Image by Paul Walker
By Stan V. Griep American Rose Society Certified Consulting Rosarian – Rocky Mountain District
Even though it is a tough thing to do, in many areas we need to let our rose bushes take their winter nap. To make sure they go through the winter well and come back strong the following spring, there are a few things to do and keep in mind.
Tips for Preparing Roses for Winter
Starting Care of Roses in Winter
Proper care of roses in winter actually starts in summer. I do not feed my roses any further granular fertilizer after August the 15th. One more feeding of a multipurpose foliar applied fertilizer towards the end of August is okay but that is it, the reason being that I do not want the rose bush still growing hard when the first hard freeze comes as that can kill the bush. Stopping fertilizing is a kind of winter protection for roses.
I stop deadheading or removing the old blooms by the end of August as well. This too helps give a message to the rose bushes that it is time to slow down and put some energy into their winter reserves. The next step for roses’ winter care is around the first week of September. I give each rose bush two or three tablespoons of Super Phosphate. It moves slowly through the soil and, thus, gives the roots something to keep them strong during the sometimes long and hard winter and will help the rose bush survive cold weather.
Pruning Roses for Winter
Once a couple hard frosts or freezes have hit the garden, the rose bushes will start to go dormant and you can start on the next step in preparing roses for winter. This is the time to prune the canes on all the rose bushes, except the climbing roses, down to about half their height. This helps keep the canes from being broken over badly by heavy winter snows or those nasty whipping winter winds.
Mounding as Winter Protection for Roses
For care of roses in winter, this is also the time to mound up around the grafted rose bushes with garden soil and mulch, rose collars filled with mulch, or whatever your favorite mounding medium is to protect the rose bush in cold weather. I mound up around my own root roses too, just for good measure but some folks do not. The mounding is to help keep the graft and bush hold once things have turned cold.
The temperature fluctuating between hot and cold can confuse the rose bushes and cause them to think it is time to grow while still winter. Starting to grow too soon and then getting hit by a hard freeze will spell death for the rose bush that has started to grow early. The climbing rose bushes should be mounded as well; however, since some climbers bloom on the old wood or last year’s growth only, you would not want to prune them back. The climbing rose bush canes can be wrapped with a light fabric, available at most garden centers, that will help protect them from the harsh winds.
Watering Your Rose Bush in Cold Weather
Winter is not the time to forget about the rose bushes needing water. Watering roses is an important part of roses’ winter care. Some winters are very dry, thus the available soil moisture is quickly depleted. On the warmer days during the winter, check the soil and water lightly as needed. You do not want to soak them; just give them a little drink and check the soil moisture again to see that it has improved. I use my moisture meter for this, as it gives me a good feel for the soil moisture and works better than a cold finger!
We have had winters here where it snows well and then starts to melt due to a string of warm days, then all at once we get a hard freeze. This can form ice caps around the rose bushes and other plants that will stop the travel of moisture down to the root zone for some time. This can starve the rose bushes and other plants of valuable moisture. I have found that sprinkling Epsom Salts over the top of the ice caps helps make holes in them during the warmer days, which allows moisture to travel through again.
Winter is a time for our roses and us to rest a bit, but we cannot totally forget our gardens or we will have much to replace in the spring.