My dad once had a tree rose, a bush grafted onto a two- to three-foot stem so it looked like a covered lollipop in bloom. But once it got cold, that tree rose, particularly the graft union, had to be protected from winter temperatures and winds. Dad did that by digging it up, then burying the whole plant in a trench on the edge of the vegetable garden.
As I look back, the memory of him burying that tree rose on a cold November day is more vivid to me than the beauty of the bush in full bloom. Recalling how much work it was every year, I’m grateful that winterizing is much simpler for most types of roses.
Why Winterize Rose Bushes?
If you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 6 or colder, your roses may need protection from extreme cold, strong winds and the freeze/thaw cycle. It depends on the type of roses you’re growing and where they are in the garden.
If you live in USDA Zone 7 and warmer, preparing roses for winter involves a few simple steps to ensure they’re ready to take off and grow again in spring.
What Types of Rose Bushes Need To Be Winterized?
Roses that have been grafted, such as hybrid tea roses, along with some climbing roses may need a little help to make it safely through winter. Roses grown on their own roots, including most shrub roses, don’t require elaborate measures to make it through cold winters.
When To Winterize Rose Bushes
We don’t winterize rose bushes until temperatures are consistently cold and the roses have stopped growing and gone dormant. For some areas, this can be late November or early December. Further north, it may be in October.
Tools and Materials for Winterizing Rose Bushes
You can overwinter grafted roses in colder climates by covering their crowns with leaves. For climbing roses, you may need to wrap the stems in burlap to protect them from wind drying them out. Some of the supplies you may need include:
- Chicken wire or other pliable wire fencing to make a cage around your roses.
- Wire snips to cut the chicken wire.
- Burlap fabric to wrap longer stems of climbing roses.
- Plastic twine for tying together long stems of climbing roses if you wrap or bury them.
- Heavy gloves to protect your hands and arms from thorns.
- Shredded leaves.
How To Winterize Rose Bushes
For all hardiness zones, preparing roses for winter starts in late summer.
- Stop pruning roses so any new growth hardens off before cold weather arrives.
- Keep watering newly planted roses through early fall, especially if you lack rain, but don’t fertilize them.
- Rake up and remove rose leaves that dropped around the roses; they may harbor diseases and insects.
In late fall, if you have shrub roses grown on their own roots, put two to three inches of mulch around them. This is all the winter protection they need.
If you live where winter temperatures dip below 20 degrees and you’re growing grafted or climbing roses, you may need to add more winter protection. Leaves provide an extra layer of insulation.
- Cut chicken wire to create a cage around the base of the rose.
- Fill the cage with shredded leaves. For added protection, wrap the cage in burlap.
To protect long canes of climbing roses from wind, remove them from their supports, carefully tie the canes together with plastic twine (which won’t rot) and wrap the canes in burlap.
If you live in Minnesota or the Northern Plains states, follow the advice of the Minnesota Rose Society. You may need to bury some roses via a method called the “Minnesota tip.” If you have tree roses, you may need to bury them, depending on your climate.
How to Overwinter Container-Grown Roses
If you grow roses in containers, allow them to go dormant and remain outside through a few freezes. Then move them to an unheated garage or shed where they’re protected from wind and extreme cold. Water sparingly, just enough to keep the soil from completely drying out.
When To Remove Winter Protection From Roses
Early spring, just before roses break dormancy, remove the shredded leaves or other protection from around the base and carefully unwrap the burlap from climbing roses. You can prune your roses at this point, removing any dead branches.
If you have a lot of roses and aren’t sure if they need winter protection, seek out a local chapter of the American Rose Society. Many members are consulting rosarians who are happy to answer questions about growing roses in their climate.