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When to Start Covering Roses for Winter

When and how do I prepare my rose bushes for the winter? When do I cut them down and what do I cover them with? In the spring, how can I tell the dead canes from the live ones and what do I do with them?

Nothing is more beautiful than a rose but a tough winter can steal its beauty and even its life.  I grow only hardy shrub roses to eliminate pest problems and need for winter protection. Northern hybrid tea rose growers will need to give their plants a helping hand through winter. 

No matter what method is used, timing is the key to success. Wait for a week of consistently freezing temperatures before covering the plants. 

The Minnesota tip method is the exception as it involves digging a trench, carefully tipping the rose on its side and burying it for winter.  It has a high percent of success but does require space, extra soil and time. 

The soil mound method has long been used by gardeners.  Loosely tie the canes and cover the base of the rose with 8 to 10 inches of soil.  Once the soil freezes, mulch the soil mound and rose canes with straw or evergreen boughs. 

Rose cones can also be used.  Be sure they are vented. Consider mulching the base of the plant with soil for added insulation under the rose cone.  A three foot layer of dry leaves over a rose bed encircled with hardware cloth also works.  Prune the roses back to 18 inches for this method.  Once the ground freezes fill the bed (encircled with hardware cloth) with a three foot thick layer of leaves.  Pack them in tight to encourage the water to roll off the mulch.

Limit fall pruning to what is needed for the winter protection method you choose.  In spring remove dead canes (they have brown centers) and prune the remaining plant back to 18 to 24 inches.  


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