Roses take a rest in winter and so can the rose caregiver once the rose beds have been properly prepared. Winter care is not difficult but is important to protect the rose bushes and ensure that they will produce good flowers the following spring. Hopefully, the roses have slowly gone dormant due to the effects the lower temperature and shorter day length of fall and the caregiver has encouraged this process by not deadheading or picking the roses and NOT applying mulch. After a hard freeze has made sure that the roses are dormant you can begin.
1. Pruning. The tall canes of most modern roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, polyanths) should be cut back to about 3 feet in order to prevent ice, snow and wind damage. This is important because damaged canes are susceptible to canker infection. Long canes of old garden roses should be cut back to avoid similar problems.
2. The soil around new plants should be checked for a funnel like depression that exposes the bud union. This depression is caused by wind and should be filled so that cold does not enter the soil and damage the bud union.
3. Some roses will need to be mulched to protect them from cold damage. This is especially true of teas and chinas but some hybrid teas are tender and will need mulch too. Exposed bud unions should be covered with mulch.
4. If you live in an area with acid soil, apply lime. Lime moves very slowly in the soil; it is washed into the soil by winter rains and takes several months to become available to the roses. Apply liberally over the whole bed rather than around individual bushes so that you make as much soil rose-friendly as possible. Lime affects pH and pH affects the nutrient uptake of the roses so this is an important step in rose care.
5. After cleaning the beds and disposing of the dead leaves and canes, spray lime-sulphur at dormant strength on the bushes and the soil around them. This needs to be done before new leaves appear because the lime-sulphur will kill any that persist. Also, the spraying must be done when the temperature is 50 F or warmer until the spray dries.
6. Spray plants with Wilt-pruf or a similar product to reduce drying. This must be done after the lime-sulphur application has weathered or the Wilt-pruf may seal off the spores of mildew and blackspot and reduce the effectiveness of the lime-sulphur.
7. Weed out any undesirable winter weeds like chickweed that will produce seeds with a few days of warm weather. Doing this now will save hours of weeding later when the thousands of seeds from these devils germinate.
8. If you haven’t planned ahead for your new roses get started. The catalogues come early and many roses are sold out by January 1st. Get your order in as soon as possible; your order will be shipped any time you choose.
With the work done you can sit back and enjoy the rose catalogues and anticipate the beauty that will come in spring. Warm days will draw you out to the rose garden but resist the urge to prune as you will only encourage new growth that will be killed by frost.