Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
November, 2008
Regional Report

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Prune out dead rose canes, but don't hard-prune healthy stems and canes in late fall.

Rose Care Tips for Late Fall and Upcoming Winter

It happens every time this time of year: the questions about pruning back roses and putting the rose garden to bed for the winter.

What we do in the now can make a significant impact on how well the rose garden will acclimate this fall and survive the cold winter. Weather in the region can be fickle and the lack of snow in the lower elevations and High Plains, combined with periods of severe cold, can result in significant dieback to some of the more tender hybrid rose varieties. That's why I like to grow the hardy and old-fashioned shrub roses.

Avoid the Urge to "Hard-Prune"
I usually refrain from pruning roses in the autumn, unless absolutely necessary. And with that recommendation, there's a warning: Do not prune your roses back hard in the fall. Rose bushes need to utilize their green foliage to manufacture food energy in the stems as long as the weather is favorable. Never prune roses back to within a few inches of the ground in the fall because this will stress the rose bush and leave fewer rose stems and canes to choose from during spring pruning. It also removes the healthy wood that stores energy to assist the rose plant for winter survival.

Take your cues from nature. Eventually, roses become dormant on their own. A succession of hard freezes and continued cold temperatures make the plants drop their leaves. Then, it's time to start some cleanup in the rose garden. Foliage that may have been diseased with leaf spot or rust should be collected and disposed of.

Tall hybrid tea and shrub roses that are exposed to high winds can be safely pruned back by one-third to one-half to keep the canes from whipping in the wind and loosening the plants in the ground. Bushes that were hit by an early heavy, wet snow or those damaged by winds should be checked for stem and cane damage. Carefully prune out broken branches. Remember, dead and broken branches can be removed at any time of the year.

Avoid the Urge to Mulch Early
A blanket of winter mulch can be placed at the base of rose bushes to protect the crown and exposed graft union on hybrid tea roses. This mulch should be applied when the ground becomes consistently cold or when the soil has frost in it. I like to scatter a 3- to 4-inch layer of old pine needles around tender rose bushes since this mulch knits together nicely and won't blow away. You can also use other materials for mulch, including coarse compost, aspen mulch, or shredded cedar mulch. The purpose of winter mulching is to protect the crown from the alternate thawing and freezing which can heave the plant and its roots out of the ground. I've also experienced less damage to the crown and graft union when roses that have been mulched resume growth in the spring.

Don't Forget to Water Periodically
It is important to water all rose varieties periodically throughout the late fall and winter when there is little or no natural precipitation. Apply water at a time in the day when temperatures are above freezing and when the soil in unfrozen. This "winter watering" may need to be done every four to six weeks depending upon weather conditions.

Take time to tend to your roses now and during the winter so you can avoid severe "winter kill" next spring. Happy fall rose gardening!

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