On one of the recent glorious fall days, I took some time for a walk through the Manito Park Rose Garden. Even though it was the middle of October, the roses were beautiful. Every color imaginable and the fragrances were quite pronounced in the still air.
It was hard to imagine that in just a very few short weeks, all the beauty would be gone and it would be time to get the plants ready for winter. Getting all roses ready for winter starts long before the killing frosts.
Prepare for winter weather
“Keep them watered until they are dormant,” says Lynn Schafer of the Spokane Rose Society. “This is so they aren’t stressed when they go into winter.”
While Schafer says there is some debate about stripping all the leaves from a plant and not cutting blooms after September, she doesn’t follow it. “Enjoy your roses right up to end.”
Clean and healthy
Clean up debris and fallen leaves around the plants and remove any leaves from the plant that show signs of black spot or powdery mildew. Diseases and insects can overwinter on the ground litter.
If you have nongrafted hardy shrub roses, the only thing you will need to do to prepare them for winter is trim back any long scraggly branches that are crowding onto paths or other plants and keep them watered until they go dormant. In the last seven or eight years we have lost more plants because they went into winter dry than we did to cold temperatures.
Mulch for protection
If you have hybrid tea-grafted roses, you will need to mulch the graft. The graft is the swollen point at the base of the plant where the pretty rose you like is grafted onto a rootstock. The top of the plant is often not as hardy as the rootstock and can be killed in the cold if not protected. When this happens, the rootstock often comes out the following year with flower completely different – and often not as pretty as the original plant.
Once we get a good frost, Schafer recommends mounding the graft area with a foot of compost. “That will insulate them against any cold.” Once the ground freezes, mound a foot of pine needles on top of the compost. Soil can be used but don’t pull soil from the same bed the roses are in.
Some recommend cutting the hybrid tea canes back by two thirds to half their length but Schafer finds this isn’t required in her garden. “I may trim really long branches back that might break in the wind but that’s all.” Cutting them back keeps them from moving back and forth in the wind and augering holes in the mulch, allowing cold air to reach the protected area.
The mulch can be removed in late March or early April. The compost can be pulled off and spread around the rose bed around mid-April.