Roses forum: Rejuvenation pruning

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Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 10, 2013 11:45 PM CST

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I posted this in the July chat thread:

I've noticed something disturbing in my own garden this year. Several of my once flourishing roses have gradually dwindled down to one-cane wonders and now seem to be losing even that single cane (Baby Talk, Pillow Talk, Night Time, Lady X, and several others). I know it's not a problem related to the soil here or to my watering practices because they're growing in beds where other roses are still doing well. I did notice, though, that most of them belong to the first group of roses I planted when I moved into my present home 30 years ago. I wonder if they simply have a finite lifespan of 30 years or so. This isn't true of all roses, I know, because the President Herbert Hoover I've dragged from house to house over the years is now well over 40 and is still healthy and vigorous.

Lyn (RoseBlush1) suggested rejuvenation pruning as a possible solution. I've never heard the term, so I'd like to know more about it.

roseseek
Jul 11, 2013 1:01 AM CST
When I've removed old one cane wonders, they have most often not had the fibrous feeder root system you expect a vigorous, vital plant to possess. Something has prevented the plant from growing and maintaining it.

Sometimes, it's been due to mulch or erosion burying the bud union and the plant usually hasn't gone "own root" to form the new feeder root system in the elevated soil. Sometimes it has, but doesn't produce the quality of feeder root system necessary to support a vigorous growing plant. Raising the soil too far can actually suffocate a plant. Sometimes I've found galls either at the crown or on the roots which strangle the upward flow of water and nutrients from the roots into the canes. Occasionally it's been due to the organics in the soil being depleted over the years, leaving mainly silt and clay. That inhibits those fibrous roots required to support the plant because of compaction; reduced water percolation which exchanges the carbon dioxide the roots 'exhale' and drawing in oxygen from the air as it drains downward through the soil. The remaining soil could be too dry or too wet. Both will prevent growth of the fibrous feeder roots.

After investigating to the best of your ability and determining which, if any, of these is the case, you can more easily decide on a treatment. If the plant is now set too deeply, excavating the soil from around the bud union, applying organics and replenishing the mulch to help to gradually increase aeration of the soil can help. As they break down, Humic Acid is released which helps to break down clay and improve soil friability. Earth worms and other soil organisms help to burrow through and churn up the soil, also improving drainage and oxygen exchange.

If gall is the culprit, there is often very little which will help. You can try cutting out as much of the tissue as possible, then improving the soil as described above, feeding and watering well in hopes of an improvement.

If all seems OK and the plant still isn't responding, you sometimes have to resort to the "kill or cure" tactics. I hate removing growth buds from a plant which doesn't have many left, but sometimes you have to in order to shock the plant into doing something. I prefer doing as much soil improvement as possible in combination with the rejuvenation prune, as I feel it provides the best chances possible.

I also prefer not removing more than a third of the plant at a time. There are stored nutrients in the cane. There many not be much, depending upon how long it's been ailing, but there are some. Over time, the capillaries in that cane become restricted, just as our arteries do, restricting sap flow. Combine that with reduced water intake due to reduced feeder roots (perhaps even reduced anchor roots, the thicker, woodier roots) and you can see why there isn't much growth. Hopefully, improving the soil, fertilizing and drainage conditions, combined with the pruning will result in the plant putting out new growth. It won't always, but it sometimes does. If removing about a third of the cane doesn't improve the situation, you might try a bit more, if there is more to try.

It's also entirely possible the problem is viral. Many commercial roses have only been available infected with a number of plant viruses. Some of them haven't been shown to inhibit growth, a few have. Depending upon how resistant the plant's immune system is to the particular virus, or combination of viruses, and the condition of the plant and its growing conditions, you may be able to bring it back from the brink.
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 11, 2013 1:46 AM CST

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I think I'll have to do some investigating underground. The reasons having to do with soil and water conditions would seem not to apply in view of the other roses growing happily in the same beds, but galls on the rose roots could be the problem. I suppose roots from a neighbor's tree could also be the problem. They easily could be affecting only one or two roses in an otherwise unaffected bed.

At least six of them were purchased as bare-root plants from a local nursery on the same day 30 years ago. That's what made me suspect that they might have reached the end of their "service life."

A virus is a distinct possibility. I think Lady X is still available from a few places, but I haven't seen Baby Talk, Pillow Talk, Mighty Mouse, or Night Time for sale at a nursery in decades. They may all have died out by now.

roseseek
Jul 11, 2013 2:03 AM CST
A tree root may easily be the problem as could galls. I've been rather surprised recently finding galls on roses which had never suffered trauma, quite a few of which have always been grown in pots. You would be quite surprised how parts of a bed can deteriorate while the rest of it remain productive. The tree root issue can help cause that. I doubt they are at their "normal expiration date". My youngest sister has three Queen Elizabeth bushes, planted by the original owner of her house in 1966 when it was built. She bought the house from the original owners. These bushes are HUGE. I've pruned them by half, leaving them easily four to five feet tall, only to have them explode back up to nearly ten feet. Those things are nearly fifty years old and are still going strong. There is a Queen Elizabeth here which is as vigorous and has been neglected, even tortured because of its situation, since 1975 when this house was bought.

My first suspicion would be a variety which just isn't terribly vigorous to begin with. The second would be a soil issue. The third would be buried bud union or gall. A virus, or multiple viruses, is a very good possibility. They were only beginning to do anything about viruses thirty years ago, and not every producer. It's been estimated that by the 1970s and 80s, a full 80+% of the American rose crop was infected by at least RMV.
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 11, 2013 2:26 AM CST

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I think your first suspicion is the most likely cause, especially in view of the current scarcity or nonexistence of those roses, but I'll look into all of the possible causes. I don't recall those particular roses exhibiting RMV symptoms, although I have tons of other roses that do occasionally display the peculiar RMV variegation in their leaves. It seems to have no effect on their general health.

I have some of those crazy Queen Elizabeth roses too. According to Ray Reddell, it's one of the roses that's grafted in order to keep it short, in contrast to most other roses. I have one grafted one, which stays at a manageable height. When I discovered how easily the cuttings could be rooted, however, I plunged several into the ground in various parts of my garden, and those grew into monsters. I prune them down to 4 or 5 feet every December, and by April or May they're at least double that height. One is actually as tall as a nearby tulip magnolia. Lagerfeld does the same thing in my garden.
Name: Gloria Levely
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glevely
Jul 11, 2013 4:27 AM CST
thank you for this thread I have several that I just can't get to grow so now i at least know where to start !!!! Hurray!
Name: Rannveig
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rannveig
Jul 11, 2013 5:43 AM CST
VERY good information! Thank you! I have a few one cane wonders, but I suspect the problem here is mainly a lack of summer .... Whistling Rolling my eyes.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Jul 11, 2013 10:52 AM CST
Sorry, I haven't learned how to use the Quote feature on this site yet, but there is one sentence in Kim's post that I would like to address because addressing this issue before the plant gets down to a one cane wonder can enhance the performance and longevity of the rose.

"Over time, the capillaries in that [old] cane become restricted, just as our arteries do, restricting sap flow. "

Old wood is not as efficient as new wood. You will often see a lot less foliage on these canes ... and when it gets down to one cane, this is even a bigger issue.

Without sufficient foliage, the plant cannot do its part to feed the root system through photosynthesis. Therefore, the plant is robbed of nutrients that it would naturally produce to feed itself. Along with checking the roots, when I am working to rejuvenate a plant, my goal is to get the plant to produce new wood and therefore more foliage. If a plant has been a vital and vigorous rose, pruning it down so that it will produce new wood and more foliage also gives the plant the tools to help recover. Even if there is bark covering the bud eyes on the old canes, they are there and the rose will more often than not activate them because it knows it needs foliage to survive.

If I am working on a rose that has more than one cane, I'll take one of those canes down to the bud union. No, I don't scrape the bud union as has been advised in many of the older rose books to stimulate growth. Again, the bud eyes are there and by removing the old cane, the plant is already stimulated to replace it. You end up with new wood. Of course, it depends on the rose.

Once I've started the rejuvenation process on a stressed plant, I don't allow it to put any energy into blooming. Roses have a mandate to bloom and will push growth, if possible, to generate the materials/food to enable it to bloom. I leave every leaf I can on the plant because all of them are producing food through photosynthesis. I don't care if it is blind growth or spindly growth, if it produces leaves, it stays. My goal is to help the plant to produce as much foliage as possible.

If a rose has been in place for a long time, I check to see if other plants ... trees ... have grown around it or over it so that it is getting more shade than it got when it was a thriving rose or when it was first planted.

Since I am gardening in nutrient poor soil ... it was dead soil when I started this garden ... I use very light applications of liquid fertilizers often to make the nitrogen more available to the plant sooner than it will be available while the organics are breaking down into a form that the plant can use.

As an on-going maintenance of the roses in the garden, when I am doing my spring pruning, I will remove one or two old canes to stimulate the growth of new wood. If you do this on a regular basis, you end up with roses with new wood all of the time and they can handle stress better than plants that only have old canes.

Some of this I have figured out on my own, but Kim has been my rose mentor since the beginning of my rose life and he tends to teach one how to fish instead of giving specific instructions. He teaches the "why" of things, then I have to connect the dots.

I hope this helps.

Smiles,
Lyn
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roseseek
Jul 12, 2013 2:31 AM CST
Thank you for rounding out the thought, Lyn. Add everything together and you actually may have a chance to save some of these things. I'd almost lost my original, own root plant of Basye's Legacy. It is the one I propagated from the plant Dr. Basye sent to The Huntington. I actually dug it up and canned it in a five gallon nursery can, practicing what we're discussing. Here are photos of it from this morning.

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Name: Toni
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Skiekitty
Jul 14, 2013 5:41 PM CST
zuzu said:I think I'll have to do some investigating underground. The reasons having to do with soil and water conditions would seem not to apply in view of the other roses growing happily in the same beds, but galls on the rose roots could be the problem. I suppose roots from a neighbor's tree could also be the problem. They easily could be affecting only one or two roses in an otherwise unaffected bed.

At least six of them were purchased as bare-root plants from a local nursery on the same day 30 years ago. That's what made me suspect that they might have reached the end of their "service life."

A virus is a distinct possibility. I think Lady X is still available from a few places, but I haven't seen Baby Talk, Pillow Talk, Mighty Mouse, or Night Time for sale at a nursery in decades. They may all have died out by now.


Vintage has Baby Talk available right now.
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Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 14, 2013 7:19 PM CST

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Thanks, Toni. They've had Baby Talk on their general list for about 10 years and they've never had one available for sale before, so I have to assume it roots poorly and probably grows poorly too. I did buy two Pillow Talks from Vintage over the years, but they were utter duds. I'd rather have the memory of the two beautiful grafted Baby Talk bushes I grew for years than a spindly own-root rose that probably will not thrive.

In general, my dwindling income probably will preclude any purchases of band roses from now on. If Palatine offers something exciting in September, I'll buy it. I know a big bare-root rose from Palatine, grafted onto R. multiflora, will thrive and will not require gopher protection.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Jul 14, 2013 9:11 PM CST
You are right, Zuzu. Some of the roses of that era were never tested to grow own root. When I read Herb Swim's book, he said that when a seedling was chosen for testing, it was immediately grafted and then tested. Those seedlings were never tested to see if they had the vigor to grow on their own roots.

I wouldn't bother with a plant that was not a vigorous rose. Kim's rescue of his 'Basye's Legacy' in the post above shows that even own root plants can dwindle for one reason or another and be rescued. Kim has used the rose in his breeding program, so it would be a big loss to him.

I don't even want to think about growing bands again because it takes me a minimum of two seasons to get a root mass large enough to plant out in this garden. Over wintering small plants is challenging and I hate having to baby them through the heat of my summer.

I have found a nursery that sells wonderful grafted roses, but I doubt if they will ever carry many of the old roses I have loved in the past.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 14, 2013 9:28 PM CST

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I was surprised to learn that even Griffith Buck grafted all of his roses when he was alive, expected his roses to always be grafted, and never even wondered whether they would grow on their own roots. The own-root nurseries carrying so many of the Buck roses are lucky that they do grow so well on their own roots.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Jul 14, 2013 10:30 PM CST
Some roses, just like your Queen Elizabeth, don't need to be grafted to be vigorous roses when grown own root. It's just that common practice at the time was for most breeders to bud the roses for testing.

A little known fact is that Buck's roses are virused, but they don't seem to mind and just keep on being good roses.

The problem today is that many roses that were once budded are now being offered only own root and have probably never been tested to see if they are good garden roses own root. There are going to be a lot of roses sold in bands that fail and people new to rose gardening are going to be telling themselves that they just can't grow roses when it's not true.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Zuzu
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zuzu
Jul 14, 2013 11:00 PM CST

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The thing that bothers me is all of the hype. The own-root nurseries spout propaganda about the superiority of own-root roses and never admit that it's simply a smart economic choice for them. They can sell roses six months after they root the cuttings instead of having to graft them and then grow them in fields for two years. In spite of this, some of them have the nerve to charge us more for the own-root rose than we'd pay for a good grafted one.

Pickering is the only nursery to date that has admitted it has had to offer some own-root roses because it can't afford to pay experienced grafters to handle all of its roses. The situation will only get worse as grafting becomes a rare skill and perhaps even a lost art.

I appreciate Burlington and Chamblee's because they sell their own-root roses at low prices and generally don't offer roses that are almost impossible to grow on their own roots.

roseseek
Jul 15, 2013 1:05 PM CST
There is always going to be hype. That's what drives the market and motivates many to buy one form over the other, IF there is a choice. When you over simplify the situation, and only consider a handful of variables, own root can be superior. But the same case can be made for budded. It's a much more complicated decision than many people understand. Attempting to properly explain it would confuse a lot of people even further. You shouldn't expect an honest, unbiased explanation of all the variables from the concern producing either budded or own root plants, just as you shouldn't expect an unbiased explanation of the variables involved between gas and electric from a Golden Medallion home builder. They're out there to convince you to buy what they produce. It's up to the buyer to be aware and educate themselves prior to the purchase.

When all roses were produced own root, we only had roses which performed acceptably own root. Thankfully, it has always been Nature's plan for roses (and other plants) to succeed on their own roots, without our intervention and "unnatural selection". Those which couldn't/can't, don't survive. Our selection has been tremendously greater for the past three-quarters of a century because the majority of the plants offered have been budded. We've had a very good run with them, but there are always down sides to every "advantage".

It shouldn't surprise us for some band producers to sell their wares for prices similar to the upper end budded offerings. You're correct that rooting a cutting should be far less costly than budding a plant, but there are many other factors involved. First, you must compare apples to apples. Comparing a Vintage or Heirloom band with a grocery store bare root is comparing apples to oranges. J&P and Week's probably put out the most comparable bare roots. They were well grown. There was an effort to produce them without RMV, which adds quite a bit of expense due to the need to either maintain mother blocks of indexed root stock and additional care and attention to insure VI bud wood and only using VI material. Testing and treatment of material against RMV isn't cheap. Pickering may possibly be comparable, but that also requires taking exchange rates into consideration. Why add additional confusion to juggle?

Vintage and Heirloom have much higher production costs than Burlington. You know how expensive land in Sebastopol is. Land in Visalia is much less expensive. Heirloom has display gardens and much more "professional" facilities than Burlington. Heirloom has to heat their green houses for many months due to the colder climate compared to Burlington to keep their product "retail ready". Heirloom employs a number of people, including a professional business manager. Burling is a one person operation. Vintage had the last two remaining "employees" but also had to supply money to support and repay the other partner. Taxes are significantly greater in Sebastopol than Visalia. Sebastopol requires inspection for many more pests and diseases than Visalia requires. It has many more restrictions placed on "horticulture" because the climate encourages many more pests and pathogens.

Procuring virus treated and tested material is much more expensive than simply begging cuttings. At best, the VI material availability is much more limited than untested material. Making sure both remain "virus free" requires attention, labor and time. If you're considering patented varieties, the required royalties and accounting required to track them, add costs.

Cataloging and maintaining enormous collections takes labor, space, much more water and time. Burlington beat Pickering to the punch by reducing her "collection" to what was actually viable for production and what sells. Heirloom did that a few decades ago, eliminating the extensive OGR collection they originated their business with. They found it an expensive drain on their resources for far too little reward. Vintage has never done that. Not to fault them, but maintaining a living museum requires a LOT of resources. If the business end doesn't support all the costs required, and no deep pockets step up to underwrite the efforts, failure is the ONLY option.

The one "failing" I have seen from Vintage for years was their failure to modernize their shipping. Flat Rate options simplify and often reduce the cost of sending out product. When I mail cuttings and budwood, I frequently check the weight of the packages on the self service machine in the post office. Frequently, Flat Rate is much less costly to mail a heavier package than standard Priority. I have mailed boxes for the Flat Rate price of $12.35 which would have cost up to $18 using standard Priority. I've also mailed the same size (medium) box which would have cost $12.35 Flat Rate for $5, less than the cost of the small Flat Rate box. I'm not suggesting Vintage should have weighed every package, but had they spent the little time necessary to determine which quantities of plants could have been sent Flat Rate more cost effectively than standard, they could have significantly reduced the shipping cost of the bulk of their orders, possibly resulting in more sales. Burlington has used Flat Rate for her shipments from the start. You know what it will cost for any quantity of plants and I am certain that has resulted in her selling more plants per order. There is great relief knowing you can add one or two more plants for the same shipping cost. Knowing you could add as much postage as the value of the plant inhibits buying one more unit.

Burlington also grows commercially by contract for other nurseries, operating the rose business as a sideline. Her climate is highly conducive to own root production, particularly for those varieties which root more easily and grow well own root. Sebastopol, in comparison, isn't nearly as own root friendly as Visalia because of climate. What can be rooted out doors and left pretty much on "automatic" to mature, requires covered hoop houses with much greater attention in Sebastopol. That climate also requires much more chemical intervention against pests and diseases than Visalia does. That adds significant costs in materials, labor, inspection and regulations.

While the "market" may have supported charging higher prices, and a bit more profit may have been possible, Burling consciously chose her pricing to keep her roses more affordable to build her client loyalty.

Heirloom reportedly offers more VI type plants. They cost more. They offer mor patented varieties. They cost more. Vintage and Heirloom imported roses to offer things not available elsewhere. Current regulations for importing impose many hundreds of dollars in inspection fees per shipment. If you are fortunate to live near a smaller, less 'security risk' entry point, you may be able to walk your own material through the process. If, like me, you live near a high risk entry point, you MUST pay a USDA employee over time rates to handle that for you. I have heard of instances where that added a thousand dollars to the whole shipment, in addition to nearly $600 in inspection fees and treatment. $150 worth of roses and postage cost nearly $2,000. Add up to four, possibly more, bi annual inspections, which cost a minimum of $80 (maximum $500) each, depending up the distance required from their office to your location and the hours needed for inspection, and it really adds up. I investigated importing roses I wanted from Europe. I could count on needing nearly $1500 IN ADDITION to the cost of the roses and postage, for less than ten plants from one source. Additional sources require duplicate costs, except for the bi annual inspections. Then, those plants must be held a minimum of ten feet from anything in the Genus Rosa for up to two years while in quarantine. The local Ag Agent must be given access to them, with your presence, up to four times in two years. The Vintage French imports required more inspections and more time than the two year quarantine period, not because they found anything, but because the plants imported failed to thrive. The Ag Agent chose to err on the safe side, but that also added to the costs and postponed the sale of the product. Burlington won't deal with any of that. It costs too much, demands too much of her time and energy, preventing her from doing her business.

There are valid reasons why some sources produce much higher cost plants than others. Even if they are offering the SAME rose, Heirloom's and Vintage's plant will cost more than Burlington's. Plus, IF they are going to offer a product in the first place, aren't they justified in expecting to be able to earn a living from it? Own root should cost less than a budded plant because it is smaller, younger and requires less time and land to produce. The reality is, you have to sell MANY more less expensive plants to be able to pay the electric bill (much less all the other costs of living). Those who operate nurseries do it because they love it, but it won't support them. Particularly when their loyal customer base continually snaps up the inferior grocery store and big box store "cheap plants" in the hopes of "getting a deal". Not even Burlington can compete with that. Kim
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Jul 15, 2013 2:59 PM CST

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Running out for a medical appointment, but I can't go before thanking Kim for the detailed and comprehensive response. I hope some of the issues he raises will spark discussion.
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porkpal
Jul 15, 2013 3:14 PM CST
Kim, you are a wealth of information. Thank you!
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Calif_Sue
Jul 15, 2013 8:57 PM CST

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Hmmm, still need to catch up here but just scanning quickly, I wanted to comment on something. I live 2 miles from Vintage and have never seen "covered hoop houses". Don't really understand why our climate wouldn't be as "own root friendly". Do you mean because our nights are cooler? We do have higher humidity.
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roseseek
Jul 15, 2013 10:11 PM CST
Years ago when visiting Gregg and Philip, I was taken to hoop houses covered in plastic to provide more heat for cuttings. That was before Sequoia propagated the more difficult things for them. Sebastopol is cold as far as rooting rose cuttings is concerned. Efficient propagation requires HEAT. Humidity is easier and cheaper to reproduce than heat. Sequoia's green houses regularly hit a hundred degrees and higher daily temperatures late spring through fall. Cuttings of most roses could be rooted in a week to two weeks, faster if mist was involved. That kind of heat dramatically improves not only speed, but ability to successfully root more difficult, slower growing roses. HOT day temps with warmer nights really pushes plant rooting. Your day temps are very nice for living and can make just putting a pot under another plant to root much easier than hotter weather can, but for production for a commercial need, it's just not as efficient..it takes longer and it isn't as successful for more harder to root or significantly slower growing types.

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