The Q&A Archives: Wintering Container Roses

Question: I live in Alaska and grew some beautiful roses in pots this summer. I would like to winter them over and enjoy them again next year and for years to come. How do I do this? Do I cut them back, if so, how far? Do I place them in a dark place for the winter? Do they need to get cold to go dormant? Can I place them in my heated garage for the winter?

Answer: They probably loved those long summer days of yours! I presume you planted them in pots because you don't have a garden bed to plant them in. If I'm wrong, and you do have soil at your disposal, you can simply dig holes to sink the pots into for the winter. Avoid areas where water puddles during thaws, or the roots will get soggy and the plants may die. Mound soil up over the base of the canes to protect the crown and graft union, surround the roses with fencing wire, and fill the cylinder of wire to the top with fallen leaves or straw.

I jumped ahead a little too fast there, because the first step in overwintering roses is allowing them to go dormant, which they'll naturally do as a result of dropping temperatures and shortening days. They'll stop growing and lose their leaves. Don't prune them after midsummer -- pruning spurs new growth that is too tender to withstand cold temperatures, and reduces the cold hardiness of the entire shrub. I'm sure you water you container roses frequently. It's important to keep the soil just slightly moist as the roses go dormant.

If you don't have a place to sink the pots in the ground, you can place the roses in the coldest part of your garage or other outbuilding, against an outside wall (as opposed to one that abuts the house). Pack lots of straw around the pots and canes, and check the soil moisture regularly to make sure it doesn't dry out completely in the dry winter air. The temperatures should remain between 33-45F to keep the roses from sprouting growth.

I hope this helps you keep your roses safe through the winter.

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