vermiculite and have it moist- not wet, and set them in the fridge.
I did what he said, and had my vermiculite moist and put the seed inside and labelled the air tight containers, hoping for the best.
By month two, I was disappointed. When I checked them, all my air tight containers had mould on the top layer of seeds. I pulled all the containers out the fridge and felt my dreams dashed immediately.
Still, I wasn't going to give up and thought, instead of closing the lids, I will leave the lids half on top of the containers, allowing for the seeds to dry, and to have some ventilation.
I tried removing some of the mould, but after a half an hour, it was just too fiddly, and I was frustrated. I put them back into the fridge.
Fast forward to July, I checked my rose containers. I had slightly forgotten about them, as I had been busily working on rose cuttings at this point. I pulled out my containers and my eyes lit up. I couldn't believe it.
When I thought my dreams were dashed, I pulled out this little guy:
I looked a little closer, and found more. And then more! I couldn't believe my luck! The rose seeds that I thought I killed with too much moisture, had survived and sprouted.
The method that Jason suggested worked, although I will add that my vermiculite medium was almost dry to touch when I pulled my rose seeds from the fridge with sprouts- even more dry than what he suggests. So in the future, I will make sure the vermiculite is almost dry to the touch. This kept the mould at bay and whatever mould was left on the seeds, was from when I opened the containers a couple of months ago. Even some of the mouldy seeds seemed to have sprouts.
Conclusively, this process took from April 21st, until July 21st. A total of 3 months.
And because I did not manually pollinate the flowers of the climber by hand, I have no idea what type of rose I will end up with. I do hope that I have something similar to the cultivar from Bev's pink climber.
I have since put the rose seedlings in small trays with moist seed raising mix, and have them incubating in a 30 litre container- lids on the bottom and containers (which are opaque), on top out in the paddock. I will keep you posted on the developments!