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    Roses in Winter | Fall 2014 Out Here Magazine

    Healthy, well-tended roses will fare well in frigid temperatures

    man in a hat standing next to a blooming rose bush
    Out Here

    By Hollie Deese

    Photography by iStock

    Roses can be hardy garden dwellers — provided they have the support of a loving hand. In warmer months, gardeners reap the rewards of their work with blooming buds through October or November. But when temperatures dip into frosty single digits, the more popular garden varieties such as hybrid teas and climbers need a bit of extra TLC to get through the long, cold winter.

    The first step to staving off winter's chill is choosing types suited for your climate, says American Rose Society Master Rosarian Ron Daniels, of Hendersonville, Tenn., who has been growing roses for nearly three decades.


    Once you've chosen the right roses, care for them properly. If plants have been under stress heading into cold weather due to lack of water and nutrients, or they have a fungal disease such as black spot, the potential for freeze damage is much higher.

    "I am a firm believer that if you have a good, healthy plant going in to the winter, it's going to withstand the cold," Daniels says. "There are different ways to protect them for winter, but keeping them healthy and fed right will prepare them well."

    Most roses will harden off themselves to prepare for dormancy, their cell walls thickening gradually through fall. However, to make sure the plant stops growing and becomes fully dormant before the onset of the coldest weather, gardeners should stop fertilizing about six weeks before the first frost.

    "Roses are really heavy feeders but I fertilize just three times during the season — end of March, end of June, and end of August," says Daniels.

    Gardeners should also cut back on watering without letting buds go into winter totally dry.


    Daniels uses a mound system to provide some protection to his buds, piling brown, shredded mulch 14-16 inches high around the base of the plant. He will even trim the top third of his plants down to keep the roots from rocking in the wind.

    But after experiencing more than 17 years of mild winters, even an experienced gardener like Daniels was caught off guard last year when the country experienced a seasonal cold snap more akin to what he calls a "normal" winter.

    "In the last year, a lot of my rose buddies didn't do good winter protection, and we had a lot of die back," Daniels says. "It killed some of them too."

    He wishes he would have set up a collar system, using a material such as Styrofoam or tar paper stapled around the plant before piling with mulch.

    "That will give it a little collar of warmth in the winter," he says. "I have been growing for 25 years and I would use that collar system every winter. All of us have been spoiled by these mild winters. A lot of us wish we had done that this year and we wouldn't have lost any or had as much die back."


    Probably the most fragile time for flowers is the end of winter when early frosts can throw everything off track. Moderating the rate at which the bush freezes and thaws is key.

    "What really hurts roses is when it is cold, warms up for a while, gets cold, warms up for a while, sending a mixed signal to the plant," Daniels says. "It starts trying to come out of dormancy."

    This can cause roses to bud prematurely, so when they freeze gardeners will have to prune them back, delaying the first bloom.

    In season, the lushest and most bountiful roses take some effort, but believers know it is totally worth it.

    "People think they are hard to grow when they are really not," Daniels says. "Roses are the queen of flowers, and the work you put into them compared to what you get out of them, the reward is just unbelievable."

    Hollie Deese loves signing for a bouquet of roses, but leaves the growing to the professionals.


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