Q: I was given a rose bush that is growing in a pot on my third-floor apartment fire escape. It is big and beautiful. I can't plant it and I don't have room for it in the apartment. I am in planting zone 5, according to my garden book. Can I leave it outside over the winter? Can I bundle it up in a blanket or put it in a box?
A: Many people grow perennial plants in containers that can't be moved indoors. Look at all the plants in shopping center or city street planters that can't be moved. Many of these plants die over the winter and the ones that do survive one or two winters don't live as long as they would planted in the ground.
You will need to account for two problem areas. The roots can be exposed to temperatures too low for them to survive and the top is exposed to the wind and can die of winter burn.
The root system is going to need the most protection. Roots of hardy plants in cold winter areas go dormant when the weather starts getting cold. The roots are protected from temperatures below freezing by the insulating properties of the soil and mulch. The ground becomes frozen, but the very cold air temperatures don't move into the ground deep enough to harm the roots.
Your plant's location is going to make it difficult to protect the roots from temperatures below freezing. Can you place the pot against the building wall? That will help on one side and then you will need to provide insulation on the bottom, top and three sides. The insulation needs to stay dry or be waterproof, such as Styrofoam. The thicker it is the better.
The top half of the rose plant will survive the cold weather and freezing conditions just fine, but it will need protection from the wind. When the soil in the pot is frozen or is dried out, the plant can't get water to the branches and buds and the top may die from desiccation. We call this winter burn.
Broad-leafed evergreens such as azalea, boxwood and rhododendrons and needle-leafed evergreens like arborvitae and podocarpus can get burned by winter winds even when planted in the ground. Roses, hydrangeas, forsythias, lilacs and other deciduous shrubs can also be winter burned when planted in the ground.
Make sure the rose stays watered in the fall before the soil freezes. During the winter it will be necessary to add water to the soil when the weather warms up for a day or two. Plan ahead as you create the insulation and box, so you can still add water.
You can wrap the top in a blanket. It is not trying to keep the top warm, but out of the wind. A Styrofoam rose cone will work and so will burlap or other cloth material. Make sure it is securely tied down so that it doesn't come off in a cold wind.
The Plumstone Company has the ShrubJacket. The cloth material has a nice green leafy background print to blend into the landscape. The jacket wraps around the plant and has cloth ties along the closing edges. The top and bottom have drawstrings to securing wrap up the plant. Large safety pins are included.
ShrubJackets come in single packs and three packs. There are three sizes designed to fit small 2-foot shrubs, medium 3-foot and large 4-foot shrubs. There is also a 5-by-7 sheet to use for wrapping up rose trellises or larger shrubs. They all run between 10-13 dollars for the singles. You can also buy a 5-by-30 roll for 45 dollars. The roll can be used on hedges or on vegetable garden rows.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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