Overwintering rose bushes

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(Host) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi has advice on caring for rose bushes over the winter.

(Nardozzi) I love roses but between work, a family, house, and gardens to care for, I have little time to fuss over them. That’s why I grow low maintenance, tough roses such as the rugosas, modern shrub roses, and selected heirlooms. They grow, they bloom, and they come back year after year with little effort.

When fall comes, there is little to do to prepare for winter other than clean out weeds, remove dead canes, and sprinkle a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of compost around the drip line of the bush.

Even though I don’t like growing hybrid tea or floribunda roses, I’ve inherited a few over the years. I tend to avoid growing these types because of the disease problems and tenderness to cold. The few I have were gifts. I’m a sucker for any live plant, so this is what I do to help them survive.

Around the end of November, I mound a one-foot deep pile of shredded bark mulch over the crown of the plant, which includes the graft union. This union is where the desired variety is grafted onto the rootstock variety. It’s critical to protect because if the union fails, the rootstock variety grows, usually producing inferior plants and flowers. You can pile the mulch right on top of the snow that has already fallen. Snow is an excellent insulator, so piling the snow and mulch together on the rose bush is a good thing. I wait until spring to do any pruning, so I can see the extent of winter injury on the canes. It’s obvious because winter injured canes turn brown or black by spring.

Climbing roses present another challenge. Most modern hybrid climbers such as ‘Climbing Peace’ and ‘Blaze’ don’t winter well in Vermont. Winter won’t kill the climbers completely, but set them back enough so they won’t flower profusely in summer. The problem is climbers bloom best on two year old wood. If the canes dieback each year, there’s little two year old wood to produce
blooms. The solution is to grow cold tolerant climbers such as the red flowered ‘Henry Kelsae’ or pink-flowered ‘William Baffin’. These are selections from the Explorer series in Canada and are known to be winter hardy without any protection.

If your heart is set on a ‘New Dawn’ or ‘Blaze’ climber, try this method. In November, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, remove any snow and dig around one side of the base of the rose bush. Wrap the canes in burlap, gently tip them down away from the dug side until they’re lying on the ground. Secure them on the ground with stakes and rope and cover them with chopped leaves, bark mulch, hay, and snow. This insulation should protect the canes. In spring, prop them back up again and enjoy the climbing flowers of summer.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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