How to Prepare Roses for Winter

Winter can be harsh, and often gardeners view colder temperatures as a death sentence for their beloved plants. But, while it can be a shame to lose treasured members of your garden, it doesn't have to be a sure thing. With the proper care and attention, you can help many of your plants weather the winter storms.

When it comes to roses, winter weather in USDA plant hardiness zones six and below can challenge the bushes. Shrub varietals, like David Austin roses, are hardier and can pretty much fend for themselves, but hybrid roses—especially hybrid tea roses—are a little fussier and will need extra care from you in order to make it through the season. If you're a rose lover in USDA zones six and below, follow these tips for winter survival.

  • 01 of 07

    Coax Them Into Dormancy

    A frosted red rose

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    Stop feeding and pruning your roses around the end of August in order to discourage tender new growth from forming, which will be extra vulnerable to winter damage once the colder weather hits. Instead of plucking the blooms from the bush, leave the last of the season's flowers on the stem and allow them to turn into hips (also known as a rose's seed pods). By allowing your plant to produce seed pods, you trick the rose bush into thinking it's done for the season and it begins to go dormant.

  • 02 of 07

    Keep the Bushes Well-Watered

    Watering of roses

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    After the first frost, thoroughly water the soil around your rose bushes, ensuring you use enough water to penetrate several inches deep. The reason: Once the ground freezes for good in the winter, your rose bush will have to take care of itself. Giving it a good soaking ahead of winter will help guarantee that it's able to quench its own thirst in its dormant winter months.

  • 03 of 07

    Prevent Problems Nearby

    Black spot on rose leaves

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    As you prepare your garden and yard for winter, make sure to clean up and remove any fallen leaves around your rose bushes to prevent diseases and insects from overwintering near your vulnerable plants. If the leaves in question are healthy at the time of cleanup, you can go ahead and compost them to eventually be used in mulch later on. But, if you had a problem with a fungus (like black spot) or an insect infestation, you should dispose of the leaves and get them out of your yard permanently.

  • 04 of 07

    Protect the Graft Union

    A rose graft union
    Marie Iannotti

    After a couple of hard freezes have come and gone, pack six to 12 inches of compost soil additive around the crown of the plant to protect the roots and the graft union (where the rose species you are growing is attached to a hardy rootstock). Typically, the graft union can be found at or just below the soil surface and is often marked by a knobby scar or line.

    If you are expecting a mild winter, or live in a slightly higher USDA hardiness zone (like zones seven or eight), you could also circle the rose with wire mesh or fence and stuff the cage with leaves or mulch. Don't try to use the soil around the rose bush as mulch—moving it could expose or disturb the roots.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Care for Climbing Roses

    Pinning down climbing roses

    Marie Iannotti

    Climbing roses are especially vulnerable during the winter months and are at risk of damage from the strong, drying winds that come along with seasonal weather. To protect the canes of your climbers, wrap them together by bundling straw on the outside for insulation. You could also opt to remove the canes from their trellis or support structures altogether. If you do so, lay them down on the ground after removing them, then tie their canes together and secure them to the ground with landscape pins. Finish by covering them with a layer of mulch for protection.

  • 06 of 07

    Prune for Spring Growth

    It may feel counterintuitive, but you're going to want to prune back your shrub roses to about one-third of their current size once late winter hits. This hard pruning serves a purpose, preparing the plant to send out fresh green shoots as soon as the weather begins to warm. Depending on your zone and weather conditions, the best time to prune your plants may be anywhere from late February to early April. While pruning, make sure to remove any dead wood remaining from the previous season, using a sharp pruner to cut viable stems back and angling the cut just above a bud. The bud will eventually send out new stems to provide a spring show of beautiful rose blooms.

  • 07 of 07

    Remove Protective Mulch

    Hands planting rose seedling or removing mulch

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    One final tip to keep in mind as spring weather slowly approaches: Don't forget to remove your layer of protective mulch. It's a good idea to have it in the winter, but once the ground begins to thaw, any soil piled around the stem of your roses could cause it to rot due to increased moisture and temperature levels. It's also an ideal place for insects and voles to hide out, both of which can damage your plant's chance of success.