The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

What to do with roses in the winter

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

To some gardeners a rose by any other name would be just as difficult to grow. Winter protection may fit into the equation. However, roses vary remarkably in their ability to withstand cold. Grafted roses are particularly susceptible to winter injury. If the top part of the rose is lost to winter damage, we lose the rose we purchased. Voluptuous red roses give way to puny pink blooms.

If covering roses is one chore too many, select roses that are not grafted. They will sometimes be listed as roses "grown on their own rootstock." Or select some of the superhardy roses such as those out of the Explorer or Parkland series bred in Canada. These include 'Martin Frobisher', 'Champlain', 'William Baffin', 'Jens Munk', 'Assiniboine' and 'Morden Centennial'. Or the English roses 'Constance Spry' or 'The Reeve'. Shrub and rugosa roses tend to be winter hardy. In fact the 'Knockout' series roses are still blooming even after a hard freeze.

Winter protection is actually a year around activity. Healthy roses are more able to survive cold. Roses should be planted in well-drained sites with at least 6 hours of sunlight. Fertilize regularly and water roses during drought periods throughout the growing season.

Also make sure roses go fully dormant. No fertilizer should be applied after August 15th so growth will slow. Stop deadheading or cutting flowers after September 1. Allow the plants to form hips. One of the few times big hips are a plus.

Don't apply winter protection too early. Wait until a hard killing frost has caused most of the leaves to drop. The plants should be dormant before applying protection. You may also want to wait until the temperature has dropped into the teens for several nights. Usually after Thanksgiving is a good time to winterize roses. Be sure to remove any fallen leaves to prevent disease problems next year.

There are probably as many ways to protect roses, as there are rose growers. If you have a method that works for you, then don't change. However if success has not been on your list of accomplishments, then you may want to try the hilling method. The most common way to provide protection is to pile or "hill up" a loose, well-drained soil/compost mixture around the plant to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches.

Severe pruning in fall is generally not recommended. Any diseased or dead canes should be removed but wait until April to do any major pruning. If hybrid tea rose canes are particularly tall, they may be shortened to 2 ½ to 3 feet tall and tied together with soft twine or old nylon stockings to keep them from whipping in the wind.

Styrofoam rose cones can be used, but they need to be used correctly. Don't cover the plants too early. Cones should be well-ventilated to prevent heat build up during sunny winter days. Cut 4-5 one inch holes around the top and bottom of the cone. Even with cones it is advisable to mound some soil around the bud union. Be sure to weigh the cone with brick or rock.

This may sound like a great deal of work, but next year when the sight and fragrance of your roses fills your senses you will know it was all worth the effort.

The Champaign County Master Gardeners' Idea Garden, including its award winning rose garden, on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana has been a true jewel this year. Volunteers plan, plant, fertilize, water, weed, and worry over each inch. The garden is a gift from the Master Gardeners to the community.

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