Putting roses to sleep for winter
In early November, many of the roses that bloom twice per year (called remontant, or repeat-blooming) were still putting on quite a show in the Rose Garden. Even that late in the season, the garden looked exceptionally lush—canes were tall, bloom was heavy, and November’s cold-but-not-freezing nights kept the last of the season’s flowers going through Thanksgiving.
Finally, early December brought below-freezing nighttime temperatures—and Garden staff jumped into action to put the rose beds “to sleep” for the winter. Now the garden looks entirely different.
The process that our staff uses to prep roses for winter is the same process you can use in your rose garden, too.
Step 1: Prune canes.
While early spring is the major pruning season for roses, end-of-the-year pruning protects the plant from winter wind (canes can whip around and scar each other, and stiff winds can pull long-caned plants out of the ground). Prune out thin or crossing canes to open up the plant, and cut back remaining canes by one-third in height.
Step 2: Clean up leaf litter.
This simple step can prevent major problems later, as leaf litter is a prime source of diseases and pest problems. As you can imagine, we have a lot of leaf litter in a garden with 5,000 roses plants; our truly dedicated volunteers and staff spent two days removing every last leaf from the beds.
Step 3: Mulch.
Mounded up and around each rose plant is a thick layer of mulch (we use well-aged horse manure, but chopped and well-composted leaves work, too). Mulch protects the plants, helps maintain even temperatures, and adds fresh nutrients to the soil. When spring arrives, this extra blanket of mulch will be removed.
And speaking of spring, check out our YouTube video on how to prune climbing roses:
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