10 Care Tips to Help Prepare Your Roses For Winter
Need to prep your roses for winter this season, but aren't sure where to start? Winter care can be a challenge for some plants, including roses. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood shares her top tips for keeping your rose bushes protected this winter.
Roses have a reputation for being dainty divas, but they are actually pretty tough plants. With a little preparation, you can relax knowing these gorgeous perennial shrubs will be back to steal the show in the garden next year.
As the temps turn colder, some of us are still enjoying our last flush of fall blooms. If you’ve started to wonder what you need to do to maintain healthy roses over the winter, you’re in the right place! Depending on your zone and varieties, the answer might be nothing at all. Many roses are hardier than we think.
There are a few simple things I do every fall to make sure my favorite roses make it through the winter snow and wind in my garden. No matter your location, some (if not all) of the following tips should be useful as you prepare your roses for winter. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!
First, Do You Need to Winterize?
How much winter prep you need to do depends on your zone and your rose varieties. In zones 1-6, roses will need extra protection from harsh winter winds and bitter cold.
In zones 7-13, your roses might not go truly dormant and need very little extra care beyond a layer of mulch at the base. Not sure of your zone? Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Next, you need to know your rose type. Most modern and old garden roses can withstand quite a bit of cold with minimal winter care. However, Floribundas, Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras will need some extra attention to look their best after the winter thaw. A bit of forethought in the fall will keep them healthy and robust.
Keep your roses watered well until your first freeze. They need about 2 gallons of water per week. I deep water twice a week at the base to avoid getting their leaves wet. This prevents fungal issues and blackspot. It might be cold outside, but unless you’re getting plenty of rain, your roses are still thirsty!
Stop fertilizing in August. You don’t want to spur tender new growth that will burn in the winter cold. From spring through August, fertilize every three weeks with an organic fertilizer designed for roses. This will keep your roses strong before they go to sleep for the winter.
Stop deadheading (clipping spent blooms) in late summer if you’d like to enjoy rose hips in the winter. Not all varieties form hips, but you may be surprised by a spectacular winter show!
Winterize at the Right Time
In cold zones, wait to winterize until after you’ve experienced several days of frost and roses have gone dormant. If you live in zones 7-13, Thanksgiving is a good rule of thumb.
I make sure to prune after dormancy so I don’t cue them to produce new growth that will be damaged by the frost. In my climate, it’s also important to prepare roses before the first snow. The snow acts as a great insulating layer, but you want to make sure you’ve pruned and removed any diseased leaves before they overwinter underneath.
If you’re worried you’ve begun too early or too late, don’t worry! Roses are generally tough plants. If you find some winter damage in the spring, there are many steps you can take to get them back in shape.
Start Early With Fall Pruning
I take a cautious approach to pruning at this time of year. Pruning can encourage tender new growth, which is susceptible to winter damage if I get unseasonably warm temps. When pruning my roses for winter, I always remember the 3 Ds: Remove anything Diseased, Dead, or Dying. Doing this will help keep your plant focused on new blooms.
When removing disease, use a sharp pair of shears and cut down to where you see green, healthy cane. Remove dead brown or black canes at the base. Remove any discolored or spotted leaves. Many gardeners choose to defoliate (remove all leaves) from their roses.
You can simply pull them right off the canes with your hands. I don’t find this necessary, but if you’ve been hit by Blackspot, Powdery Mildew, or pests this season, removing leaves will make sure the problem doesn’t wake up with your roses in the spring.
If you’re in zones 7-13, you can prune a bit more aggressively. You want to preserve a vase-shaped shrub, with airflow in the middle. Remove any canes that are crossing and rubbing each other, causing damage.
Lastly, you may want to take back the overall height to about ⅓ of the rose’s mature height to avoid it whipping in the wind and breaking tender canes.
Between every rose, make sure to dip or spray your shears with rubbing alcohol. This avoids spreading disease between plants.
Remove Diseased Plant Debris
After you’ve removed anything dead, diseased, or dying from your roses, clean up is crucial. If you leave the debris hanging around, fungal issues or pests can overwinter and wake up to plague them again in the spring.
Use a rake to remove all fallen leaves, canes, and other debris from your rose beds and bin them, or burn them. If the debris doesn’t show signs of disease, you can use the plant remains for compost, or as mulch in your garden beds.
Use Mulch to Help Soil Temperatures
Once your rose bed is clean and prepped, you’ll need mulch to provide a stable temperature and retain moisture through the winter. You have several options to choose from, and many can be found right in your garden!
Start by mounding compost or soil around the base of your rose to about 12 inches tall. This is called “hilling” and it keeps the base of the plant protected even if the canes die back. Several times I’ve thought a rose was lost to a harsh winter only to see it grow back from the crown in spring thanks to this method!
Next, choose your mulch. My go-to winter mulch is shredded leaves from my yard. I gather what my lawnmower has shredded for me, and pile the leaves up (grass clippings are fine too) around the base of the plant.
You can also use pine needles or wood chips. If your climate is windy, you can weigh down the mulch with branches. For all types of mulch, give the base of the rose breathing room by pulling it back a couple of inches. This will prevent rot due to extra moisture.
Protection For Harsh Winters
For my Zone 6 garden, hilling and mulching are all my roses need to survive the winter. But what if you live in a climate with extreme winter weather? You can grow a beautiful rose garden even if you experience severe winter conditions.
Shrub roses, carpet roses, and many old garden roses can withstand the winter unscathed. But if you planted some fussy varieties, don’t fret. Try some of these tried and true tips.
For all of the below methods, start by hilling and mulching your roses and cut them down to ⅓ of their mature height to avoid breakage by wind and snowfall.
Protect Them with Burlap
Wrap the entire plant in burlap, leaving a hole at the top. Fill the sack you’ve created with leaves. Close the top of the sack with clothespins, leaving holes for ventilation. A similar enclosure can be made with chicken wire or a tomato cage wrapped in burlap.
Use Rose Collars
These handy insulators are easy to apply around your shrub and can be purchased online or at your local garden supply store. You can fill them with the mulch of your choice and remove them in spring. Avoid the similar sounding Rose Cones, as they don’t allow enough ventilation and can cause them to overheat or come out of dormancy on sunny winter days.
Try the “Minnesota Tip”
Loosely tie together the canes of your rose. At the base, dig a trench the length of your plant. Carefully loosen the soil around the roots, and gently tip the rose into the trench, burying it with soil. Make sure to bend the roots, rather than the canes! Once it freezes in place, mulch over the top.
Create a Wind Barrier
Some Northern gardeners use logs, wheelbarrows, discarded Christmas trees, etc. to provide shelter and a windbreak for their roses.
Winterizing Climbing Roses
Climbing Roses can be especially susceptible to damage caused by high winds. It is important to secure and protect their long tall canes. If you have chosen a cold hardy variety, you can simply cut back the fragile tops to avoid breakage and tie the canes together with twine. For additional protection, wrap them in burlap.
Many gardeners find success with the Minnesota tip method detailed above. Gently detach your climbing rose from its trellis or support before burying it in the soil.
Winterizing Container Roses
The only roses I’ve ever lost over the winter have been in pots on my patio. Surviving winter in a container can be tricky, as not only the canes but also the roots are susceptible to freeze. In addition, roses in pots can dry out easily.
A few considerations to keep in mind if you’d like to keep your roses in containers through the winter:
Make sure you’ve chosen a rose that is hardy to 2 zones BELOW yours. Why? A container doesn’t offer as much protection as the ground. Choose a rose grown on its own root, rather than grafted, as it will be more likely to come through a harsh winter.
Choose a Large Container
Pick the largest container possible to properly insulate your rose’s roots from the cold, and leave room for winter mulch.
If your pots will not be covered in snow or watered by winter rain, you must keep them watered! Winter dry-out is a leading cause of death in potted plants.
Wrap Your Pots
Wrap your pots in black plastic or burlap and huddle them together. This will aid in keeping a stable temperature and provide shelter from the wind.
As an alternative, you can bring your pots inside an unheated shed or garage. It must be kept very cold, or your roses will come out of dormancy (and will need light and extra water to survive).
If you choose this route, Check on your roses to make sure they stay frozen and continue to give them a deep watering once every two weeks to avoid dry-out.
Remove Winter Protection at The Right Time
Hopefully, your roses have been sleeping peacefully all winter, storing up their energy to bloom in the spring. In my garden, I know it’s time to remove my roses’ winter protection, prune and fertilize when the forsythia blooms in April.
If you don’t have forsythia as an indicator, count back 6 to 8 weeks from your predicted last frost date. However, if you’re likely to experience continued freeze and thaw cycles, it’s best to leave your roses protected until you can be sure your weather is more stable.
Roses can survive even the harshest winters. Providing excellent winter care for your roses is as simple as knowing your zone, your varieties, and providing a bit of cleanup and insulation against the cold. Give your roses a little TLC in the winter months, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning healthy plants in the spring!