Q: Our new house has two big rose bushes that bloomed all summer off and on. I would like to keep them alive, but I don't know what to do with them over the winter. What steps do I need to take in the fall, winter and spring?
A: Protecting your roses is not too hard to do if you live in an area that does not freeze for many days in a row. They will slow down, lose some leaves and go dormant for a while on their own. Cut back spindly branches, along with any others that grow towards the middle of the plant. Cut them back to a bud that is pointing outward, so the new growth will not cross the center of the plant. Don't fertilize until it starts sending out new growth.
In cold climates, many of the newer shrub roses, landscape roses, climbing roses, native roses or ground-cover roses don't need much care; just some pruning and leaf cleanup in the fall will do until spring. Come spring, clean up any dead or weak branches that didn't make it through the winter.
Roses in the grandiflora, floribunda, hybrid tea or tree rose categories are the ones that need some protection. The first thing to do is to give them good summer and fall care. Make sure they receive enough water in October and November. Roses may have to be watered a few times during this period, when many other plants won't need any. No fertilizer should have been applied after Labor Day.
Do not try to predict the upcoming winter's weather. It only takes a few bitter cold days or few days of dry winds to damage a plant in an otherwise mild winter. After a few frosts in the fall, it is time to cover the roses.
Remove any leaves still clinging to the plant and any from under the plant. These leaves can house fungal spores that would infect the new leaves in the spring. In windy or really cold climates, spray the canes with an anti-desiccant from your local garden center. Mound up fresh soil from another part of the garden at least six inches to a foot high around the base of the plant. Be sure to cover the enlarged graft union area. Now cover the soil mound with another foot of mulch or use a Styrofoam rose cone. Be sure to have a couple of holes in the top of the cone for ventilation, and be sure to anchor it down so it won't blow away.
Prune out any dead, damaged or diseased canes that stick out of the mound or would prevent putting on the cone. Leave as long of a cane as possible over the winter — this gives as many buds as possible a chance to survive.
In the spring, as the weather warms up, you can slowly remove the mulch and then the soil. At that time, you will decide which buds and stems to keep as next year's new growth. Most of the roses that need winter protection bloom on the new season's growth, and so a heavy pruning will not reduce next year's blooming.
Climbing roses do bloom on the growth from the preceding year, so do very little fall pruning. Protect the canes if they are in a windy area by securely tying them to the trellis. They may need to be wrapped in burlap for additional protection.
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.