Winter Care for Roses

By Barbara Ellis, ARS Consulting Rosarian, Redwood Empire Rose Society

Most people who grow roses seem to face the chore of winter care with fear and trepidation.  Somehow reading all those books on rose care makes the job sound difficult and time consuming.  When I started growing roses, I had a 60+ hour a week career that took me away from home frequently.   I did not have the time to follow all the “rules” that I read during my traveling.  The more roses I planted, the more important it became that I figure out the easiest and quickest way to take care of them.  With a great deal of study and experimentation, I developed a fun and efficient way to care for my roses.

The number one thing to remember is that Sonoma County is the best place on earth to grow roses.  Luther Burbank did not select his home on a lark.  He knew that the growing conditions here were perfect for all varieties of plant life and that roses were no exception.  Books are written to serve a large audience so necessary steps that are required in other climates are not necessary here.  Do not be afraid.  Pruning will not kill a rose unless you cut the graft of the rose from the rootstock.  With many roses now being grown on their own roots, even that will not be fatal.  The only way to kill a rose aside from herbicide spray is to withhold water.

Shape your rosebush so that there are 3 to 5 large canes.  Old canes can be removed with a saw at the crown of the rose as is depicted here.

Shape your rosebush so that there are 3 to 5 large canes. Old canes can be removed with a saw at the crown of the rose as is depicted here.

If your rosebush only blooms in the spring and does not repeat bloom, do not prune in the winter as the flowers are produced on old growth and you will be cutting it all off.  Prune this type of rose in the summer after the blooming has finished.

The purpose of pruning a rose bush is to maintain an attractive shape and to encourage maximum blooming.  Pruning is done when the weather is cool and moist. This is a time when diseases can get a stronghold unless the rosebed is cleaned.  Pruning forces the plant to become dormant and allows the removal of any diseased material.   When the rose is pruned, there should be adequate airflow so that it will not harbor disease.  Deadwood and small canes should be removed so that the energy of the plant will be concentrated into those larger canes that can support blossoms.

Canes that cross the center of the bush and rub against another cane should be removed.  Cutting the canes down to a uniform height encourages growth at the same level.  Removing at least one half the height will yield a pleasantly shaped bush and a flurry of blooms.  As the drawing shows, you want an open shape and it is best to have new, green canes with no prior cuts.  If you only have a few canes and they are touching, you can cut a spacer from a discarded cane as is shown in the picture.

The bush in this photo with a spacer between branches has one fresh, green cane but it was touching an older cane.  Other than sacrificing either cane, place a spacer so that they will not rub.  Once the shrub has leafed, the spacer is not seen but it will be there next pruning season!

The bush in this photo with a spacer between branches has one fresh, green cane but it was touching an older cane. Other than sacrificing either cane, place a spacer so that they will not rub. Once the shrub has leafed, the spacer is not seen but it will be there next pruning season!

Pruning is actually the easiest part of winter care. As important as pruning is the cleanup of all the leaves and any material that will provide a home to fungal spores.

Once all the debris is removed, the pruned bush and the ground around it should be sprayed with a dormant ornamental spray.  This is the same product that is used for peach leaf curl and other plants.  Any garden supply will have it. Generously spray right after pruning.

If the ground is clean and there are no leaves on the bushes, this spray will protect your plants until the damp, cooler weather appears in early November.  You will not need to spray any chemicals during the growing season.   After spraying, spread nutrient rich compost around the base of the plants as mulch.   You can fertilize in April but with the right compost, it is not required.

When spring arrives, you will have beautiful healthy bushes with many blooms.

Share with your friends!