Protect Your Roses This Winter

Round out your late-fall garden chores by giving your rose bushes a little TLC.

by Jessica Walliser

Protect Your Roses This Winter - Photo by Jessica Walliser (

To some gardeners, it may seem a bit late in the season to be thinking about your roses, but now is a critical time for them. Some types of roses will not survive the winter without adequate protection, while others simply will not perform their best next growing season unless they are catered to before winter arrives. Improper, late-season pruning can also lead to increased winter damage and decreased vigor next year. So, while your roses might not be your top priority right now, there are some things you should do within the next few weeks to keep them happy, healthy, and bloom-covered for years to come.

In order to understand how best to manage your roses this time of year, it’s important to know what kind of rose you’re growing. Different types of roses require different types of winter maintenance. Here are some general rules for handling each group of roses.

1. Low-Maintenance Roses
Newer rose selections, like those in the Flowering Carpet and Knock Out series, are easy to care for and require very little maintenance this time of year. In fact, you are better off completely ignoring these roses each fall and waiting to prune them until next spring. They often have less winter die-back if left standing through the winter. The most care they’ll need is a covering of deer netting if Bambi is an issue on your farm. Other low-maintenance roses that fit into this category are the rugosa roses and the shrub roses.

2. Old English Roses
Most Old English-type roses, including many of those in the David Austin series,also require minimal winter care, though some selections are less winter-hardy than others. To cover all your bases, you can provide these types of roses with extra winter protection if you’d like. To do so, place a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch around their root zone and snug up against their stem. In late March, remove the and prune them back to 3 feet tall. I know a few folks who wrap their English roses, especially climbers, in landscape fabric to keep them warm and snug through the winter. I don’t think this is a necessary step unless it is a more winter-tender variety, but it also isn’t likely to hurt them.

3. Hybrid Tea and Grafted Roses
The notoriously fussy hybrid teas, require the most winter protection. All grafted roses, including hybrid teas, must have the graft union adequately protected from freezing temperatures or you risk loosing them.

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If you’re unsure if your rose is grafted, follow the plant from the soil level upwards and look for a large, swollen knob on the trunk a few inches above the ground. If one exists, this is probably the graft union (the point where the root system was joined to a separate shoot system). To protect grafted roses for the winter, mound shredded leaves, peat moss or shredded bark up and over the graft node. You may need to surround the plant with a ring of chicken wire to contain the mulch. Remove the mulch in late March and prune the plants back to 1 to 2 feet tall.

Come spring, all roses, no matter the type, should be fertilized every four to six weeks with an organic granular fertilizer formulated specifically for roses. (I use RoseTone from Espoma.) At that time, you’ll also want to prune out any canes blackened by winter-kill.

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