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How to Prepare Your Roses for Winter

Updated on August 3, 2017
Titia profile image

My garden is a biotope where wildlife, insects and plants can find a home.

Red and white rose
Red and white rose | Source

You Need to Prepare Your Roses for Cold Weather

The sort of protection your roses need depends on the climate you live in and how harsh your winters get. In the Netherlands, for instance, we normally don't have very harsh winters, but once in a while we do get temperatures of -10C (14F) and lower.

I used to do nothing to protect my roses from freezing other than leaving leaves where they'd fallen. But in January, 2011, the temperature was way too high—+7C (45F)—and a lot of my 200 roses started to sprout, thinking spring had come early. One night, the temperature dropped to -18C (-0.4F), and about 2/3 of my roses died. All the bushes and stems turned black. It was a devastating sight, and I couldn't bring myself to take photos.

The climbing rose Mme. Legras du St. Germain, which was covering an old apple tree, went black on all stems above ground. I trimmed all the the dead roses way back to the ground and waited for spring to see what would happen. Some roses produced new stems, but they were thin and not quite strong, and they didn't survive the next winter.

How to Prepare Your Roses for Winter

  1. Stop pruning them in early fall and let them form rose hips.
  2. After the first frost (or even before, if you can read nature's signs), mound some extra leaves, straw, mulch, or fresh compost or soil over the base of the plants.
  3. You may need to pay extra attention to the new types of roses, which don't survive winter as well as old varieties.
  4. Add more mulch after the first freeze.

Rose Mme. Legras de St. Germain climbing in an apple tree.
Rose Mme. Legras de St. Germain climbing in an apple tree. | Source

Snow Will Protect Your Roses from Freezing

The biggest danger for your roses is frost without snow. Snow itself is good for your garden. Covered in a thick layer of snow, the frost can't get to the plant. If you live in an area with lots of snow, I wouldn't worry too much about your roses. Where I live we hardly get enough snow to cover the plants.

Snow  protects your roses.
Snow protects your roses. | Source

Start to Protect Your Roses for the Cold on Time

If it's not snowing, but only freezing, then you have to protect your roses, and you should not wait until the frost begins. A few degrees minus zero wouldn't harm your plants, but a longer time of deep frost will.

Most of the roses you buy are engrafted on wild roots, and it's that graft, which is sitting just below the surface of the ground, that is most vulnerable in winter. A good method is to cover it with a rather thick layer of soil, leaves, or compost.

In spring you have to remove the overload of earth again.

I've Become More Careful with My Roses Now

After the disaster of 2011 and 2012, I've become more careful with my remaining roses. I can't protect them all because they're too big, but where I can, I do. I use straw to cover the earth around the roses, because I have lots of it when I clean out the stable after the sheep have their lambs.

If you don't have access to straw, then the best thing is to buy a few bags of garden mulch at your local garden shop and use that. Make sure you cover the centre of the rose bush, too.

Mulching the garden with straw.
Mulching the garden with straw. | Source

Protecting Roses From Freezing

Are You Preparing Your Roses for Winter?

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Dont Trim Your Old Roses Too Short Before Winter

When you trim all the stems of old rose bushes (I mean old in years) too close to the ground, the plant might not survive. It would have to produce too much energy in spring to form healthy stems again. Oh sure, stems will grow, but they might be thin and not strong or healthy enough. Then when they have to endure another winter with severe frost, most of them won't have enough energy to survive.

When you have to cut them back, cut back only one or two each year. I never cut my rose bushes short, I only cut back a few unwanted stems.

My Experience: Old Types of Roses Resist Cold Temperatures Better Than New Types

The interesting thing I learned after the severe winter cold of 2011 was that the 'old type' roses appeared to be the strongest and they survived. Among them were my David Austin Roses like the Abraham Darby, Graham Thomas, Gertrude Jekyll, and Winchester Cathedral. Also other 'old' roses survived that harsh winter and you should keep this fact in mind when you buy roses.

David Austin: Abraham Darby Rose
David Austin: Abraham Darby Rose | Source

Winterizing a Standard Rose

Standard roses have to be protected against frost in a slightly different way, because their graft site sits way above the ground. For these standard roses, you can protect the graft spot by covering it up with agricultural fleece. One bit of advice: never use plastic, though, because plastic won't let the plant breathe, moisture will get inside, and your rose will freeze. I'm sure you can get the right material in any garden shop.

David Austin: Winchester Cathedral Rose
David Austin: Winchester Cathedral Rose | Source

Don't Let the Night Frost Surprise You in Early Spring

When spring comes along, don't be too hasty to unpack your roses, because night frost can occur as late as mid May. You might uncover your standard rose during the day when the weather is nice, but be sure to cover it up again for the night for as long as there is a chance of night frost.

Have You Ever Lost Roses Due to Cold Weahter?

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Some of the Roses I Lost to Winter

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I Leave My Garden at Rest in Winter

Well, one thing that I learned from past winters is that I have been too careless as far as it comes to my roses. There had never been the need to protect them from freezing. Where I live in The Netherlands, we hardly ever get temps as low as -18C. But I've learned my lesson. The remaining roses will be protected before the real frost comes.

I leave my garden to rest in the winter. I don't remove any of the fallen leaves, because they protect the plants that go underground in wintertime. My work starts in spring, when everything comes to life again.

© 2014 Titia Geertman

Are you a bit like me or are you a clean gardener

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    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 3 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Love your photos! I'm more of a laid back gardener... I love roses too, but don't prune them too severely. My favorites are coral and yellow roses.

    • Titia profile image
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      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @takkhisa: Mostly soft pink, soft yellow and white and a single red old fashioned smelling roses.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      Amazing photographs! I usually grow only pink roses, what about you? :)

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      We used to grow roses. Like you, we do not generally have really cold winters but being by the sea, we have VERY strong winds and the roses have to be pruned in November, to prevent root rock. You have some really beautiful photographs of roses - so lovely!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Very nice lens loved your photos. I am like you I do very little pruning of my roses, the winter is too harsh on them.

    • Titia profile image
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      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @OhMe: Yeah, thanks, most of my roses were old single petal smelling ones. I didn't have many of the modern roses. Modern roses might flower year 'round, but they don't smell.

    • Titia profile image
      Author

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @Brite-Ideas: Normally I don't do anything in my garden in winter, only in spring. I hardly ever cut back my roses other than snap branches away where I don't want them.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Beautiful photography of some very pretty roses.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I've never fussed with my roses very much over the last 10 years and they've done pretty well - but I noticed they don't flower as long into the summer, so maybe I should prepare them better for our cold winters - by the way, beautiful photos :)