Winterizing Roses

Roses are one of the oldest and most popular garden flowers grown.  Even though there is a plethora of information available on growing roses, my experience has been through trial and error.  When winterizing, your main concern is protecting your roses from extended periods of weather below 20 degrees, fluctuating temperatures and winter winds.  Sometimes our winters are not too severe and merely piling protective material around the base of the plant will be enough, but one never knows what old man winter will throw at us.   The following information will hopefully give you some important basics to helping your roses make it through the winter.

Very cold temperatures and winds can cause the rose canes to dry out so water them thoroughly in late autumn before the ground freezes.  Pay close attention to plants under the eaves of buildings.  They may not receive the rainfall that other plants get and will need supplemental water.

Remove debris such as old leaves and dead stems from around the base of the rose.  These materials are inviting places for disease organisms to over-winter.   Well cared for roses are more likely to survive the winter than diseased plants or those that lack nutrients.

Climbing roses have long canes that require support.  The canes may reach 5’ to 20’ in length depending on their type and how they are maintained.  To protect climbing roses, remove the canes from their support, lay them on the ground and secure with what I call a large wire staple. Cover the canes with 3 to 4 inches of soil with some mulch on top of that.  The base should be covered with about 10” of soil.  This should be done after the roses go dormant and have been exposed to two or three hard frosts.

The bush rose is self-supporting and will flower mainly at the top of its growth.  To protect it, bring the canes together and loosely spirally bind them with twine.  Using soil, create a mound at the base of the plant to about 12” high.  Use soil from a different part of the garden so you do not injure the roots of the rose by using nearby soil.  Mulch such as straw or leaves can be placed on top to further protect the plant.  To hold the insulation in place you may want to try a bushel basket with the bottom removed or a wire mesh cylinder.  I have seen many people use white rose cones to protect their roses.  This should not take the place of mounding though.  When using the cone, a mound of soil 6” to 8” should also be in place.  The canes may need to be cut back to fit into the cone.  Even though it may seem like we do not have much sun during the winter it does occasionally happen, so cut a few holes in the top of the cone so heat can escape.   Finally, secure the cone by putting a heavy object (stone) on the top and mound some soil around the base.

Remove soil from the base of the rose plant before the buds break open, usually in late March or early April after the threat of frost has passed and leave a 2” layer of mulch.

As always, Happy Gardening!

My research information about gardening and related subjects is available online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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