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Winterizing Roses
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at

November 23, 2003

It is amazing, but, in spite of early frosts, many rose bushes are still producing buds and blossoms. If you can pick the odd rosebud for indoor enjoyment, it is like stealing a bit of summer. We may well have another beautiful mild winter, but after mid- November, we should at least be prepared for a cold spell. Now that our roses are no longer putting out new growth, it is time to clean them up for winter.

Winterizing roses is important, not only from an appearance standpoint, but for their survival. Floribundas, Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras are all treated in much the same manner at this time of year. Using a sharp, clean pair of hand shears, cut all the stems back to approximately three feet in height. Make all your cuts on an angle to prevent water from seeping into the stems. Next, take out any obvious dead wood, often the ideal overwinter hideout for both insects and disease. It might also be a good idea to use a little pruning paint wherever you make a cut to prevent borers from getting inside. I would also pick off all the leaves at this point, especially the disease infected ones and rake up all the old decomposed material around the base of the plants. When this is finished, your roses will actually look quite smart, and they won’t be whipped around in heavy winds.

Climbing roses are pruned quite differently. Choose four or five of your healthiest and best canes, and then prune them back to about six to eight feet. Tie the canes to a trellis or arbour to prevent winter winds from thrashing them about. Finally, cut out everything else and mulch the bottom of the plant quite generously.

Even though your roses look dormant for the winter, the roots are still developing. I think it is very important to use a winterizing fertilizer like Greenleaf 6-9-18 or simply apply a low nitrogen summer fertilizer like 4-10-10. Apply this fertilizer in a band around the roses, directly below the outermost branches. Once this is done, cover the same area with a 12 inch layer of bark mulch or good garden compost. This protective covering will ensure the survival of your roses even during the coldest winter.

I fully understand how inconvenient it is to go out and spray at this time of year, but you will solve many of your insect and disease problems if you apply a combination spray of dormant oil and lime sulphur. The most important spraying should be done in mid-November, but two other follow up treatments must be made at the end of December and January. This is an organic spray, and it will leave the stems of your roses clean, shiny and healthy looking.

Once all the winterizing is done, you may wish to spice up your rose garden by planting winter violas and pansies around them. Let’s face it, as beautiful as they are in spring, thorny branches in winter don’t exactly create an inspiring winter display. You might also want to plant early, mid-season and late daffodils among your roses. In April and May, the bronzy new growth on your roses will provide a spectacular background for the brilliant yellow of the daffodils. This is a classic combination and one which will last up to six weeks. When the daffodil leaves are finished and looking poorly, the growing foliage of the roses will hide those spent leaves. There’s no reason why a rose garden can’t look good in winter!

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