Here's what you can do to prepare your plants for the colder months so they'll come back just as gorgeous in the spring.

By BH&G Garden Editors
Updated September 11, 2020
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Winterizing your house in preparation for the colder months is important, but don't forget to get your garden ready for winter, too. Some plants need a little help from you to withstand freezing temperatures, and roses especially benefit from some extra TLC. That's because most hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses today are grafted plants, meaning the roots from one type of rose were attached to the tops of other roses, usually to improve disease-resistance rather than hardiness. The point of the union often needs protection from freezing temperature; otherwise the tops could completely die, leaving you with growth from the roots that won't be as pretty. The plants also can get pushed out of the ground during freeze/thaw cycles over the winter.

Courtesy of Heirloom Roses

The winter prep you’ll need to do changes a little, depending on the coldest temperatures you get in your region and which kind of roses you have in your garden. But all varieties will handle the cold weather better with a little extra protection.

Cold Climates

In areas where winter is mild, but the ground still freezes, follow these steps to give your roses a little extra protection during the cooler months of the year.

1. In early fall, stop cutting roses and let plants form hips (seedpods) as they being to prepare themselves naturally for winter. If you trim them while temperatures are still warm, they may try to produce tender new growth that would just get zapped during a cold snap.

2. After the first frost in fall and night time temperatures are dipping into the 20s, protect plants from freezing and thawing cycles by piling soil over the base of the plant; cover the bud union (a swollen area on the main stem where the top of the plant was grafted to the roots) and up to about a foot of the plant. Use fresh topsoil or compost, not soil scraped from around the plant. Pile dry, shredded leaves or bark chips on the mounded soil. In spring, remove the leaves or bark and the pile of soil; spread the leaves and bark around the garden.

3. Prune overly long canes on bush-type roses to prevent wind damage. Expect a certain amount of winter kill (when stems die back from the cold and won't produce new growth in spring). Remove dead canes in early spring.

Extra-Cold Climates

In areas where winter means sub-zero temperatures and frigid, drying winds, you may need to take more extreme measures to help your roses survive.

1. After the first frost, bundle the canes together and tie them with twine to hold them upright as you work. Use a garden fork to gently unearth the plant's roots. Dig a trench to one side of the rose large enough to contain the height and width of the plant.

2. Gently tip the plant on its side and lay it in the trench. Cover it with soil. Pile a 2-inch layer of shredded leaves on top of the soil. In early spring, carefully uncover the rose and replant it.

Julie Maris Semarco

Tree Rose

Standard roses have their graft union near the soil line, making it easy to protect the most important part of the plant. Tree roses, however, have their graft union a few feet off the ground. Follow these steps to adequately protect them.

1. In mild-winter areas, pile straw around the base of a tree rose. In cold-winter areas, use soil instead of straw; soil will provide more insulation.

2. Place a framework of wooden stakes around the tree.

3. Wrap a generous length of burlap around the stakes to enclose the tree. Secure the fabric using twine or wire.

4. Fill the enclosure with dry leaves or straw. In extremely cold areas, treat tree roses as you would other roses, by burying them in trenches.

Laurie Black

Potted Roses

Overwinter potted roses by moving them into an unheated garage or to a sheltered place next to the south side of your house. In regions with extra-cold winters, protect each plant by placing it, pot and all, in a roomy cardboard box and packing the box with shredded newspaper or dry leaves. Surround the box with bales of hay.

Plan now to protect your roses from the potential damage caused by freezing and thawing cycles in the winter. A little early preparation will go a long way to helping your plants survive the coldest months of the year.

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