Itís that time of year again, when everyone is thinking about holiday baking and family gatherings. With all the hustle and bustle going on you could easily forget to prepare your roses for the winter weather.
If you havenít already begun to prepare your roses for winter, youíll need to get started. This can be a somewhat difficult area to cover as winter preparation for roses entirely depends on your climate zone and the typical winter weather for your area. However, this is an invaluable step in rose gardening. Getting your roses properly prepped for the cold will insure healthy spring growth and lots of blooms.
If youíre from about zone 6 to around zone 9, and generally you get a light snow fall but nothing too severe, youíre probably fine with pruning the bush back to four nice healthy main canes. Youíll want to remove canes that seem spent or are several years old as well as young puny thin canes that wonít last the winter. Keep the four largest canes that still seem healthy and productive. Clip these remaining canes to a manageable level, somewhere between about two or three feet is a good guideline. If you want to leave the canes a bit long, make sure you can stake and tie them in some way to prevent winter wind damage. Climbers can have their four remaining canes left somewhat long, but youíll want to make sure theyíre securely attached to their climbing structure. Donít underestimate the destructiveness of winter winds!
Mulch is always important. If youíve had some fungal or insect issues during the year (and who didnít?) youíll want to remove your old mulch and replace it with fresh. This will help prevent any pests from wintering over to reappear next year. Once spring comes fresh mulch will also help insure the year starts disease and insect free. While you have the old mulch removed itís also a good idea to place a small amount of Epsom salts on the soil surface. This will encourage winter root growth. Finally, waiting until after at least two hard frosts, you can mound a bit of extra dirt or compost against the bottom of the plant. This can protect the base or bud union from the freeze thaw cycle. Make sure to remove this dirt or compost in the spring.
For most people with severe winter weather simply prepare your bush as listed above and then create a structure to place over the bush that allows some air circulation. There are a variety of materials that will work. You could use any type of chicken wire to form a cylinder around the rose bush. If your bush is quite large or you donít like the idea of working with wire you could place stakes around the perimeter of the rose plant. Youíll then want to wrap the stakes or chicken wire with burlap or a similar natural breathable material to create a cone shape. For most of winter it will be covered with snow, so donít worry too much about the overall appearance. Just make sure the structure is staked to the ground, you donít want to find it one frosty morning blown across the yard. Now pack straw, leaves, compost or some other dry, breathable, natural, material into the frame around the rose. Pack the material in loosely, packing too tightly can cause mold to develop. This extra insulation will keep your rose warm throughout the winter and help prevent freeze/thaw damage.
If you live in an area where the temperature drops far below zero there are more involved steps that youíll need to take to protect your roses. With a climate this cold however, much like my pineapple sage that exploded from a frost last year, itís probably too late to save your roses if you havenít already set them up for winter. I can cover these extreme temperature precautions at a later date, but if you have any questions feel free to e-mail me or post your question on the Roses forum.
Winter rose preparation isnít difficult or too time consuming. Taking some simple steps now can ensure healthier roses for the spring and make rose bed cleanup much easier for next year. Now you can get back to all that holiday craziness without worrying about your roses!