Winterizing Roses

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Winterizing Roses

 In this Series

Selecting Roses

Planting Roses
Caring for Roses
Winterizing Roses
2008 AARS Rose Winners


 Related Articles

Plant  Problems

Pruning  Techniques

Ever-blooming Gardens

Vines and Roses in Containers

Jackson and Perkins

Long before applying winter protection for your roses, there are a number of activities required to prepare them for their winter hibernation.

When September comes and the temperature remains high, it is difficult to accept that below-freezing temperatures will swoop down on our roses suddenly. In the meantime, the gardener must prepare for that cold, wet reality as he revels in the air conditioning.  In Zones 7 and colder, the roses enjoyed their last fertilization of the season by August 15 to limit the emergence of new rose canes which will almost certainly not survive the winter.  As long as the weather holds, they are watered and sprayed for pests and diseases as if the calendarís date read June 15.

 Roses Online

Maintenance must be modified when the temperature readings are normal for the fall season.  If the autumn rains do not provide the minimum of one inch of water per week, then supplemental watering must continue.  This is particularly Rosehips in late fall important for container roses and those under the house eaves where rain water is insufficient.  As the weeks pass, water is gradually restricted to harden off (toughen) the rose canes.

The formation of rose hips tells the plant that its growth cycle is complete so it can begin to shut down for the winter.  Pruning and disbudding are stopped since both encourage new growth. Instead of deadheading the spent roses, they are allowed to form fruit (the rose hips) which can be a source of food for birds during the winter as well as adding attractive color to fall and winter landscapes.  In order to reduce the amount of debris left in the rose bed, it is a simple task to pull off the petals and deposit in the trash.  The hips will then develop undisturbed.

The goal of rose maintenance before winter sets in is to create a garden free of insects and diseases which may survive the winter if not eradicated before winterizing cover is in place.

Winter Protection

In zones Zones 7 and colder, almost all roses need some kind of winter protection not only from the cold but also from the whipping winds and wild temperature swings which are the rule.  A heavy blanket of snow may well be the best winter protection since it prevents the soil from getting too cold under it and, at the same time, prevents the warming of the roots which may entice the rose into premature growth.

In recent years, snow cover has been unreliable.  To compensate for this, artificial means must be employed.  The strategies used range from the simple covering of the base of the rose with an extra 8 to 10-inches of soil or compost to elaborate structures of styrofoam and wood.  Bring in extra soil for this since scraping up the soil around the rose bush may endanger the health of its roots by exposing them to the winter cold and dryness.

Housekeeping chores should precede any winterizing programs.  If possible, all remaining leaves should be removed from the bushes and all debris should be picked up and disposed of in the trash - not in a compost pile.  Many rose diseases can survive the winter only to infect again.  Selective pruning should be done and, if the rose is to be housed in a styrofoam cone or structure, the plant should be tied into a bundle and cut short enough to fit the cone.  If using one of these structures, wait until the ground is frozen before filling with leaves or straw, as rodents will make a home in it.

rosecone.gif (198x189 -- 4700 bytes)There are some drawbacks to the cones and protective structures from small wildlife and fungus diseases. Cones can provide a luxurious winter home for rodents as they dine on rose shoots. When February temperatures soar to 75-degrees and then plunge to 20-degrees the next day, closed structures provide a perfect breeding place for fungus diseases unless their lids are removed only for the duration of a winter heat spell or holes for ventilation are made in the cone itself.  On very warm days, apply fungicide into the rose cones.

Modified versions of total coverage include the plastic fences whose walls, composed of water-filled tubes serve as insulation warmed by the sun.  Their centers are filled with chopped leaves to protect the rose and its roots.  Towers of chicken wire or roofing paper filled with leaves are also successful.  The key of all of these open-end approaches is that, in each case, the base of the rose is protected by a mound of soil.

Tea, Grandiflora and Floribunda Roses

tierosecanes.gif (160x190 -- 8261 bytes)Hybrid Teas, grandifloras and floribundas should be protected from winter damage after a killing frost but before the soil freezes, most likely in late November or early December.  Reduce breakage of tall canes by winter winds by cutting them back to 30 to 36 inches and tying tips together.  Remove dead and fallen leaves around the plants.  Hill soil over the center of the plants in broad rounded mounds at least 12 inches high and 12 inches wide.  Cover the soil mounds with a mulch of leaves, straw, boughs, or some similar material to hold it in place.  Another method includes using all mulch, such as, wood chips, sawdust, shredded hardwood, or pine bark, instead of soil, mounded to 15 to 18 inches.  When severe winter weather conditions have subsided, which is typically mid-March or early April, remove most of the mulch and soil from around the bases of plants. You may leave a 2-inch layer of mulch in the bed.

Tender Climbers and Roses in Zone 5 and Colder

Burying roses in a trench for winter protection is required in very cold zones.  This has come to be called the "Minnesota Method" since it originated there in 1954 with Albert Nelson, a die-hard rose gardener.

Roses are dormant sprayed in mid to late October at the time when you are doing general fall cleanup.  It is recommended that old mulch be removed to control a prime source of disease infection for the following season.

Tie the rose canes together using a synthetic twine that will not decay over winter.  This process can be described as lacing up the plant - generally starting from the bottom and working up.  It is important to have an extra length of twine either left at the top of the plant or added around the mid section of the tied plant.  This will be allowed to extend above the ground to help the gardener locate and lift the plant in the spring.

trenchingroses.gif (457x218 -- 5407 bytes)

A trench is dug on one side of the plant and then the soil is loosened all around the plant, using a garden fork to minimize root damage.  The plant is tipped into the trench, using the garden fork, and taking advantage of the plant's flexibility just under the graft union.  With planning, the roses have been planted so that they will bend toward the side where the graft is attached, reducing the chances of breakage.

The plants are covered with the soil that was removed, being careful to leave the end of the extra length of twine exposed.  It is a good idea to water the bed well at this point to help settle the soil and to simply keep the canes and roots in good shape over the winter.  Growers understand the importance of summer watering their roses and having rose beds with good drainage, however, the plants can also be stressed if they enter the cold weather season too dry.

As the temperatures drop in early November, a blanket of leaves 12" - 18" deep is added.  Watering will help keep the leaves from blowing around.  An alternative is to simply place bagged leaves on top of the bed.  Containers containing rodent bait are tipped on their sides and placed in the leaves or between the bags of leaves. 

Early in April the leaves are removed.  By the middle of April, the rest of the process is reversed.

Container Roses

Container grown roses, including trees if not too large, can be successfully protected by laying them on their sides and burying them, without removing the plants from their containers.  Roses may also be dug and bundled bareroot, and then the bundle buried, much as in the Minnesota Tip.  Healthy roses, protected by burying over winter, generally survive with very minimal cane damage.

Rose Boxes

A rose bed may be protected by constructing an oversized cold frame or rose house over it.  Plants are sprayed and pruned to about 2' or to fit the rose house.  A simple wooden frame is constructed that will hold sheets of building styrofoam that make up the sides.  Additional sheets of styrofoam are used as covers for these boxes.  In the spring the covers can be slid open during warm days to provide ventilation and closed again at night.  The box must be constructed in a manner to insure against the weight of the snow and rain as well as strong winds.  In the spring these rose houses are dismantled and stored until the next fall.

Over-wintering Indoors or in Unheated Garages

An alternative method of protecting miniatures - and other container grown roses - is available to those with either an unheated garage or room where there is a reasonable degree of control of the winter temperatures.  Keep in mind that most tender roses must be maintained at temperatures above 20 degrees, preferably in the 40s during the winter months.  An alternative source of heat may be necessary during extreme cold periods.  The potted plants are sprayed, tied and watered.  To keep roses from drying out, the pots are placed into plastic garbage bags, two to a bag with the miniatures.  The tops of the bags are tied.  The bags are placed on pallets or platforms to separate them a few inches from the floor.  There is a downside to this method:  The plants may respond to warm spring temperatures and began to grow before it is warm enough to move the pots back outdoors.

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Ultra-Hardy Roses to Grow

Species and Species Hybrids:  Species roses are those that occur naturally in the wild.  Some of these spring/early summer bloomers are outstanding.

Gallica:  These roses can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans, who brought them to England and France.  They are some of the oldest roses in existence.  Gallicas bloom once heavily in the spring, on shorter, bushy plants, with flowers that are red, deep pink, mauve, striped or splashed with spots.  The fragrance is intense and spicy.  Zone 4.

Alba:  Albas were introduced by Roman traders before 77 A.D.  These are tall, hardy, spring-blooming roses.  The flowers have light, sophisticated fragrances, and are generally semi-double to double, pink or white.  Foliage is grey-green, disease resistant, and shade tolerant.  Zone 3.

damaskwhiterose.jpg (132x125 -- 3085 bytes)Damask:  These roses date back to biblical times, referred to by Pliny in ancient Rome and Virgil in 50 B.C.  The arching canes are smaller in diameter than those on the Gallicas, but make taller plants.  Flowers, often in clusters, are semi-double to double, white to deep pink, borne on short peduncles with intense, unusual fragrance.  Autumn Damasks are known for repeat bloom in the fall, though it rarely occurs in the colder climates.  Zone 4.  "Hardee" rose shown.

C:  Known as cabbage or Provence roses, often depicted in old Dutch paintings, these intensely fragrant roses bloom once, generally later than other spring blooming types.  They are a hardy Alba-Damask hybrid with thorny arching canes and white to deep pink flowers.  Zone 3.

Moss:  A fragrant sport of the Centifolias, these roses have moss-like growth on the sepals which exudes a sticky substance having a balsam scent.  Some will repeat bloom.  Zone 4.

Hybrid Perpetual:  These roses were first recognized in Queen Victoria's time.  They have good June bloom with lighter repeat bloom later.  Blooms are reds, pinks, whites and mixes, and are often quite fragrant.  Some winter dieback is common, mulching or careful site selection is advised for best success.  Lightly prune after spring bloom to encourage later summer bloom.  Zone 4.

rugosarose.jpg (138x125 -- 3940 bytes)Rugosa Roses (shown):  These are the most shade, drought and poor condition tolerant roses.  They have bright green heavily textured foliage that is disease resistant and that dislikes chemical sprays.  These shrubs, with repeat bloom, come in reds, mauves, pinks and white.  The plants have attractive hips in the fall.  Most  zone 3.

Explorer Series, Ottawa Agriculture Research Station, Ontario, Canada: Many of these roses have Rugosa roses in their genetic development which gives them extra hardiness and additional disease resistance.  Included in these roses is the first truly hardy climber, William Baffin.  Zone 3.

Parkland Series, Morden Research Station, Manitoba, Canada:  These are hardy roses with exceptional summer repeat bloom, especially if given attention similar to that which we give our tender repeat bloomers.  Some have flowers that are similar to those of the tender Hybrid Teas and Floribundas.  Zone 3.

Dr. Griffith Buck, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa:  Buck roses are complex hybrids of Species roses, Shrub roses, early English roses, Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras.  The hardiness varies considerably.  These roses were developed to be hardy in zone 5.  Many of them can be considered dieback hardy in zone 4.  More of these are becoming commercially available today.  Eighty-seven of the Buck varieties have been registered with the ARS as of 1997.

jayneaustinrose.jpg (128x125 -- 4096 bytes)Other Types:  There are a number of other roses that have been introduced, such as the Meidiland roses and David Austin's English roses.  Most of these will perform best with winter protection, including the Minnesota Tip, in zones 3 and 4. Growers in zone 5 will grow these and also the Hybrid Musks like buff Beauty shown and some of the Bourbons with less protection.  Some others, like the shrubs Nevada and Lillian Gibson, are hardy to Zone 3.  "Jayne Austin" shown.

For new good rose candidates for your garden, check out the All-American Rose Selections committee's 2008 AARS Rose Winners, 2007 AARS Rose Winners, 2006 AARS Rose Winners, 2005 AARS Rose Winners, 2004 AARS Rose Winners and AARS Rose Winners since 1940.

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