Winterizing Rose Bushes

Learn how to winterize roses to ensure plants sail through the frosty season without harm—and greet spring ready to grow. 

Cut Size of Rose by Half to Ensure Healthy Growth

Cut Size of Rose by Half to Ensure Healthy Growth

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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Guard your roses against cold weather damage by learning how to winterize them. The reason for winterizing roses is to keep plants dormant through winter so tender stems aren’t damaged by cold air temperatures. The process isn’t difficult. Learn how to winterize roses using simple materials and even simpler techniques.

The real danger to roses occurs when winter air temperatures drop below 20° F for extended periods of time. This type of winter weather typically occurs in Zones 4 and colder or at higher elevations in Zone 5. In these areas, winterizing roses is the key to ensuring winter survival. Hybrid tea roses, Floribundas and Grandifloras all benefit from winterizing, as do many climbing roses. Shrub roses tend to be hardier.

Winterize roses after a killing freeze but before the ground freezes. Some gardeners suggest waiting until three consecutive nights in the 20° F range. You want to be sure roses are dormant before starting the winterizing process. 

To winterize rose bushes, gather canes together with twine to reduce damage by whipping winter winds. If your roses are in a windswept area, consider pruning branches by one-half to one-third before twining. In a protected location, you may be able to skip the twine. Knock any remaining leaves off plants (it’s okay to leave hips). Gather rose-related plant debris from beneath plants and destroy it to helps prevent rose diseases from overwintering.

After tying canes together, bury the rose’s crown by heaping soil in a mound around the base of the plant. Aim for a mound roughly 12 inches wide and deep. Bring this soil from another part of your garden—don’t scrape it up from around the rose or you risk damaging roots. If you want to use a material like wood chips or pine bark to winterize roses, that’s fine. Just increase the depth to 12 to 18 inches.

You can layer additional insulating materials, like evergreen boughs, shredded bark or chopped leaves, onto the mound after it freezes. Otherwise, you’re creating the ideal habitat for rodents to hole up for winter.

Some gardeners surround roses with a bottomless bushel basket or cylinder of chicken wire or burlap, stuffing the framework with shredded leaves or mulch. Foam rose cones also protect plants. Prune roses to fit inside cones, and place ventilation holes around the top edge to allow air flow. Bury the cone edge in soil, and add a brick on top to keep it in place. In coldest zones, heap soil over rose crowns before adding cones.

In Zones 5 and 6, winterize rose bushes by mounding soil over rose crowns. If your area is prone to prolonged periods below 20° F, add a mulch layer over the soil mound once it freezes. Or use the idea of creating a frame that you stuff with leaves or mulch.

In mild-winter Zones 7 and 8, winterizing rose bushes is a quick task. In these areas, your greatest concern is repeated freezing and thawing of soil, which can push plants out of soil. This process, called heaving, is easily prevented by adding a 3-inch-thick mulch layer around roses after the ground freezes.

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