The Q&A Archives: Preparing Tea Roses for Winter

Question: Is there anything I should do to get my hybrid tea roses ready for winter?

Answer: The very first thing I do when protecting for winter is to do a really good job of cleaning up the area where the roses are. I remove all leaf litter from the ground, and the first 1-2" of mulch. There are many diseases that will happily overwinter (especially that vile destroyer of roses, black spot) and to help prevent disease next season, you've got to do really good housecleaning this season. I never add the leaf litter or the discarded mulch to my compost heap-- it is best to be on the safe side and destroy it rather than risk adding any diseased material to your heap. My next step (and this one is a real pain in the neck) is to remove any leaves that are still clinging on the canes. Most will have fallen by now, but if there are any stragglers, off they go! I remove these because I'm not very likely to go back out into the cold periodically to check and see if they have fallen and remove them, and they, too, can harbor disease.

Next, soak the roses really well with the garden hose. The roses need a big gulp before their long winter's nap.

Unlike most shrub roses, old roses, and quite a few climbers and species roses tha can withstand freezing temperatures with no protection, hybrid teas need a little extra TLC. There are a few different methods for doing this; I'll tell you my technique.

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 contraptions on the market that you can buy to wrap around your rose, but you can also use good old 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.

Good luck with your roses!

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