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Winter rose care can vary quite a bit, depending on where you live. For gardens that experience frigid winters in USDA Zone 7 and below, roses are completely dormant, and most need protection to survive. At the other extreme, roses grown in mild-winter regions of Zone 8 and above may still bloom. In these warmer areas it’s also the time for pruning and for planting new bare-root roses.
No matter where you live, we’ll go over how to care for your roses throughout the winter season.
Winter Rose Care for Cold-Winter Regions: Zone 7 and Below
Frigid temperatures can harm rose bushes unless protective measures are taken. This is especially true for hybrid teas and other grafted roses, as the bud union (the swollen area at the base) is susceptible to damage from the cold. Shrub roses are more resistant to cold damage because they grow on their own roots.
Sub-zero temperatures and wind can damage roses and dry out their canes (branches). Protective measures for this region — which should have been initiated in fall, after two hard freezes — involve mulching the base of each rosebush.
1. Once the ground has frozen, if it hasn’t already, add 12 inches of mulch around the base of your roses using compost or straw, which will help insulate the roots and lower canes. Brief periods of warmer temperatures can confuse unprotected roses and stimulate new growth, but if they are properly mulched, they will remain dormant until spring arrives.
2. Remove any debris such as fallen leaves and stems, which can harbor disease and harmful insects.
3. Make sure roses don’t dry out. Check the soil around the roses during warm spells in winter, watering them if the soil is dry.
4. Potted roses should be brought indoors to an unheated, frost-free location, such as a garage, shed or covered patio that ranges from 25 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 3.9 to 4.4 degrees Celsius). Continue to water the potted roses but less often than in summer. Allow the soil to dry out before watering.
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Winter Rose Care for Mild-Winter Regions: Zone 8 and Above
Winter is a busy time for people who grow roses in warmer zones. Because of the mild winters, roses don’t go completely dormant and can bloom through the winter months. However, they should be pruned back severely toward the end of this season in preparation for a lovely flush of spring blooms.
Looking to add new roses to your garden? Winter is the best time to plant bare-root roses in warm-winter areas.
1. Don’t fertilize or prune roses now, even though they may still be in bloom, to help them slow down and get ready to be forced into dormancy.
2. Wait until six weeks before the last average frost to prune back roses. You’ll need a good pair of loppers, hand pruners and gloves.
3. Remove all remaining leaves from the rosebush as well as those underneath, which are a likely spot for damaging fungi and insects to overwinter.
4. Most new roses are available as bare-root, and winter is the time to plant them when temperatures haven’t warmed up yet. You can find many tried-and-true rose varieties throughout nurseries this time of year, and mail-order companies have even more to choose from.
5. Select a spot in the garden for your new roses that receives full sun for at least six hours a day and has good air circulation, which helps minimize fungal disease.
Whether your roses spend the winter underneath a layer of mulch or are pruned back in preparation for spring, following these guidelines will ensure a warm season filled with vibrant, fragrant blooms.