In North Central Washington, roses are one of our favorite flowers because they are easy to grow during spring and summer. Winter weather patterns have changed how we provide fall and winter care for roses, but the basics are the same.
- Prune all rosehips from the roses. The rosehips consume energy from the plant, and the development of them delays the plant’s ability to go into dormancy.
- Prune hybrid and floribunda roses to knee height. Do not thin the canes nor worry where the cuts are made. It is easier to work around the shorter canes, and the snows and winds can snap longer canes clear to the ground. For those who have gardened west of the mountains, do not prune the canes as short as you have in the past. If the canes freeze, you will have nothing to work with in the spring.
- Cut the long whippy canes from the climbing roses. Tie additional supports around the body of the rose so the winds will not blow it over and break it.
- Generally, shrub roses are dense and compact and do not need any fall care.
- Take the roses out of containers or big planters because their roots will freeze and that is the end of the story for that bush. Put the plant in the ground at the same soil level as it was in the pot. The soil will protect the roots. You can also put the container in a garage or other place that stays below 40 degrees and above freezing.
- Tree roses need to have a cooling period, so leave the huge container outside when the nights are still in the 20s. When a temperature in the teens is predicted, take that pot into an unheated garage or other space that stays above freezing.
- Importantly, sanitize the rose garden. Clean up all the dead rose leaves at the base of the plant because these could be harboring eggs or larvae of white fly, aphids, spider mites, etc. If you had even a smidgen of powdery mildew in June, be sure to pick up all the fallen leaves.
- Cut, do not tear off the remaining leaves from the plants to eliminate destructive insect habitat. If it is a sunny fall day, it is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. I had a 27-rose variety garden, and it always seemed that I set aside the first cold, wet day for this task. Maybe you can plan better. You can do the leaf trimming now or in the spring. The advantage of doing it in the fall is that you have less chance of tearing the undeveloped leaf buds. And you can see the shape of the canes when spring arrives.
Rose care has changed in our area in the last 30 years. Three decades ago, our first snows and freezing occurred at the end of October in the Greater Wenatchee Valley. Distressingly, we have had hard, unexpected freezes in mid-October, no freezes until January, then hard freezes, sudden melts and hard freezes the next week. Whoa! The roses have been decimated by these unusual weather patterns.
So how do we prepare for them?
The unexpected freeze patterns usually means the canes will be frozen to the ground. The roots are the most essential. If they are protected, and the graft for the hybrid roses does not freeze, the rose will re-grow. We apply mulch.
There are two approaches to mulching: Apply after the ground freezes to prevent root damage caused by thawing and re-freezing, or apply mulch before the ground freezes to prevent the ground from hard freezing. Because of the recent vagaries of winter weather, I mulch before the freeze.
Mulch is time consuming but not difficult. The materials have to create an airy barrier to frost. Do not put it directly on the canes. Use leaves mixed with straw, pine needles, evergreen branch prunings and grass clippings mixed with straw so they don’t form a heavy mat. Apply around the entire rose bed — remember you are protecting the extended roots.
Think summer blooms!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.