Growing roses from seed isn’t all that difficult and is something I’d recommend to anyone interested in playing in their rose garden.
I won’t go into the transferring pollen and details of getting a rose to set seed (many roses will do it naturally) on this page. I will cover what to do once you see that big red rose hip developing on the plant.
Two Simple Systems For Growing Roses From Seed
Like all things, different gardeners (particularly rose gardeners) swear by some arcane method of growing roses from seed. There are two simple systems that mimic nature. But in doing a little research to see if there was a new and improved technique, I found rose fanciers using everything from formaldehyde and fungicides to hydrogen peroxide to “improve” their germination rates.
And these techniques might even work. But I know that Mother Nature has been at it a lot longer than we have and while these fanciers might get an extra percentage or two (there’s even dispute over this) of germination, I’m happy describing this simple system for growing roses from seed. Follow these guidelines and you’ll get decent results (and more roses than you’ll know what to do with anyway).
Take the red rose hips off the rose when they are fully red and ripe. Or you can wait until they start to wrinkle and dry out just a bit. The point is that we don’t want to let the seeds dry out on the rose (and die) if we let the rose hip wrinkle and dry right up.
The seed can be removed from the hip and sown immediately. Try to remove any chaff or debris from the seed hip just to keep things clean and sanitary but there’s no real need to soak the seed or treat it in any way.
Once you have the seed, there are two simple systems for growing roses from seed.
Vermiculite and A Baggie
The first is to put a handful of barely-damp vermiculite into a baggie. The vermiculite should not be sopping but not dry either. Write the name of the rose and today’s date on a label (I can recommend regular pencil on bits of plastic cut from a yogurt tub) and insert it into the baggie. Put the seed into the baggie. Put the baggie into the refrigerator crisper. Mark a date 90 days later on the calendar.
90 days after sowing, take the baggie out of the refrigerator and sow the seed into a flat. You can use pots and sow the seed so it is an inch apart if you don’t have the space for flats. Label each pot or flat. You’ll start seeing germination in a week and it will continue for upwards of a month.
Transplant the seedlings into their own flower pots when they have 4-6 true leaves. Grow them until they are ready to be transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost.
Note that not all the seed will germinate. In this case, you can either throw away the pots or keep the pots cool and damp all summer to sit outdoors. Growing roses from seed using pots from this point on is the same as the technique below.
Sowing into Pot System
The second method of germinating seed is to sow it directly into pots or a large 10×20″ flat filled with soil. The soil in the flat should be a sterilized soilless soil mix. If you’ve had the open bag around for a while, pour a kettle of boiling water slowly over the flat of soil to sterilize it and kill off any fungal problems.
The seed need only be barely covered and not planted very deeply. Firm the soil down after you’ve planted the flat so that the covering soil is in contact with the seed. It is important to keep the seed damp.
Cover the seed flat with door screening and secure it firmly. The door screening will be necessary to protect the seed from mice and ants.
Put the flat outdoors in a protected location. Leave until spring.
In spring, you can bring the flat indoors to give it a little heat or you can leave it outdoors to germinate on its own. Once the seeds have germinated, transplant as above and grow on until planted in the garden.
Leave ungerminated seed in the flat and keep damp and shaded all summer. Allow to stay outdoors the second winter and then germinate the slower second crop of seedlings the second summer. Toss the flat away after two seasons.
An alternative system to growing roses from seed is to cut the bottom off a large nursery container and sink this into the ground
so that only the lip is showing. Sterilize the regular garden soil inside the pot by pouring several kettles of boiling water over it. Sow the seed in place and slightly cover with vermiculite or sterilized potting soil.
The seed will germinate over two years and you can remove the seedlings when they have reached 4-6 true leaves, transplanting them into pots for growing on and transplanting into the garden when large enough.
After two years, there are not many viable seeds left and you can dig up the area – sterilize it again and start some other seeds in this space.
In growing roses from seed, I have not allowed the hips to stay on the canes over the winter but I’m told by rose growers in more moderate climates than mine (USDA 7) they have sown seed that has stayed on the canes and it has germinated quite nicely after being chilled outdoors on the cane.
These are the easy ways to germinate rose seed and work as well as any other but, and it’s a big but, the germination percentage of germinating any rose is never great so celebrate each one you succeed with.