Winterizing Your Roses

By Kerry Ann Mendez

Earlier this month I received an email announcing that Sunday River Ski Resort would be opening soon for the season. Having recently returned to skiing after a 25 year hiatus, I hooted with delight. While daydreaming about skiing, however, I remembered I still needed to "tuck in" my roses for the winter. I was torn between prepping my skis or prepping the roses. Guilt won and I headed out to the garden.

Most modern shrub roses, like those in the 'Knock Out', 'Oso Easy', and 'Drift' series, require little assistance to make it through winter. The exception being those planted in fall. New transplants should be granted the same winter protection described below for Hybrid Teas, grandifloras and floribundas.

Pruning and Protecting

Taller canes can be pruned back to around 3 feet and tied together with twine to reduce damage from strong winds. NOTE: This does NOT apply to climbing roses! See below for tips on those. Rake and remove fallen leaves around the rose, especially if the shrub had issues with black spot or other fungal diseases, then mound soil or compost (or a combination of both) around the base of the rose creating a 12 hill surrounding all the canes. I usually do this sometime in mid to late November, after several hard frosts and the ground has started to freeze, but don't make the mistake of mounding roses too early while they are still actively growing. This is a case where procrastination is a good thing.

Dealing with Climbers

Winter protection for climbing roses 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, but put your pruners away! 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.

With the roses tucked safely away, I'll gleefully grab my skis to have them tuned for a great winter of schussing down the slopes!

Kerry Ann Mendez
KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. You'll now find her at our Kennebunk store consulting on garden design, answering your gardening questions and much more.