Rose protection for winter?

amester(Z4/5)November 13, 2009

Ok, I've been all over the rose forum looking for answers but everyone's got their own flavor of how to handle roses over the winter. Since we have such wacky freeze/thaws, I'm wondering if winter protection would be a good idea. The roses are David Austins and Jackson Perkins grandifloras, all in their second year (and reputably hardy to zone 5). The dieback after last winter (I only used pine needles mounded at the base) was terrible and it took the roses forever to bloom. We've already had a couple of freezes and I'm wondering if some cedar mulch would be better. Or am I just rolling out the red carpet for fungus and the like?

Thoughts are appreciated, thanks!!

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Amy,

Its nice to see you around here again!

I think youÂre gonna get as many different answers around here as you found on the rose forum! I cut mine down. Period! Partly itÂs because IÂm lazy, and partly itÂs because, as you said in the end, IÂm inclined to think that mounding something up around them would risk inviting some sort of disease or insect infestation. IÂve never been into roses all that muchÂnot a big fan of flowers that biteÂbut there were 5 roses in here when I bought the house, so I have five roses! IÂve never done anything to protect them over winter. The Year of the Blizzards I hadnÂt had time to get them cut down before the Snows started, and the one I like the most (a yellow) was badly broken up. Now I make sure they get cut down as soon as I can after the leaves have browned. I usually cut mine down to about knee height, but this year they "wound up" a little shorter than that!

You mention last winter, and I had the same problem with the warm and dry winter we had last year. I knew I should be watering over winter, but just never got around to doing it. ALL the canes, on all five plants, died all the way down to the ground last winter. In spring I was wondering if theyÂd even grow back from the grafts or if theyÂd revert back to the root stock, but they all grew happily back from the grafts, and, if anything, they look better now than they did before.

Here are four of them on May 27, before they started blooming. The fifth one, a really pretty pink, is just off the right side of the pic, but itÂs always been kind of feeble with only a couple canes. Even it was easily as good as before, after the complete dieback, and IÂm kinda hoping the dieback may have given it "new life" and that itÂll come back bigger and better than before next year!
From Garden - 2009 thru June

Here are three of them on June 21. IÂm always amazed how lavender the lavender one isÂconsidering our alkaline soil!
From Garden - 2009 thru June

And hereÂs my Mellow Yellow on June 21.
From Garden - 2009 thru June

Because of last winterÂs complete dieback, the canes are all pretty small this year, but theyÂll get bigger next year again! One other thing! Before they died back all the way, from the time I moved in here, I always had trouble with the canes turning black, and I always just tried to keep it cut off to keep it from spreading further down the canes. Since the dieback, no more of that!

There are a lot of people around here that are way more into roses than I am, so IÂll be watching to see how many different opinions we can collect here.

ItÂs snowing in Thornton!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2009 at 6:34PM
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treebarb Z5 Denver

Skybird is right on there being lots of opinions on winter protection for roses. Some people do a little mulch, some use inverted tomato cages filled with soil and mulch. Some people wrap their climbers in burlap to protect the canes from dieback. My mom does the inverted cages filled with soil and mulch with just a bit of canes showing. She's in Broomfield on a fairly protected site and it works for her. I have a very windy open site. I have 3 grootendorsts that I just mulch at the base and they come through fine. I do try to water when it gets dry, once a month or so. I got a little lax too, last year and I had a 5 ft. Old Garden rose, Variegata di Bologna that died all the way the the ground last winter. It came back to about 4 ft this year. I've added 3 climbers, 5 knockouts, 2 Austins (Mary) and a couple others this year and am debating on how to winter protect them since it's their first year in the ground here. I've built walls to the northwest side of the roses most exposed to the wind. I just took cinder blocks, retaining wall pavers and railroad ties and stacked them. I'll take them down in the spring. The wind snapping the canes off is a problem for me. One poster on the rose site wrapped the canes in that white gauzy tree wrap. I'm hesitant to do that, because I think it'll be a pain to unsnag the wrap in the spring. Some people don't recommend cutting roses in the fall because you encourage more growth going into winter which will die back. Some people, like Skybird, swear by cutting back. Catlady has an incredible rose garden, so I hope she chimes in to let us know how she handles her roses in winter. I'm eager to learn more, too!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 9:15AM
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Not to confuse things, Amy, but...

I'm also in a 4/5 zone depending on the weather. I do not have any Austins and all of mine are hardy to 4, 3 or 2.

Yep, I've tried several different things since I know nothing about roses!!

First year, I cut them way down to about a foot above the ground, maybe less. They were fine and came back happy and bloomed incessantly.

Second year, I cut them back again but also put some grass mulch on the new one, Fairy, who only goes down to zone 4; I used a tomato cage (not inverted) to make sure it didn't blow away in case the snow melted. That was a weird winter and we had summer in February. I watered maybe three times and every one came back happy and blooming well the first bloom. I did not do my usual feeding, as a test, and the blooming was not very good as far as repeating.

This year, I'm experimenting again. I'm not going to cut the canes back but I am going to put a cage around the newest, Madam Hardy, because she is so young and spindly. I'll put a bit of grass in the cage. If I wasn't so lazy, I would have already done it!

Anyway, I hope you come up with a good plan. I'm not sure you can do much damage if they are established, or that is how it seems to be to me. Mine are in a very windy/gusty area and they haven't had any diseases (knock on wood).

The only questionable thing that happened was this spring. It was so darn rainy that the wild roses that line the fence had a few spots of rust. The rose closest to those wound up with two spots which I removed according to haz-mat standards!! :)

Good luck!


    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 8:23PM
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Dan Staley

I grew up in SE MI and at one time thought I wanted to be a rosarian, and my family had dozens. If I were to grow roses today, here, I'd take my ornamental grass clippings and pile them 6" on top and anchor after I pruned to two buds and Elmer's glued the ends. I like the tomato cage idea too.

Not sure if its worth it, but my 2¢.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 7:43PM
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Thank you all so much for your responses - last year I cut back and did protection and everything got cranky (no fungus or molds or anything, but very slow to get going). So this year, no cuts and protection - I just worry about the freeze/thaws too much. I'm just going to do some cedar mulch (I like how it stays put - too lazy for cages), about 6 inches around the base. It can't be all that different from the deep bud union planting most people recommend.

Side notes: Jennifer, I bet the open space you have around your roses is a huge help with the diseases, crowding seems to be the catalyst for lots of rose problems, IMHO.

Skybird, it's nice of you to put up with your roses! Nice to be back, hope things are going well for you.

Dan, Barb, thank you for your thoughts. I'll let you all know how we're doing come spring!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2009 at 3:53PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Amy,

I love to look at roses! I just dont like having to deal with them. Might have something to do with the fact that when I was in the green industry, every late winter part of my job was "participating in" potting up the bare root roses to be sold that year. The most I ever had to help with was the year Paulinos did the most they ever did: 14,000. That is NOT a typo! When you have to "handle" 14,000 bare root roses in 2-3 weeks it "does something to you"figuratively, and literally! Add to that the fact that one time when I was watering the roses in the retail arearowsandrowsandrows of themI was walking backwards pulling the (couple hundred feet of) hose to where I needed it, and I missed the path and backed into a row of plantswhich I promptly fell on top ofwearing shorts! Ouch!

I love to look at roses!

I think your plan for you roses will work out just fineand Im glad to know Im not the only one around here whos lazy! ;-) So far the forecasters are predicting a pretty dry winter again this year, and if theyre right, try to find time to water them thoroughly a couple times over winter. I think, with our dry climate, that dry soil is likely to do more damage than the freeze thaw thing.

On Roses [edited/shortened by me!]

The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint Exupery

On the little prince's planet the flowers had always been very simple. They had only one ring of petals; they took up no room at all; they were a trouble to nobody. One morning they would appear in the grass, and by night they would have faded peacefully away. But one day, from a seed blown from no one knew where, a new flower had come up; and the little prince had watched very closely over this small sprout which was not like any other small sprouts on his planet. It might, you see, have been a new kind of baobab.

The shrub soon stopped growing, and began to get ready to produce a flower. The little prince, who was present at the first appearance of a huge bud, felt at once that some sort of miraculous apparition must emerge from it. But the flower was not satisfied to complete the preparations for her beauty in the shelter of her green chamber. She chose her colors with the greatest care. She dressed herself slowly. She adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all rumpled, like the field poppies. It was only in the full radiance of her beauty that she wished to appear. Oh, yes! She was a coquettish creature! And her mysterious adornment lasted for days and days.

Then one morning, exactly at sunrise, she suddenly showed herself.

And, after working with all this painstaking precision, she yawned and said: "Ah! I am scarcely awake. I beg that you will excuse me. My petals are still all disarranged . . ."

But the little prince could not restrain his admiration: "Oh! How beautiful you are!"

Abruptly, without anything to lead up to it, and as if the question had been born of long and silent meditation on his problem, he demanded: "A sheep\-\-if it eats little bushes, does it eat flowers, too?" 

"A sheep," I answered, "eats anything it finds in its reach." 

"Even flowers that have thorns?" 

"Yes, even flowers that have thorns." 

"The thorns\-\-what use are they?" 

The little prince never let go of a question, once he had asked it. As for me, I was upset over that bolt and I answered with the first thing that came into my head: "The thorns are of no use at all. Flowers have thorns just for spite!" 


There was a moment of complete silence. Then the little prince flashed back at me, with a kind of resentfulness: 

"I don't believe you! Flowers are weak creatures. They are naive. They reassure themselves as best they can. They believe that their thorns are terrible weapons . . ." 

"And you actually believe that the flowers\-\-" 

"Oh, no!" I cried. "No, no, no! I don't believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don't you see\-\-I am very busy with matters of consequence!" 

"The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? And if I know--I, myself--one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing--Oh! You think that is not important!"

"If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, 'Somewhere, my flower is there . . .' But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened . . . And you think that is not important!"

He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

I love to look at roses!   
    Bookmark   November 21, 2009 at 7:17PM
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I love "Le Petit Prince" - thank you, Skybird, for putting some poetic prose into my day.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 8:09PM
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