It's time to do nothing in the rose garden. Well, practically nothing, anyway. We have seen the trials of early frosts, bugs, blights, and unbearable heat. We have seen the first, beautiful, breathtakingly big blooms of summer. And now we marvel at the smaller, but perfect last roses of summer. Relax and enjoy.
Roses, like everything else in the garden, have noticed our shortened days and cooler, longer nights. That's their first clue that winter is coming. It's time to shut down for the season.
If roses grew out in the wild, they also would be aware of lessening rainfall right about now. So mimic nature: Cut down your watering to about every 10 days. Water deeply, but less frequently. When roses realize that Old Man Winter is on his way, they harden up their outer bark and send out their own brand of antifreeze to the canes. Giving them less water now helps them do that.
You should make your very last cuts about the first of October. No pruning beyond then at all. Not even deadheading. Remember that every cut you make encourages new growth and that's the last thing you want right now. Any new, tender growth will be nipped by the first frost.
Cut your last, perfect roses for drying or the dining room table, then put the pruners in a safe place, where you won't be tempted to use them for a while.
Left alone, roses will bring a different kind of beauty in fall: brilliantly colored hips. These are their seedpods. Let the leaves drop off and the seed pods decorate the rose garden. If you haven't used a systemic insecticide, try making tea or jelly with rose hips later. They're very high in vitamin C.
One drawback of fall is the ever-present black spot fungus. There's a better chance of seeing it now than any time of year. Make sure you don't wet leaves when you water, and keep up a preventive spray program to discourage fungal spores from overwintering in your garden. Also, rake up and remove all leaves under the plants, and after the leaves fall, pick off and discard any leaves that cling to the branches.
Now sit, and smile. Sip your tea as you admire the last, most perfect roses of the summer.