Winterizing Roses

By Kerry Ann Mendez

Hopefully your roses have treated you to a grand floral show this season. Now it is time to thank them by preparing them for a good winter's sleep.

Shrub Roses

Most modern shrub roses, like those in the 'Knock Out', 'Oso Easy', Easy Elegance and 'Drift' series, require little assistance to make it through winter. Do not prune these in fall; wait until spring to trim them back to 1/2 to 2/3 their height.

I like to mound compost, aged manure, or leaf mold around their trunks after the ground has frozen for additional winter protection (although there have been winters when I never got to this and the roses did just fine!). If your rose was troubled with black spot or another fungal disease, be sure to rake up all fallen leaves and throw them in the trash (not your compost pile).

Rugosa Roses

Rugosa roses, commonly called beach roses, are incredibly rugged. They need no coddling at all. As with modern shrub roses, prune them back in spring. The colorful rose hips will provide winter interest as well as snack for winter foraging birds.

Climbing Roses

Climbing roses require a different approach. Winter protection is designed to protect elegant long canes, as well as roots. You still need to remove fallen leaves and mound soil/compost around the base, as noted above.

Many resources suggest removing the canes from their support, laying them on the ground and covering these with 3-5" of soil or compost. I have never bothered to do this. The last thing I want to do is get into a wrestling match with thorny stems. I simply spray the canes with Wilt-Pruf (the same product used to protect Holly, Rhododendron and Boxwood) and then place layers of burlap over the canes, securing the burlap to the same structure the rose canes are tied to.

In spring, I remove the burlap and then prune all stems emerging from the main canes, back to within 3" of the cane. 'William Baffin' was one of the toughest climbers I have ever grown. One of the Canadian Explorer roses, it is hardy to Zone 3 (30 to 40 degrees below zero).