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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 27, 2005

It is amazing that, even after our latest frost, many rose bushes are still producing buds and blossoms. If you can pick the odd rosebud for indoor enjoyment, it is like capturing a bit of summer. Any time after mid-November, however, we should be prepared for a really cold spell.

Winterizing roses is important, not only from an appearance standpoint, but also for their survival should we have a severe cold outflow. 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 2½ to 3 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, which often is an 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, especially the disease infected ones and rake up any old decomposed material around the base of the plants. When this is all finished, your roses will actually look quite smart.

Climbing roses should be pruned quite differently. Choose four or five of the youngest and best canes, and 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. Cut out everything else, and mulch the bud union generously.

Even though your roses look dormant for the winter, their roots are still developing. To protect the bud union, cover their base well with a 12 inch layer of bark mulch or good garden compost. This protective covering will ensure the survival of your roses even during our coldest weather.

I fully understand how inconvenient it is to go out and spray at this time of year, but I guarantee you will solve many of your insect and disease problems if you apply a combination spray of dormant oil and lime sulphur. The first and most important spraying should be done in mid-November, followed by another application at the end of December and at the end of January. This is an organic spraying, 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!

If you are planting or moving roses, use well-drained soil with plenty of compost material and bonemeal. Make certain the bud union is just below ground level, and if you cover this union with a 12 inch layer of mulch, there will be absolutely no danger of losing them in cold weather. A little smart winterizing now will not only protect your roses but will also keep them healthy and clean for a new beginning next spring.



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