How to Prepare your Roses for Winter
How to prepare your roses for winter always depends on temperature.
In general, if in your area during winter the temperature drops to minus 10 degrees F or lower then any rose bush will need some protection.
A Winter Rose
Note: If you live in a area that has a mild winter then most of the following will not apply.
However, the advice on fertilizing and watering in general does.
(In mild winter areas a rose never really goes dormant though does require a season of rest).
Whether you have a hybrid tea, floribunda, tree rose, miniature or climber the goal is always the same...
To protect the crown and roots of the plant from the worst of the winter cold and possible mid-winter thaws and re-freezings.
In the case of climbing roses and tree roses you will also need to protect the upper parts (long canes for climbers and top flowering crown for rose standards) as well.
Preparing roses for winter will always start in spring ( yes, I did mean spring). Any rose that has had a long and well tended growing season will be better able to tolerate the worst any winter has to offer.
Throughout the growing season be sure to water a rose deeply (allow the soil to dry to a depth of 2 inches or so before watering again, the root system needs air too) and fertilize regularly which will encourage a deep and healthy root system as well as healthy canes and flowers.
Roses store nutrients in their woody canes and so the bigger the plant the healthier it will be. Maintain a routine of pest and disease prevention as well as careful pruning to remove spindly growth and damaged or diseased canes.
About mid to late August stop fertilizing though do continue to water deeply (never let the roots of a rose completely dry out). About late September stop cutting blooms and allow a few rose hips to develop which will be a signal to the plant that it's dormant period is approaching.
Once you have had a few good frosts, leaves will start falling. Apply a dormant spray such as lime sulfur or a dormant oil spray. This will kill pests and fungal diseases that might try to over-winter on the plant or surrounding soil.
It can also help nudge those final leaves off. Rake leaves from around your plants and throughout your yard to prevent the spread of disease or a place for pests to hide.
At this point cover the base (crown) of the plant and the surrounding soil (about 12 inches around the base of the plant) with a thick layer of straw, leaves or mulch and then cover with a few inches of soil.
Do not remove soil from around the plant to cover the crown, that soil is needed to insulate the rest of the surrounding roots. Instead, use soil from another part of the garden.
Climbing roses require the same protection listed above and in addition will need to have their long canes protected as well.
Carefully remove the canes from the trellis, fence or wall they are tied to, lay them on the ground and cover with a thick layer of straw, leaves or mulch and a few inches of soil just like the base of the plant.
There are 3 ways to over-winter a rose standard if it is planted in the ground.
One, is to dig the plant up keeping a good sized root-ball and "heal" the plant into a large container then move it into a shed or garage for the winter. As spring approaches the plant is brought back outside and re-planted in the ground.
The second method is to carefully remove some soil from one side of the plant and bend it until it is laying on its side and then covering the entire plant with a thick layer of straw, leaves or mulch and 3 to 4 inches of soil. This method can be tricky for the novice gardener as there is a danger of cracking or breaking the plant at one of its grafting points.
The third method may be the easiest for a ground planted tree rose. First, wrap the entire plant in a thick layer of straw and burlap taking care to fully protect the plant from top to bottom. Secure everything with either clips, string, twine or wire and after taking a few measurements construct a ply-wood box (with an open bottom) to place around or over the plant.
Rose standards that are planted in containers are the easiest to care for. After following the advice for preparing roses for winter listed above, simply move into a shed or garage where the temperature will be milder than the temperature outside.
Check the soil now and then to make sure the roots do not dry out (water lightly when needed) and move back outside once the danger of frost has past.
Late winter - early spring: When there is no longer a danger of a killing freeze uncover your roses and water deeply if needed. Once new growth starts to appear is when you'll want to prune.
Remove any damaged or spindly canes and prune back healthy canes by 1/3 to 1/2. Then fertilize and follow all the steps necessary to promote healthy vigorous plants throughout the entire growing season.
Good Luck and Happy Gardening!
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