When the frost comes, it’s easy to wonder if we should be protecting our roses. In the past, putting them to bed was an important part of the fall routine. Today, many varieties are cold hardy to our climate. We can treat them like other shrubs—give them a healthy layer of bark mulch and kiss them goodnight until next spring. But several kinds won’t make it without extra bedtime preparations. These include hybrid teas, floribundas, multifloras, miniatures, climbers, newly planted roses, and most roses that are grafted onto another type of rose. Here’s a guide to protecting these bloomers through the season of snow and frost!
Just as we need to avoid stimulants in the evening for a good sleep, we need to stop stimulating roses late in the year.
Prepare Them For Dormancy
Roses naturally respond to declining light and dropping temperatures by going into dormancy. But just as we need to avoid stimulants in the evening for a good sleep, we need to stop stimulating roses late in the year. Prepare them for dormancy with these three tricks:
- Wind Down Your Fertilizing: the time for growth is in the spring and summer. Fall fertilizing can stimulate new growth when they should be preparing for bed. It’s best to stop fertilizing after mid-August.
- Let Them Form Rosehips: to keep roses blooming during the summer; we usually cut off the spent flowers. This prevents them from forming rosehips and redirects their energy into new blossoms. But by Labor Day, we should thank our roses for all of their blooms and put our deadheading to rest. That way, they can slow their growth before dormancy. Plus, rosehips make delicious tea, feed wildlife, and give the garden some winter interest.
- Keep Them Well-Watered: the winter is our dry time of year, as all the moisture in the landscape is frozen. Since we can’t easily put lip chap on the roses, we need to help them before everything dries out. That begins with good watering in the fall; you can water up until the ground starts to freeze.
Give Them Insulation
Once we ease them into sleep, we need to add insulation to their beds. Unlike us, who try to stay warm beneath our quilts, roses need covers to keep them uniformly cold and frozen. Beneath a blanket of soil and mulch, they can happily sleep through extreme cold snaps and damaging freeze and thaw cycles. Here are two methods for tucking them in:
- Option A: The Mound Method: Wait until a hard frost has forced them to drop most of their leaves. If your rose is tall, tie the base of the canes together to prevent the wind from whipping around the branches. Proceed by layering 10-12 inches of soil around the base of each plant. Be sure you take the soil from elsewhere, so you don’t disturb the rose roots. Once that soil is frozen, add a layer of 10-12 inches of leaves, Straw, or evergreen branches.
- Option B: The Collar Method: After the hard frost, follow the same procedure as above. When it comes time to mound the soil, first set an 18-inch mesh collar around each plant. Chicken wire or hardware cloth works well. Proceed by filling 10-12 inches of soil within the collar. Allow the soil to freeze and then fill in the remaining space with leaves, Straw, or evergreen branches.
Protecting Climbing and Tree Species
You have a few options for protecting roses with longer canes. You can mound and mulch at the base as described above, but you need to protect the higher branches in one of two ways:
- Burlap and Straw: if they are attached to a trellis, you can gently untie them, cover the canes with burlap, and stuff straw inside the burlap before attaching them again.
- Bend Canes to the Ground: another option is to untie them and gently bend the canes to the ground, staking them in place. Use caution not to break any stems, keeping in mind that roses get stiffer after a hard frost. Once staked along the ground, you can gently mound the branches with soil and mulch, as described above.
Remove Insulation In Spring
When new growth starts to emerge in late March or early April, it’s time to begin removing the insulation. If all goes well, they’ll come up smelling like roses and be ready for another growing season.
If you have any questions about your specific roses or need any supplies to prep your beds for the winter, don’t hesitate to drop by our garden center in Moline!