Rose Bush Care: Preparing for Winter Cold
You can grow roses in the Great White North, you just have to protect them. Harsh northern climates can be hard on roses. take these steps to protect your roses from bitter winter cold. Most varieties of hybrid roses suffer extensive damage, even total death, if they are not protected from the roller coaster of extreme winter winds, freezes and thaws. Take the time to prepare your roses in the late Fall or early Winter to ensure your investment is not stricken by dead, blackened, and shriveled canes come early Spring.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "In general, people don't really do this anymore, unless perhaps, they live in the far north, like Canada. This was commonly done back in the 1960s and 1970s, but you don't see people covering roses anymore in the middle latitudes of the US. I don't want you to avoid planting roses because you think you have to take these kind of steps in winter."
Although long, hard freezes are of some concern, the biggest threat to roses during the Winter is the risk of dehydration caused by forceful winds and water loss through periods of freezing, thawing and refreezing. With adequate protection you can reduce the effects of these elements on your rose bushes, ensuring that plenty of healthy plant remains for strong Spring growth.
Tie and Mound
Begin by tying the canes of your rose bushes together with heavy twine that encircles all of the outer stalks. Protect the roots of your roses from freezing, heaving and temperature variations by building a mound of soil 8 to 12 inches high around the bottom of the bush. Do not simply rake or hoe a mound of the surrounding soil, as this will expose the roots. Bring soil in from another area of the yard or garden.
Tenting rose bushes with evergreen branches and wrapping with burlap tied with twine provides at least minimal protection, and may be enough for moderate Winter climates. For more northerly climates with severe Winter weather and great fluctuation, better protection is recommended.
Mounding soil around the bottom of the plant is likely to be enough protection for your rose bush to survive the winter, but it is not enough to set your rose up for healthy, vigorous Spring growth. Exposed upper branches are likely to freeze and die, resulting in a plant that needs to be heavily pruned back in the Spring, with much growth to be caught up. For the best winter protection for the whole or majority of your rose bush, surround the bush with a cylinder of flexible plastic, tar paper or chicken wire filled with organic material for winter insulation from temperature extremes and wind damage.
Leaves, although abundant and convenient, are not the best filler to protect your roses. Leaves stay wet and grow molds and fungi which can mean death to delicate rose bushes. Soil is sometimes recommended, but can be difficult to work with and can cause damage to small branches from the weight of it. The healthiest insulation for rose bushes is peat moss, ground bark or another medium weight mulch material. As an added benefit, these materials can simply be spread onto the ground surrounding the roses in the Spring when the Winter protection is removed. Additional soil mounded around the outside of the rose enclosure will provide added protection to the roots and help to anchor the cylinder in place. Again, this soil should come from another area of the yard, not simply scraped from above the rose’s roots.
By taking time in the Fall months to protect your prized roses from the extremes of Winter wind and cold, you will prepare your bushes for a healthy, vigorous Spring season. Plan to remove the winter protection from your roses in the early Spring before the rose’s buds start to swell. This will likely be well before the last Spring frost, but will allow your roses to acclimate and prevent tender new growth from breaking and damage during removal of the mulch and soil surrounding it. Thanks to your preemptive efforts, your roses will be off to a happy, blooming start!