Wintering for your Rose Garden: An Important Fall Routine

Getting roses to over-winter successfully is no small feat if you live in a very cold climate. However, it can be done regardless of where you live, especially if you buy and plant very hardy rose varieties such as Explorer, Parkland and Buck roses. Many of the old fashioned roses will also do quite nicely—there’s a good reason they have been around as long as they have!

The trick to keep roses alive but dormant during the winter is to protect the bud graft from freezing or being damaged. You can do this by planting the bud union deeply when you first plant your roses. Then, after the last rose of summer has fallen from your plants, cut the canes back to the ground and remove all fallen leaves that have any trace of black spot or mildew and burn them.

The second is to add protection to a bud union that is above the ground by bringing in soil from another part of the garden and making a pyramid of soil around the plant to cover the canes after cutting the canes back to 12 to 18 inches above the ground. Called “hilling” by most rose gardeners, this system works best when you spray the clipped canes with a lime-sulphur and dormant oil combination before you hill them up to defeat problems with fungi.

Some gardeners swear that using peat moss to form the pyramid around the cut canes keeps the plants dry and warm; others prefer the insulating abilities of Styrofoam containers cut to cover the canes.

Research from Canada suggests that gardeners who use a poly foam blanket to cover their roses see more of their roses to survive even the coldest winters. A poly foam blanket makes your rose garden appear to have been visited by space aliens, especially as you must weight and seal the edges of the blanket with additional soil to keep the blanket firmly in place when winter winds rage. But if that doesn’t bother you, this is a great system to use.

Additional over-wintering techniques involve wrapping the roses with burlap and filling the enclosed space with leaves, or making small enclosures of wire or snow fencing and filling the enclosed space with leaves or other insulating material to keep roses warm.

Whichever technique and whatever materials you use, just remember that the whole point of using it is to protect the bud union from freezing and prevent it from dying on a cold winter night while you’re sleeping in your warm bed.

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