Take care now to protect roses during their long winter’s nap. When you properly prepare rose bushes, your healthy plants will emerge in spring with beautiful blooms.
Repeated freezing and thawing and temperature fluctuations can damage delicate roses. Safeguard your roses by applying winter protection, after the first frost but before the soil freezes solid. Learn the average date of first frost for your region.
Fall is the season to clean up rose beds and remove diseased foliage. In general, roses are pruned in spring after the last frost. Follow the old saying: when the forsythia blooms, it’s time to prune roses.
Preparing roses for winter begins up to six weeks before the first frost, when you stop fertilizing roses. As they enter their dormant season, let the roses form hips. This is nutrition for the birds and, as a bonus, the hips provide color and texture in the winter garden.
Tips to pREP roses for winter:
- Cut back really long canes to 36 inches to keep them from becoming damaged by wind.
- With the remaining stems, cut back by a third. Use hand pruners, and protect your arms with rose gloves.
- Snip off any remaining leaves, and rake up any fallen ones around the plant. Do not compost these leaves. Instead, bag the leaves and dispose of them in the garbage. Rose leaves often harbor diseases that can linger in soil.
- Water each plant deeply.
- Tie canes together with twine.
- Pile bagged topsoil or compost over and around rose canes 8 to10 inches high. This process is known as “hilling up,” and it insulates and protects the plant from freezes and thaws. Do not use garden soil.
- Cover the hill of soil with a layer of mulch, shredded leaves or straw after the first frost to keep the soil from washing away.
- Another way to protect hybrid teas and smaller shrubs is to pile leaves or straw in and around the canes, and then wrap with burlap and twine.
Gardening gloves made especially for roses have leather gauntlets that come almost to the elbow, protecting hands and arms from thorns as you work.
After cleaning up your rose garden, give your tools some TLC. Put them away clean so you know they’re ready to go when the weather warms again. Clean tools like pruners with a lubricant such as WD-40 or heavy gear oil and let dry. You can make a bucket of oiled sand to store tools. In a 5-gallon bucket filled with sand, pour in three-fourths of a quart of motor or mineral oil. Clean tools can be stored directly in the bucket.
A final note: Make use of downtime in winter by planning your rose garden for the next summer. Review online selections, research tools and study up on rose care.