Creating Your Own Rose
If you'd like to try hybridizing, keep in mind that old roses generally cross better with other old roses and new ones with new ones--as the recent roses have more chromosomes than the heirlooms. It also helps if the roses you intend to use both bloom at the same time, though you can refrigerate or freeze pollen if necessary.
Decide first which rose will play papa (the pollen plant) in your own version of family planning, and which will be mama (the seed plant). You'll probably have the best luck if you choose, as the mother plant, a bush that has produced hips in the past. Take a look also at lists of roses that are recommended as good parents. (Peace and Queen Elizabeth are very popular!)
You are going to have to destroy a few perfectly good blooms, as double roses should be pollinated when they are only about half open. Try to catch single types just before they open--when you see the sepals (the leaves that cup the buds) beginning to turn down.
Once you've made your decisions and your roses are at the right stage of bloom, go into your garden early in the morning with a pair of cuticle or embroidery scissors and a small film canister or empty prescription bottle. This is where you'll have to grit your teeth over the waste involved--and strip the petals from one of the father plant's flowers until you locate the stamens.
Those are the springy "threads," which you can view in the close-up photo above and to the left here, that encircle the rose's center and wave little pellets ( called anthers) on their tips. Granted, those little pellets look more like footballs in the photo, but they won't in your garden. Snip off those anthers and stow them in your film canister or pill bottle. Cap it, and return it to your pocket for the moment.
Then gently pluck all the petals from some of the mother plant's flowers as well, being careful not to damage the blooms' centers, sepals, or stems. Shear off the stamens too, so those flowers won't pollinate themselves.
(You can either discard the mother plant's anthers or save them in a separate container, making sure you label those containers! You could actually do two different crosses with the same plants, reversing who is going to play which gender role. But that gets a little confusing for easily befuddled minds like mine!)
Once you've accomplished all of that, take your canister of the father plant's anthers back indoors, and spread them on a piece of paper to air out until late afternoon. Check the stripped flowers on the mother plant then to see whether the cauliflower-like clusters at the centers--the stigmas--are becoming a bit sticky. (The stigmas are the off-white cluster backed by red in that close-up photo.)
If they are oozing, tap the father plant's anthers to see if any pollen drops off on the paper or dump those anthers back into the canister so you can shake them vigorously. With any luck, the little pollen sacs will pop open, and you'll see lots of yellow powder. Paint this onto the mother plant's stigmas with a soft artist's brush or smear it on with a cotton swab or your finger. If either the stigmas or pollen don't seem ready at that point, wait until the following morning.
Some experts recommend that you pollinate the flowers once or twice more, several hours apart, to be sure. Just avoid working in the heat of the day, when pollen doesn't adhere as well. When you are finished, wire a label to the stem under each flower, on which you note which flowers were used in the cross (with the mother plant first) and the date of pollination. Aluminum tags would probably work best for this, as a pen will make an imprint on them. So, even if the ink washes off, you'll still be able to read the names.
Cover the pollinated flowers with paper cups, small white paper bags, white envelopes, etc.--anything paper that will help protect them for a few days. Plastic could cause too much condensation.
You can remove those covers after four days or so. Then you'll have to wait to see whether rose hips (seed pods) actually form on your mother bush. If your pollination "takes," don't harvest those hips until three or four months later when they change color like the autumn leaves--usually to red or orange--or until their stems begin to turn brown.
When you cut the hips off the rose bush, make sure the tags are still attached, so you know which seeds you are dealing with. After you pry the seeds out of the hips and scrub them clean of pulp, eliminate any mold by dropping them into a mix of 5% hydrogen peroxide to 95 percent water. At this point, you might want to toss out the seeds that float, as most of them probably aren't viable.
You can plant your seeds in the ground outdoors before winter sets in, or you can use your refrigerator to provide their cold period instead. Some people place the seeds inside damp paper towels in polyethylene baggies to chill, while others prefer to plant them--about 1/2 inch deep--in trays of seed-starting mix. If you are going to put the latter inside your refrigerator, I'd suggest using some of those closed plastic produce boxes that have lids and vents.
Some experts recommend a two-month chill, and others prefer up to four months. Let's average it out, and say three! If you are using paper towels, you'll need to sow the seeds at the end of that time and place the seed flats in a cool room (preferably with temperatures in the 50's Fahrenheit, though you can probably get away with the 60's) under grow-lights.
If you've opted for the clear produce boxes filled with seed starting mix, you can just set them under the lights, opening the lids once the seeds begin to sprout. Rose seeds can take anywhere from a couple weeks to lots of months to germinate, or may actually begin to grow when they are still in the refrigerator.
You can find further information about this process by consulting my much more experienced sources, listed at the bottom of the page here. Steel yourself ahead of time to throw out any seedlings that appear weak and/or disease-prone, or whose flowers just aren't all that striking. If you are like me, the amount of room you have for rose bushes is limited anyway, so you only want to save the best.
You may also want to graft the keepers onto stronger root stock eventually. I haven't researched that part of the process yet, so I'll have to save it for another article!
Photos: Rose stamens photo is by Veshi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Rose sepals photo is by **Mary** and rose seedlings photo by Malcolm Manners, both courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. The other photos are my own.
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