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How To Prepare Your Rose Bushes For Winter – Fall Rose Care

As winter approaches, we have been getting a lot of questions to the blog about how to prepare and care for rose bushes this fall before the harsh cold and snow arrive.

With that in mind, we thought today’s article would be the perfect time to tackle the subject.

fall rose care
What you do this fall can make a big difference in your roses health next spring. Today’s article is all about what chores are a must – and which ones to avoid that could put your roses in danger.

When it comes to roses, a little work now goes a long way in keeping them healthy and strong next spring. But in some cases, too much care can actually put your roses in danger. Here is a look at fall rose care, and the ins and outs of preparing your rose bushes for winter.

Pruning Before Winter

Whether you grow hybrid roses, climbing roses, or shrub roses, pruning should be kept to the bare minimum in the fall. Excessive pruning leaves roses vulnerable to all kinds of winter damage.

Once a rose bush is pruned, it is a signal to the plant to attempt to regrow. This isn’t a problem in January or February when the bush is completely dormant. But in early fall, if warm weather arrives, it can signal the rose to put forth new growth.

That new growth is dangerous because it puts the plant at risk of freezing out as winter hits full force. Save major pruning for when the plant is in full dormancy in late winter, only removing renegade branches in late fall.

rose hips
Allowing the last few rose buds to turn into rose hips will help put rose bushes into dormancy. It also makes for a little extra late season interest!

If you have a newly planted rose, don’t prune at all the first year. Instead, allow it to gain hold and strengthen it’s resources with a full year of growing.

Fertilizing – Fall Rose Care

In addition to excessive pruning, fertilizing should be avoided in the fall as well.

Fertilizing too late in the growing season can fool the plant into new growth. And this tender late growth is easily susceptible to winter damage as the temperature drops.

Stop all fertilizing in mid-August to avoid potential late season growth.

Protecting Rose Bushes For Winter

How you protect your rose bushes in the fall for winter depends on the variety of roses you are growing, and your climate.

Protecting Shrub Roses – Fall Rose Care

Shrub roses are the easiest of all to care for and require little preparation for winter.

Once a few frosts have put the plant into full dormancy, remove the leaves that have fallen to the ground. These can overwinter insects and disease, and it’s best to get them away from the plant.

shrub rose
Shrub roses handle the cold of winter the best of all rose varieties.

Finish by applying a few inches of compost around the base of the shrub. Unless you live in an ultra-cold winter environment, no additional protection is needed.

Protecting Hybrid & Tea Roses – Fall Rose Care

Hybrid and tea roses, along with climbing roses do need a bit more help to make it through winter unscathed. As with the shrub roses, begin by removing any leaves that have fallen and gathered around the bush.

Next, apply a 6″ to 8″ layer of mulch or sawdust around the base of the shrub, being careful to cover any grafts or unions at the base of the plant. These are the most vulnerable of all to winter damage.

Sawdust to cover plants
Sawdust and shredded mulch are two of the best choices for covering.

Do not mound up existing mulch from around the plant for this task. This can expose roots of the bush and put them at risk through the winter. Instead, use additional mulch or sawdust to cover.

If you live in an area with extremely cold winters, you can also cover your plants with Drawstring Plant Covers, or use PVC pipe to make your own. These, in addition to mounding saw dust or mulch over the crown and base can add an extra layer of protection.

Be sure to remove them as spring nears to allow the rose bush to grow freely.

PVC pipe can be bent and taped together to make a tent to protect roses in harsh winter areas. The frame can them be covered with a breathable cloth.
Climbing Roses – Fall Rose Care

Climbing roses need more protection against the wind than anything. Their canes can easily sustain damage from strong winds or heavy ice and snow.

The best way to protect a climbing rose is to remove the canes from the trellis and tie around them with a wire or rope to hold the canes together. Next, lay the canes down on the ground and apply a 4 to 6 inch layer of mulch to protect them over winter.

If this is simply not possible due to the size or location, at least tie the canes together to the structure to help support them through winter. In addition, mound a solid 6″ to 8″ layer of sawdust or wood chips around the base.

climbing roses
Tying the canes of climbing rose bushes together will help protect them from winter damage. Then lay the canes down and mulch over them to keep protected through winter.

And that should do it for your roses! For more on protecting perennials in your flowerbeds and landscape, check out our article How To Prepare Flowerbeds For Winter.

Here is to a little fall rose care – and putting your rose bushes to bed successfully for a long winter’s nap. Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

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