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Overwintering Roses

Getting your roses ready for winter is like putting them to bed.

In colder climates (zones 6 and below), roses start to go dormant around the end of August.... so no more fertilizing or deadheading.  Leaving them alone signals the rose to begin saving its energy for strong roots and winter survival.

frost on rose leaves

Above, my roses are hit by an early frost, turning the leaves white around the edges.  

It is a romantic and gorgeous time of year. BUT... it is still a bit early to hill up your roses. Wait until there is a hard frost and some of the leaves have started to fall off. But sometimes, life gets in the way and we have to spend time in the garden while we can.

ROSE TREES need special care:



Many of us prefer clean and tidy gardens in the fall, but let your garden stand... leave the seed heads for the birds and the stems so little ones can hide and shelter in storms

And....PLEASE DON'T....cut your roses back.

Don't deadhead after late September - (unless you want a few blooms for your bedside) - When you keep cutting blooms, the rose thinks you want more flowers and so sends energy to the tips instead of the roots (which protect the rose in winter).

Leave the flowers to make rose hips for birds and colour but most importantly, it signals the rose to go dormant and send any energy to its roots for winter. 

Pruning roses is  best done in the Spring (or when they start to come out of dormancy...)... see more here:


However, in the late fall, some canes are long and lax and reach outside the bed to snag your sweater or pet as you walk by.

Cut these canes back just enough the keep out of your way.

This also keeps canes from breaking and leaving an opening for disease or a place for orphaned insects to hide. 


BEFORE YOU DO....remove all the fallen, dead rose leaves  that  may have Black Spot, or any other disease and put them in the trash and not the compost.  Otherwise, those spores will happily stay in the soil and be there, under the compost, ready to reappear in the Spring.

remove leaves from base of rose

Hilling up roses for winter  means taking soil (compost, preferably) and mounding it up over the bud union by about 4 to 5 inches.  

If you live in an area with cold winters, (zones 5 and lower) you would have buried the bud union 3 to 4 inches below the surface ... But if  you didn't, now is the time; when you hill up the roses, pile on another 6 to 8 inches of soil.

Save the soil from your summer pots. Dump it all into a large bin or wheelbarrow and mix that with compost... it's perfect for hilling up.

It's to make sure the rose's root is protected from that destructive "freeze-thaw-freeze" cycle that happens in late fall and early spring which creates space between the canes and the surface of the soil and leaves places for wee beasties ...

WIND-ROCK.... where the soil around the bud union is open letting wind move the plant back and forth allowing water in and  freeze the root.

In the photo below, you can see the stems are still green but not the brilliant green of summer and the leaves have fallen.

Because I buried the bud union on these roses a few inches below the surface when I planted them, they are hilled up about 4 to 6 inches with compost.

rose hilled up with compost

Ice can get into the smallest places, splitting tender stems and roots. If these canes were left too long, they could easily split or break under the weight of the ice.

ice covered roses in winter

Add Mulch on top of your hilled up soil. Cover bare soil with mulch or leaves.

If your garden is open to wind, you could pound tall wooden stakes along the edge of the garden and attach burlap with staples or tie with twine to the stakes, surrounding the garden. Then fill up the space with leaves.

My neighbours have sugar maples whose leaves break down easily and I collect their bags and dump them all on the rose garden. 

bags of leaves

Here are  roses buried in leaves and snow

-  between a hedge and a barricade of burlap.   

burlap and stakes on edge of bed

rose bed in winter snow

and the next summer.... 

rose bed in summer





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