While the last few years have seen the introduction of rose varieties that need a lot less “hand holding” it is still important to make sure you “tuck all of your roses in for a long winter’s nap”. Vigorous growth for roses in the spring is usually predicated on proper fall clean up and winter protection so this is a chore that is worth spending a little more time on. If you live in USDA hardiness zones 5 or lower it is really important to treat your roses with a lot of TLC to ensure they survive the winter and flourish in the spring.
The process of winterizing your roses actually started back in late July and August when you stopped fertilizing them (You did stop fertilizing them didn’t you?) as this allowed any new growth that occurred thereafter time to get established and make the rose a lot better prepared to withstand the wind and cold temperatures that are to follow. The first thing I do is to make sure I pick up as many of the leaves from under the rose as I can. This is particularly important if your rose bush had any problems with black spot or other diseases as the failure to remove these leaves can lead to the problem starting all over again next year. Once your rose goes dormant and stops growing; usually when your area is consistently having frost at night, you can start to mound soil on the base of the rose plant usually to a height of about 12 inches. Please don’t dig soil from around the bush to use for mounding purposes! You’ll need to get the soil from somewhere else or you’ll run the risk of damaging the roots of the plant. Once the ground is frozen you can then add a layer of mulch on top of the mound that you created earlier.
A question that comes up a lot is what to do about the branches of the bush also known as canes. I recommend leaving them in place until the spring when you can prune the rose once the new growth begins. You can tie the canes together to help minimize wind damage and for climbing roses that sometimes have canes that are several feet long you can remove the canes from the trellis or other support system you are utilizing and if possible lay them on the ground and mound soil on top of the canes to protect them from the cold and wind. If you are unable to bend the canes over than you can try wrapping them in a protective layer of burlap to try to provide them with some protection during the winter.
One last thought I would like to share with you. One way to ensure that you don’t lose roses bushes to the winter wind and cold is to pay close attention to the hardiness zone rating for that particular variety of rose. Many gardeners have lost a rose bush during the winter only to find out later that the particular variety of rose they were growing was not hardy in their area. If you are going to try to grow a rose that is not typically hardy in your garden zone you are going to want to pay extra attention to its winter protection and then, keep your fingers crossed!
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