(Our guest in the NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN today is Jane Frisch. Jane is a Consulting Rosarian, Rose Show Judge, and editor of “The Rose Leaf”, the newsletter for the Lincoln Rose Society.)

          It is about time to get your roses ready for winter. The first thing I do is cut back the canes to about 30 inches, after they have become dormant from a hard freeze. Be sure and wait until the rose is dormant as you do not want to encourage any new shoots at this time of year from the trimming. You may have to wait for several hard frosts, or temps in the 15 to 20 degree range for several nights to be sure they are really dormant.  The reason to cut them back is so they do not blow in the wind, causing the soil to loosen around the base of the bush which can allow cold air to reach the bud union.

          Cutting back also removes many of the leaves that are still on the canes. Leaves left on the canes or on the ground will harbor fungus spores and insects through the winter.  This step is especially important if you have had a lot of blackspot because this disease lives over in the soil, mulch and debris.  I have had good results from spraying Manzate on the soil and/or mulch in the fall and again in the spring to kill the blackspot spores that overwinter in the mulch and debris. Mancozeb may also be used. Manzate is a wettable powder so may have a longer shelf life. You can also use a dormant oil spray such as lime sulphur to prevent over wintering spores.

          When the beds are cleaned up you will want to add protection for the bud union. Most popular roses such as the hybrid teas and floribundas are budded onto a hardy rootstock which produces the bud union. It looks like a big knot on the stem. This bud union must be planted 1 to 2 inches below the ground level in order to protect the plant from freezing.  Roses that have been properly cared for all of the growing season are most likely to survive our harsh winter weather, but we still need to protect that bud union since that is the heart of your rose plant and will produce the rose you want next spring. 

          The freezing and thawing that we experience here in Lincoln can be very hard on rose bushes.  More plants, including roses, are killed by the freezing and thawing than by cold temperatures. During a warm spell in February or March, your rose bush may break dormancy, if not protected by soil or mulch. Very low temperatures the next week will then kill the plant. Remember, protection is to keep the soil cold so the plant does not break dormancy during a warm spell, not to keep it warm. Don’t cover your roses too early in the fall, and don’t remove the cover too early in the spring.  Roses planted in a protected area, such as close to the house, may survive without much added protection.

          A mound of soil around each bush, as high as possible, is most often used as protection.  Bring this soil in from another part of the garden, or purchase a bag of compost or good top soil from the Garden Center. Just scraping the soil from the rose bed may expose roots.  You may use some sort of collar formed of newspapers, roofing material or wire mesh to hold more soil.  Add ground oak leaves for further protection if you wish.  Oak leaves are preferred to other leaves because they break down without forming a slime and allow water to get through. Some rose growers use shredded hardwood or compost to cover their roses. The important thing is to cover the bud union at least by 6 inches.

          The cold winter winds in Lincoln may cause the exposed canes to dry out and die. Any cane above the mound will undoubtedly be killed by the cold and wind.  “Wiltpruf” may help protect these canes.  One application in the fall and another around Valentine’s Day when the temperature is above 40 degrees is recommended.

          Many of the old garden roses and shrubs will not need any winter protection as they are much hardier than some of the modern roses that we love. Also, minis and most shrub roses are on their own roots and not grafted, so do not need this protection.  

          Climbers present a different problem. It is important to know the variety of climbing rose as some bloom on one year old wood and some bloom on new wood. If they bloom on old wood, and are very hardy like “Blaze”, do not do anything. They will be ok.  They may need to have spindly growth cut out and canes shortened and possibly tied together so they do not whip around in the wind. Other climbers that bloom on old or one year old wood, may need the added protection of a good spraying of “Wiltpruf” to protect the long canes. Be sure to spray all sides, not just the front.  You can also protect a tender climber by tying up the canes and wrapping them in burlap and bubble wrap. Do not cut them back in the fall or you will be cutting off the blooms for next year. In the spring cut off any wood that has winter killed. Climbers that bloom on new wood can be cut back and mounded like the Hybrid Teas. Minis enjoy a covering of oak leaves, but that is all they need.

          If we have warm weather into November, you may still have some roses in bloom.  Wouldn’t it be great to have fresh roses on your holiday table? It can be done if you want to try dry wrapping some blooms.  This is a method some exhibitors have used with great success. The procedure is to cut the stem when the outside petals begin to unfurl.  A heavily petalled rose may need to be a bit further along than one with fewer petals.  Lay each stem on three thickness of plastic wrap that is at least 8 inches longer than the stem and bloom, with a little more wrap extending over the bloom end.  Roll the rose in the plastic, removing as much air as possible.  Fold the ends back toward the stem and seal with rubber bands at each end. Never place the rose in water, or leave any drops of water on the leaves before you wrap it.  Lay the rose flat in the refrigerator. You will have to have a refrigerator that will hold pretty consistently around 33 to 34 degrees. Roses, successfully dry wrapped, may hold for 2 to 4 weeks.        

          Now you have to bring them back to life.  Take a container deep enough to take the length of the stem you want to use.  Fill it with warm water, about the temperature of bath water.  Use some citric acid, lemon juice, vinegar, or Floralife to bring the pH of the water down to about 3.0.  The acid in the water makes the water travel faster in the rose.  Unwrap the rose (it won’t look too healthy).  Re-cut about 2 inches of the stem under water, then completely submerge the stem right up to the bloom.  The reviving will take from 15 minutes to a couple of hours.  Watch the bloom. When it starts to move (open), and it is about halfway to where you want it to stop moving, place it in a container of regular tap water.  This will start to slow the process.  When the bloom gets to where you want it, put it in a container of ice water.  Leave it in the ice water a while longer to rejuvenate the stem and foliage completely.  Miniature roses work well with this method also.  The rose will usually hold for about 24 hours before moving again. (Adapted from an article by Larry Meyer and printed in the Voice of the Rose, Rose Society of Greater St. Louis.)

          If we have a winter with very little rain or snow, on a warm day in January and/or around Valentine’s Day, get the hose out, and water enough so the water gets down to the roots. This will help keep plants alive and from drying out. Your plants will thank you for the drink.

          If you take care of your roses this fall, they will survive our harsh winters and you can enjoy their beautiful blooms all next summer.

          If you would like to learn more about roses and their care, you are invited to join the Lincoln Rose Society.  They meet on the 3rd Monday of each month, usually at the Shelter House, just northeast of the Auld Rec Center, in Antelope Park.  You do not have to be a member to attend the meetings.


          (This article is adapted from the November, 2001, November 2002, and November, 2003, issues of “The Rose Leaf”, Newsletter of the Lincoln Rose Society, Jane Frisch Editor.)

Oct. 9, 2004