The Q&A Archives: Climbing Rose for Zone 3

Question: Though on the USDA maps, this area is described as Zone 4, I think my microclimate must be Zone 3 because I've measured overnight low temps at my house down to -28 F. My nearby neighbors grow climbing roses, and in the winter, they either completely cover the plants (canes and all) with leaves and bird netting, or bend the canes over and bury them, or put a barrel over the plant and fill it with straw.

I've got a gazebo that I'd like to plant a climbing rose on, or some other fragrant climbing something. It's in a spot that's a little warmer than most of my yard, judging by when the ground freezes/thaws, near a dark brown fence and sheltered from the prevailing wind. But it only gets about 4 hours of winter sunlight in that spot, and about 10 hours of direct sun at midsummer. Any suggestions?

And, does a rose bush in a container require winter sun? I ask because I'd like to grow a Bridal Pink (hardy to Zone 5) in a container, and just park it in my garage once it goes dormant and the dirt freezes for the winter. The garage (for the sake of my car) has a space heater that kicks in automatically if the temp in there drops to zero. Would that work?

Answer: You're in luck! The gazebo site sounds like a good one, provided the soil is rich and well-drained. Royall River Roses (PO Box 370, Yarmouth, ME 04096; ph# 800-820-5830) sells hardy climbing roses -- several that are hardy to Zone 3, and one that's hardy even to zone 2B! If you can find a nursery that grows climbers in your area, though, they should be best suited to your growing conditions.

Roses actually don't require any sun in the winter. It's important to keep them from getting too warm in winter, as they might during a thaw, since this can break dormancy and making the roses vulnerable to damage when the temperatures drop (as those of us in the north know they inevitably will!).

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 or fertilize them after midsummer -- both spur new growth that is too tender to withstand cold temperatures, and reduce the cold hardiness of the entire shrub. However, it is important to keep the soil evenly moist as the roses go dormant.

If you choose some of Royall River's hardy selections, you shouldn't need to grow them in containers. Just follow your neighbor's example, and protect the crowns (the main trunks where they come out of the ground) with mulch, etc.

Best of luck with your climbers!

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