Winterize Roses

I am lucky to be living in a warmer climate… winter frosts are rare, although they do occur. Even in mid winter, the overnight temperatures rarely drop below freezing… if we get a frost, it will be light and gone by mid morning. But not everyone is in this situation. Some rose gardeners need to prepare their roses for the cold months ahead. This article will show you how to do that.

Frozen rose hips
Snow can kill your roses, even when they are dormant

Winter Protection Starts Well Before The First Frosts

In the summer months, you will have been deadheading your roses to encourage more blooms. As the cooler months get closer, stop doing this. let the flowers form their hips. This lets the plant know that their purpose in life (to produce seeds) has been achieved for this year, and will trigger the winter shutdown. The worst thing for your roses is to have them still growing when the heavy frosts and snow arrives!

You should also stop feeding and watering them. I always gave mine a good feed before the autumn (fall) flush was due, and then no more until the next year. Again, this is to encourage the roses to enter their dormant cycle.

Different Types Of Winter Protection

There are many different ways to winterize your roses but they all have one thing in common. Stop the moisture in the plants from freeze/thaw cycles that would occur with a plant left open to the elements. Over time, this will break down the cell structure of the plant… stems will turn black and the rose will die.

A rose can actually endure very cold conditions, even remaining covered in snow for weeks or months at a time. But it must be totally dormant, it’s the thawing and then refreezing that does the damage. So your aim is twofold when winterizing: get the plant dormant, then keep it at a cold but reasonably constant temperature over the winter.

Mounding Up Your Roses

  • Ensure roses are dormant, so probably Oct/Nov in northern hemisphere, depending on location.
  • Prune the roses so you have removed most of the growth and have the remaining canes at around 2 foot tall 
  • Use some soft twine, cloth, or whatever you have handy to tie the canes into a loose bunch.
  • Mound up with soil to approximately halfway up the canes
  • Once the ground is frozen, then you can put a rose collar in place (optional) and cover the rest of the canes, using straw, mulch, old leaves, whatever you have available
  • If you used a collar, then you are done for the winter. If you didn’t, then cover the mulch with some burlap, or sacking and tie with twine

Your roses should now be safe for the rest of the winter, no matter how deep the snow! The video below gives a good demonstration of winterizing. However, I recommend using a “rose collar” rather than chicken netting, and straw, if you don’t have access to pine needles.​

Tipping Your Roses

This is a slight variation on the previous method. While it possibly offers some extra protection in the harshest climates, I don’t feel that it is necessary for the majority of people. There is a bit more work involved. However, I am not the best person to judge the merits of this, having never needed to take radical measures to protect my roses.

With that in mind, I will link to an article on “The Minnesota Tip” so you can judge for yourself whether it’s something you wish to do next winter.

Rose Cones

Rose cones, or protectors, are a good way to further protect your garden from the harshness of winter and the elements. While I don’t believe this offers quite as much protection as burying the plant, it is certainly less work.

Consider the type of material you are using for your protectors. They all have pros and cons.

Your local garden store or nursery will often carry styrofoam versions. While cheaper, they aren’t as sturdy as some of the other materials. In addition, styrofoam materials have a tendency to increase internal moisture inside the cone. This can increase the risk of fungus and mold, which can thrive in those conditions, especially if you use these devices too early in the season. They are also environmentally unfriendly.

A plastic build will be much more stable in inclement weather and wind, and won’t be damaged as easily. They are more expensive, however.

Another recent material option is paper pulp (and would definitely be my choice if I needed to use a protector). These are totally earth friendly, will biodegrade, and are recyclable. The materials are recycled paper waste products, so no chemicals are used. They are a little less sturdy than the styrofoam versions, but at least they won’t end up in a landfill. The drawback is cost, if you have a large number of roses to do. Mounding/tipping might be more work, but the materials are free. But for a limited number of plants, you may want to consider using a rose come. The video below gives a demo of using rose collars and pulp/cardboard cones.