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Winterizing Roses For All Zones

By Heirloom Roses
Photographs courtesy of Heirloom Roses

When the cooler temperatures begin, it is time to start closing down the garden and winterizing your roses.

While all roses benefit from extra care as the temperatures drop, growers in colder zones need to do a little more prep work. If you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 or less, hopefully you have chosen a rose known for its winter hardiness, a Griffith Buck rose, or an own-root rose. If not, the descriptions below will help you pick the right type of rose for your future plantings.

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Winter hardy roses are ideal for gardeners who love roses but don’t want to have too much prep work for winter. Our favorites include New Dawn, Polar Express, Rosa Rugosa, and Morden Centennial.

Griffith Buck, a hybridizer in Iowa, developed a group of roses to withstand cold, Midwest winters and to resist diseases. While most roses need protection in zone 5, Buck roses do not. Our favorites include Distant Drums, Prairie Star, Countryman, and Aunt Honey. Buck roses planted in zones 4 and 5 should be planted by July 1st to be well established before the winter freeze arrives.

Lastly, own-root roses are less vulnerable to winter injury and are the only kind we grow at Heirloom Roses. These roses come in every size and color and are sure to meet any gardener’s needs. Own-root roses chosen for your correct zone will be quicker and more likely to bounce back after a cold winter than their grafted counterparts.

Get Ready For Winter

Getting your roses ready for winter involves more than just covering with mulch. If you care for your roses well in the fall, they will have a head start for successful growth in the spring.

Before winter arrives, be sure your roses:

  • Are planted in full sun and receive at least six hours of light per day, excluding shade-tolerant roses.
  • Have a soil pH balance between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • Have good drainage so the roots stay healthy. 
  • Have been fertilized regularly during the growing season and that fertilization stopped in late summer. 
  • Have been watered at the base of the plant with about two inches of water per week to avoid blackspot and fungal infection. 
  • Are no longer being deadheaded beginning in the fall to allow the rose to form hips as a winter preparation.
  • Have had old debris and leaves removed from the ground around the plants.
  • Have not been pruned, which would stimulate new growth in the winter.

If you have followed all these steps for the growing season, you are off to a great start! 

If not, don’t worry. You can still prepare your plant for the winter and give it more care next spring. Roses are very forgiving and tough.

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To Winterize Roses For Zones 1-6

The goal for zones 1-6 is to prevent the rose bush from freezing and thawing. So wait until after you have had a couple of hard freezes. Then use one of the following options.

Hilling: Pile or “hill” up loose soil around the base of your plant. Don’t scrape up the soil, which creates a low area, but bring in extra soil to cover the center of the rose. Your mound should be at least 12” wide and high. Cover your mounded soil with mulch. We recommend our 100% Natural Mint Compost as the best choice, but you can also use other materials such as straw, fir boughs, or branches.

Rose cones: There are many different options for purchasing a rose cone (biodegradable, recyclable, vinyl, mesh, etc.). If you choose styrofoam, cut four or five one-inch holes around the top and bottom to aid with ventilation and prevent overheating. They all work in similar ways, so whatever you decide, choose the one that best aligns with your values. We always recommend shopping small businesses if you are able.

Do not cover your plants too early as it may cause your rose to heat up inside the cone. We recommend covering your roses once your zone has experienced a few frosts. Once you’ve mounded up your soil around the base of the rose, gently place the cone over the top of the rose and place a weighted object on the cone to keep it from blowing away. You may need to trim back the rose or gently tie the canes together with twine.

Bending down and covering: Climbers and large shrub roses are more challenging to protect. In very cold climates, climbers may need to be detached from their supports and gently bent to the ground. They can then be covered with soil, mulch, or straw. Be careful when laying down a climber so that the canes are not damaged or broken. If your roses need to be left on their supporting structure, straw and burlap can be placed around the canes and the entire structure should be wrapped and tied securely.

To Winterize Roses For Zones 7-13

It is a little simpler to winterize roses in zones 7-13. Mulch around your roses at the base of your plant using your favorite mulching material. We recommend our 100% Natural Mint Compost as the best choice, but you can also use other materials such as straw, fir boughs, or branches.

Add enough mulch to create a two to three-inch thickness around the base of your roses to give them extra protection in case of a cold snap.

Remember that roses, especially own-root roses, are forgiving and will withstand the colder winter months. You can be sure your own-root rose will always grow back true to variety with Heirloom Roses, no matter how cold it gets!

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Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

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