Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Kelly Heidbreder

In The Garden

Time to put roses to bed for the winter

What is the No. 1 question in my email inbox right now? "How do I get my roses ready for winter?"

My first task is to take one last whiff, then clean the pruners.

Roses are a tough bunch of plants to cover with one rule. There are a few general priorities that they all will need: mulch, fertilizer, and water. No matter if they climb a trellis, form a hedge, or stand alone in the perennial border, they need to have the dead and broken stems removed. Cleaning the pruners will stop the possible spread of disease, so wipe the blades with those handy portable alcohol pads. Cut the stems at an angle close to another set of leaves when making a pruning cut. Don’t just make a pruning cut in the middle of a stem. You will have an ugly little stump hanging out there next spring.

Hold off on all fertilizer and dead heading. In late winter or early spring prune the canes to 12 to 14 inches above the ground. The rose will bloom on the new growth.

Teas and floras

If you have hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas, most of your work will be done after the ground is frozen, and that will be closer to early December. Cut the stems down to 24 inches and no shorter. Gently tie the canes together with a pair of old nylons or cloth to reduce damage to the stem during the winter. Usually tying them at the top helps them from being bent in the wind.

If you look closely at the base of your rose, you will see a big bump on the stem. That is the graft where the grower attached a pretty top plant on a sturdy root system. It is really important to keep that graft protected.

Shrubs and knockouts

Shrub roses such as knockouts don’t need any special treatment. They are built to withstand our harsh winters, so just follow the usual mulching technique around the graft at the base of the plant after the ground is frozen.


Get rid of any overlapping or damaged canes on the trellis covered with roses first. If possible, try to remove it from its trellis and tie the canes loosely together. You might be shaking your head right now and saying, "No way!" So if you can’t get it off the trellis, take the whole trellis down and lay it on the ground. Cover the canes with about four inches of soil and cover the base with six inches of composted manure and another four inches of soil. If taking it down is out of the question, you can drape burlap around it to protect the leaves from drying out over the winter.

To cone or not to cone

Ohio State University and Michigan State University rose scientists agree that you should kick the cone habit. Covering the base of your roses with about six inches of composted manure, then another six to eight inches of soil, is better for them. Canes can be protected with a wrapping of burlap if they are really long. Shorter canes can be covered with leaf mulch.

If you like to keep the mulch a little more contained, surround your roses with a wire mesh cage and fill it with layers of mulch. This gives the rose the stable coverage like a cone, but better air circulation.

Your roses need to stay frozen. That is the key in the winter. They will receive more damage from a sunny winter day under a cone because the sun actually causes heat to build up under the cone and will thaw them out. Research shows that they will be better off in the spring with protection around their roots and canes tied together at the top. Clean up around the base of each plant to cut down on bacteria making a home there over the next few months.

Get ready for the spring! Your roses will bloom on the new growth.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at kheidbreder@theblade.com.

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