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Readying Roses for Winter

by Carole McCray

Cherished by gardeners, replicated by artists, and long-revered by poets, the rose reigns as the queen of flowers. To keep your roses in regal condition, adequate winter care is necessary. The goal of protecting roses is to lessen the effects from winter winds, which can damage stems, and from the freeze and thaw cycle which cause roots to heave. Not prolonged periods of subzero temperatures, but drying winds and erratic temperatures are the main causes for dieback.


TENDER ROSES—China, tea, and most pastel hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras require protection if winter temperatures drop to below freezing. Mounding soil, rose cones of plastic foam, or wire mesh cylinders offer protection.

Mounding Soil—most traditional method.

Following the first hard frost, cut back rose plants to 24 inches. Plants are easier to work with, and this prevents them from becoming battered by wind and ice. Remove all dead leaves and spent blooms from the rose bed. Strip leaves from the canes. Tie the canes together with garden twine to protect from winds. Around the base of each plant, form a 20-inch mound of fresh, loose soil. Soil should be brought in from another part of the garden rather than scraping the ground around the bushes and exposing feeder roots of your roses.

For further protection and to avoid soil settling and eroding and exposing canes to cold, drying winds, surround each plant with a mesh cylinder. Fill inside of the cylinder with shredded bark or oak leaves. Oak leaves are excellent; they do not mat down and moisture can penetrate. In spring, remove cylinder. Spread the material over the rose bed for mulch.

Rose Cones—best in coldest zones on hybrids.
Wait until the ground freezes before covering the plant.
Follow steps l, 2, and 3 as above before covering the plant.
Prune canes heavily to fit under a rose cone.
Remove cones on warm winter days to keep excess heat from stimulating plant growth too early.

SHRUBS and OLD GARDEN ROSES—hardy but need special care in zones of minus 10 degrees. Check at your Growise Center for winter care for your particular rose category and climate. Suggestions I find helpful:

Follow steps 1, 2, and 3 in Mounding Soil Care for protecting hybrids; can cut back to 30 inches.

Add hay or straw over the mound and exposed canes.

TREE ROSES—In mild winter areas, wrap in straw and cover with burlap; in temperate zones, no protection is needed. In coldest zones, tree roses can be buried in the ground; this protects the tender bud union located high above the ground where it is very susceptible to damage.

Dig a trench on one side of the plant. On the opposite side of the plant, use a spade to loosen the roots on one side until you can pull the plant over on the ground without breaking the root connections with the soil.

Bend the plant down to the trench, securing the trunk to the ground with crossed wooden stakes.

Cover the entire plant with mounded soil.  

Once soil has thawed and danger of frost gone, remove soil and set plant upright.

CLIMBING ROSES—A burlap wrap, adequate protection in mild-winter climates, can wrap the climber where it is attached to the support trellis. Where temperatures dip to below 20 degrees, bury climbers.

Take the canes off their support. Bury canes in the ground secured with crossed stakes.

Cover the canes with mounded soil or burlap wrap. In early spring, remove protection and tie the climber back up to the support.

MINIATURES—Tough plants. A mulch of oak leaves keeps mine snug in zone 5.

CONTAINER-GROWN TREE ROSES--Store where soil temperature stays below 40 degrees F but above 25 degrees. In some regions, a shady spot works; in colder regions, place plant in an unheated garage or shed. Mulch roots, and surround the rootball with a 12-inch layer of straw and encircle with mesh cylinder stuffed with leaves.

Information and items for winterizing roses can be found at your nearby Growise Center. Well-cared for roses will reward you with beautiful blooms.

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