Prepare your roses for the winter
August 22, 2019
Roses are a beautiful and fragrant flower and one of the more popular found in yards around the country. They come in all sizes and colors, some with tiny flowers and some with large thick blossoms. They can be small tea roses or larger climbing roses. Some are easier to maintain than others, especially when it comes to preparing them for our cold weather that we all know is just around the corner.
Too many of us, including me, don’t prepare our flower beds and other plants for winter as we should. I’ve had the opinion for years that if a plant can’t survive on its own then maybe it shouldn’t. Of course, I didn’t apply that thought until a plant was established. Mostly, I didn’t realize what a harsh environment we had for plants. Most of the flowering plants we try to grow here aren’t native to the area and won’t thrive without help. Roses fall into that category. Most rose varieties won’t survive in Wyoming at all and many others won’t survive without a lot of care and maintenance. I hope that you selected a variety that’s suited for our area when you planted. For the most part, any of the Canadian varieties will survive our winters with just a little bit of care. The Canadian varieties are bred by the Canadian Agriculture-Agrifood Department specifically for our harsh winters. We do have a few native species such as serviceberry, Wood’s rose, prickly rose and prairie rose that do well with very little care. Another species that does pretty well without any particular care is the Hanson’s rose. But these are exceptions to the rule. If you want the traditional gorgeous roses, then you should expect to take care of them throughout the year.
Preparing your roses for winter should actually just be an extension of your ongoing maintenance from the spring and summer. Most of my information for this article comes from the Denver Rose Society, an organization that promotes interest in roses and education for both novices and experts alike on how to care for and grow these beautiful plants. In the spring, roses should be pruned to eliminate dead canes and open up the middle of the plant for ventilation. That is a good start to preparing your roses for that magnificent show of blooms that delights us all. A good feeding in the spring and regular watering are actually the start of preparing the plants for the fall and winter. A strong, vigorous rose is essential to surviving in Wyoming. Any plant that goes into the winter weak and stressed will have a difficult time surviving. After the first strong frost is the time to put your roses to sleep for the season. Before starting, clean all debris (leaves, dead grass, etc.) from under the rose bush. Diseases thrive in this old plant material and removing it removes disease pathogens. Then thoroughly soak the ground around your rose bush.
The first step is to apply one to two tablespoons of superphosphate fertilizer to the ground around the bush and work it into the soil as best you can. This may not be much depending on how hard the frost was. Superphosphate is 20% phosphorus which is the middle number in the label on the package. The numbers represent the NPK content of the fertilizer. For example, 0-20-0 means 0% Nitrogen, 20% Phosphorus and 0% Potassium. This is the content of superphosphate. The fertilizer also contains an acid which will help the phosphorus release into the soil. Phosphorus helps build strong roots and using it in the fall will maintain root health throughout the winter. The result will be more robust and vibrant blooms in the spring. Make sure that you do not apply any fertilizer with nitrogen in the fall. Nitrogen tells the plant to kick itself into gear and start growing, exactly what we don’t want at this time of year. After applying the fertilizer mound up some garden soil around the base of the plant to about six inches to cover the crown. Then cover the soil with a good layer of mulch to help hold it in place. Water the mulch and garden soil to help it settle. In Laramie County, you may need to place something over the mulch to keep the wind from taking it to Nebraska or Colorado. Landscape fabric, netting, collars or something similar will work as long as it’s staked down well. Mulch will help retain heat and moisture around the roots.
In early fall, start reducing the amount of water you are giving the roses to harden them off for the winter. Reducing the water will help the plant move into dormancy by pulling water and nutrients out of the canes and into the roots to be stored while waiting for the spring. Throughout the winter you’ll need to water your roses just as you would any other plants in your yard. They key to roses, though, is that the temperature should be above 40 degrees when you water. For those of you thinking that we don’t get those temperatures in winter, think again. You’d be surprised how many days we reach 40 degrees or even higher. It normally doesn’t last long so you’ll need to water fast while you have the opportunity.
If your roses have long, tall canes, you can prune them back no more than a third of the length of the cane to keep the snow from breaking them. All roses, especially climbers and other varieties that have long canes, will benefit from being wrapped in burlap or similar material to prevent desiccation from the wind. Canes can be tied together to fit into the wrap easier. This concept is the same as wrapping young trees to protect them.
In the spring, as the weather begins to warm and the danger of a hard frost is passed, remove any wraps and gradually remove the mulch and soil from around the roses. Don’t do it all at once because you don’t want to shock the plant. We will still have cold temperatures even when it seems warm. Take your time and be patient. Feed your roses once the soil is removed back to ground level, then sit back and enjoy the show into the summer. Roses can be breathtaking. As always, if you have any questions, ask a master gardener. It’s what we do.