How To Care For A Rose In Winter For Big Blooms Next Year

A rose in winter needs attention so it can delight us with loads of perfect blooms in late spring and summer. Rose winter pruning is vital for a happier rose and an abundance of beautiful blooms.

Red Roses Covered In Frost
winter roses
(Image credit: Zastavkin)

How To Care For Roses In Winter For Better Blooms Next Year

Winter is rough on roses. Depending on where you live, a rose in winter may go through extreme low temperatures and even occasional thaws. Thus a rose needs to be properly prepared to survive until spring. To protect the plant, rose winter care should include pruning and wrapping of the bush among other tasks. Learn all about rose winter pruning, how to prune a rose bush for the winter and other ways to care for your rose bushes before winter. 

When to Winterize a Rose Bush

Despite their delicate petals, the care needed for a rose in winter may be more related to their thorns. Most rose bushes need some winter chilling to perform well and can actually withstand brief periods of cold down to 10 F. The exceptions are tea and China roses, noisettes, and other rose varieties that hail from tropical lands. Also, the amount of winter care put into your roses will depend on your USDA zone. 

That said, it is best to prepare a rose bush for winter rather than risk losing it. When should you start? Any pruning or fertilization should be accomplished before the end of August, although pruning may or may not be necessary as is discussed below. Other protective measures can wait a little longer but should be completed by late October. 

How to Prepare a Rose Bush for Winter

The first two things that need to be accomplished to help rose bushes through the winter months are the ending of pruning and fertilizing. Do not fertilize your roses after August. There is no longer need for them to grow, and the plant will be heading into a period of dormancy. Any major pruning should also be completed by the end of August, however, there are some caveats. 

If you want to move some roses, fall (around late October) when plants are dormant, is a good time to do so. 

Trimming Roses for Winter

Pruning roses back in the late summer to fall is a rather contentious subject. There are various camps with differing opinions. For the most part any big pruning should be done before the end of August, however, bushes, especially those with long canes that can get damaged during winter weather, can be pruned out up until early winter. 

Do not prune heavily. A heavy prune might mean the loss of the entire plant. Only remove the top third of a rose to reduce potential winter damage. Finish the pruning in the spring when the roses are still dormant but the chance of a hard frost for your area is over. 

If the canes on your rose are extremely long, prune the plant down to 18-24-inch healthy canes. Cut less off tea roses in the fall and instead wait until spring to prune heavily. 

Covering Roses in Winter

As mentioned, most roses are amazingly winter hardy but some such as climbing tea and hybrids need extra attention by covering them. There are a few different methods for covering roses in winter. 

Some people mound 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) of soil around the base of tender hybrid tea floribunda, grandiflora roses or others that have experienced damage in past winters. To mound properly, take care to cover the bud union on grafted plants. 

Another way to cover roses is to make a ring around the bushes with chicken wire or stakes and fill it with dry leaves or straw. 

A styrofoam rose cone can also be used. After pruning, mound 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of soil around the base of the plant and then place the cone over the rose, securing it with stakes or staples. Be sure to make some slits in the cone to account for air circulation. 

Climbing Rose Winter Protection

Climbing roses need particular care during the winter since they bloom on old growth. One way to protect them is to untie the canes from the fence or trellis it’s growing on and retie them to a pole that has been pushed into the soil near the roses’ crown. Wrap burlap around the canes and stuff it full of straw or dry leaves. Finish by mounding soil around the base of the plant. 

Another option is to remove the canes from the trellis and bury them in a trench, covered with 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) of soil and then 12-18 inches (30-46 cm) of leaves.

How to Care for Rose Bushes in Winter

Make sure that your roses head into the winter months with moist soil. Fall rains may do this for you but if not, water the root area of the bushes. Keep in mind that winter may be cold but dry. Your winterized roses may need a bit of water, especially in December, January, and February. 

Keep an eye on any roses covered with burlap or the like. Winter winds may whip them from their supports or ties. Refasten as needed. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Happens to Roses in Winter?

Many roses are quite cold hardy but those that are not will enter into a winter dormancy. They will often lose their foliage and will not grow at this time. 

Do Roses Lose Leaves in Winter?

Roses lose their leaves after the first few frosts precede winter. Some varieties will maintain their leaves or, if the plant is growing in a temperate climate, it may hang onto its foliage. 

Stan V. Griep

Stan V. Griep contributed to Gardening Know How for many years. An American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian in the Rocky Mountain District, he served as Gardening Know How's in-house expert on all things roses.