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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Check carefully before declaring blackened roses a complete loss

Pat Munts

Now that we’ve had time to clean up our gardens, it’s pretty obvious what took a beating over the winter.

Roses were hit hard by the cold both at the beginning of the winter and in March. In December, temperatures dropped from the fairly normal 30s and 40s into the minus-10s in the space of a couple of days. As a result, roses that weren’t quite dormant got hit hard. In March the reverse happened. Roses were beginning to come out of dormancy when the single-digit temperature hit in mid-March. The result is plants with blackened stems that look like they are dead.

They may not be. If you have the tough shrub roses that are on their own roots, chances are they came through this fine. You may have to do a little trimming and cleanup, but even if they seem dead to the ground, the roots survived and will send out new shoots shortly.

For those of you with grafted roses, the prognosis is a little less predictable. Grafted roses have had the top of the plant grafted onto a different rootstock. The graft point is a swollen area at the base of the plant. If you hilled up and mulched your plants to protect the graft point, they probably came through cold fine, and with some pruning out of the blackened stems, they will recover nicely.

If you didn’t protect the graft point, there is a good chance that the part of the plant that grows the pretty flowers may have been killed by the cold. But wait don’t give up on them just yet. Let’s try a few things first.

First, check the green stems on the lower part of the plant for swelling buds. If there are buds present, prune the plant down to the first outward-facing green bud on each of the canes. Thin the canes to the four or five largest and strongest. This will let the plant grow into a nice wide vase.

If you can’t see any buds on the plant, prune out the obviously blackened stems down to three or four inches above the graft. Now wait to see what happens. If new canes appear, check to see if they are coming from below the graft or above it. If they come out from the swollen knob or above it, you still have your rose.

If, however, the canes come out under the graft, you have lost the part of the rose that produces the pretty flowers and all you have is the rootstock. The rootstock will grow, but it often has less than attractive flowers and a completely different growth habit. If this is the case, it’s time to yank it out and buy a new plant.

To avoid the disappointment this can cause, look for roses that are growing on their own roots. The next time we get a cold snap, your rose can simply send out new shoots and start over.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at
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