The Q&A Archives: Winterizing Roses

Question: We planted a Peace rose this past spring, and it has done remarkably well and has bloomed continuously. What preparations should we do for winter? The plant is approximately 3 feet tall.

Thank-you for your help!

Answer: If you haven't stopped fertilizing your roses yet, you should stop now. Generally, it is a good idea to stop fertilizing roses in early August. If you fertilize beyond that date, you can get a flush of new growth--just when the plant should be winding down and preparing for winter dormancy.

Another practice you want to stop around August is deadheading (removing the spent blooms). Instead, let those blooms stay intact and form seed pods, or "hips." The formation of hips signals the rose to stop growing. It's important that roses are in a full state of dormancy before the really cold weather hits. Once your roses are dormant, it is time to apply the winter protection.

Begin by cleaning up the rose bed, removing all leaf litter from the ground, and the top inch of mulch. There are many diseases that overwinter in leaf litter, so good housecleaning in the fall is essential. Some gardeners go as far as plucking off any leaves that are still clinging on the canes.

Next, give the bed a deep watering. The roses need a big gulp before their long winter's nap.

What is done next depends on what type of rose you have and what your preferred method is. In the interest of time and space, I'm going to stick to the most common roses, hybrid teas. Another reason I chose to address hybrid teas is because most shrub roses, old roses, and quite a few climbers and species roses can withstand freezing temperatures with no protection. In other words, hybrid teas are the wimps of the rose world.

Some folks cut back their hybrid teas severely during the winter protection process. I prefer not to do this. I leave them alone and do all the pruning in the spring. Everything above the level of the protection is going to die back anyway so this is just a step I skip at this point in time. As you know, severe prunings can encourage new growth and you really don't want that. Mainly, that is why I prefer this method. In the past when I cut back the hybrid teas hard in the fall prior to winter protection, they sometimes put out a flush of new growth if the we had a period of warm weather. You should do what works best for you.

Next comes the actual protection. There are many fancy, schmancy contraptions on the market that you can buy to wrap around your rose. I'm way too cheap for that. All you need is some soil and mulch. Basically, just shovel some soil into a mound at the base of the plant, the soil should go up about 12" above the bud union (looks kind of like a knob or a knuckle, this is where the rose was grafted to the rootstock in the beginning of it's life). Then, cover the mound of soil with about 12" of mulch. I use cypress mulch but you could also use compost or straw. This volcano like structure you have made keeps the ground frozen, and strangely enough, that is exactly what you want. If the rose is subjected to freezing and thawing, damage is sure to result. Many people wrap this mound with chicken wire to keep it intact over the winter. I've never done this, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, or, if your rose is in a spot where there is a great deal of wind or animals may dig at it, you should probably add this step.

That wasn't so hard now was it? All that anxiety for nothing. Your rose gardening is finished until the spring, or at least until you see the forsythias in bloom, and what a relief that is!"

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