Prepare Your Roses for Winter Hibernation

Carolyn Black
Adams County Master Gardener

Roses are a beautiful asset to any garden. However, they do require some special care to keep them healthy and vibrant.

Autumn is the time to start preparing your roses for winter. This is called winterizing your roses. The winterization of roses is a very important maintenance practice to ensure vigorous growth from year to year.

The goal of rose maintenance prior to winter is to create a garden that is free of insects and diseases which may survive the winter if not eradicated before the winterization of the roses has been accomplished.

Even though many roses continue to bloom until October or even later, the rose plants need to start hardening off to help them survive winter temperatures. Stop fertilizing roses in late summer or early fall to discourage lush new growth that would not have time to harden off before winter. Instead of deadheading the spent roses, allow them to form fruit (the rose hips) which can be a source of food for birds during the winter as well as adding attractive color to fall and winter landscapes. This is an important step of winterizing roses.

Tender roses, such as Hybrid Tea Roses, Grandiflora Roses and Floribundas must have winter protection. After a killing frost in late fall but before the soil freezes, plants become dormant, which is most likely late November or early December; this is the time to prepare the roses for winter.

Most gardeners donít think about burying their roses, but thatís essentially what they should do to protect them from winterís extremes. Similar to hibernation in animals, roses and other woody plants go through a dormant (rest) period in the winter.

A little fall pruning is advisable, but the main pruning should be in early spring. Reduce breakage of tall canes by winter winds by cutting them back to 30 to 36 inches and tying the tips together. Remove the remaining leaves from the plant and the debris from the area around the plant. The leaves and debris should be gathered and disposed of in the trash Ė not in a compost pile. Many rose diseases can survive the winter only to infect the roses again.

Mound the soil over the crown and lower stems to a depth of 8 -12 inches. The sloping mound of soil will protect the surrounding root system. Bring the soil from another part of the yard or purchase soil. Donít scrape up the soil from around the rose plant since this will damage the roots and expose them to the cold. Then pile dead leaves, straw, boughs, or some similar material on top of the soil mound.

To winterize climbing roses, remove them from their support. Lay them on the ground and cover the branches with 3 to 4 inches of soil. If this cannot be done, gather the tips of the stems together, tie them, and wrap them in straw with a wrapping of burlap after that. The base of the climber should be covered with 10 inches of soil.

Container grown roses can be successfully protected by laying them on their sides and burying them, without removing the plants from their containers. Healthy roses protected by burying them over winter generally survive with very minimal cane damage. An alternative method of protecting miniatures and other container grown roses is available to those with either an unheated garage or a room where there is a reasonable degree of control of the winter temperatures.

Even though Knockout roses are hardy, it is still important to protect them from cold winter temperatures. Plan to winterize Knockout roses after the first frost in the area, when the plants begin to enter winter dormancy. Mound soil around the base of the Knockout rose bush until it is 8 to 10 inches up the stem.

A heavy blanket of snow may well be the best winter protection for roses since it prevents the soil from getting too cold under it and at the same time prevents the warming of the roots which may entice the rose into premature growth.

When severe winter conditions have subsided, which is typically mid-March or early April, remove most of the mulch and soil from around the bases of the plants. With proper winterization techniques, you will be blessed with healthy and delightful roses in the spring.

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