How to winterize roses – to ensure they bloom every year

Discover how to winterize roses to protect them from the harsh weather and keep them blooming year after year

how to winterize roses
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How to winterize roses: 5 must-follow steps

While roses might not be the best winter flower to plant, they can certainly survive and thrive during these colder months. It is also worth noting these steps if you wish to winterize dahlias, overwinter begonias, and winterize hydrangeas too.

These five steps will help you quickly learn how to winterize roses and protect them from the worst of the winter weather. 

  1. Stop fertilizing six weeks before the first frost. This will stop active growth and encourage the roses to go dormant during winter.
  2. Avoid deadheading the last blooms. ‘Don’t deadhead roses that produce decorative hips, as they are also a useful source of food for wildlife,' advises garden expert Leigh Clapp. When it comes to deadheading be sure you know the best practice for how to deadhead roses
  3. Mulch your roses. Providing a thick layer of mulch of straw, leaves or compost will help to insulate the plant's roots and protect them from the frost. Ensure you cover over the bud union – the point where new canes will grow from – or graft as these are very vulnerable to frost. 
  4. Prune dead or long canes to prevent wind damage – prune long canes back to around 1.5m and dead canes back to the living part of the cane. You can properly prune the rose bush at the end of winter.
  5. Cover your roses if necessary. If you live in a colder climate with regular sub-zero temperatures then consider covering your roses. 

roses in frost

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How to winterize my roses in extreme climates

If you suffer from extreme weather in the winters, with long periods of sub-zero temperatures, then your roses might need a little more TLC.

In these temperatures, covering, wrapping or mounding (also known as hilling) your roses may be necessary.

Should I cover my roses?

Covering roses ranges from adding a layer of protective mulch over the base, graft or bud union, or can be more severe such as covering with frost fleece or rose collars – such as these rose collars from Amazon. The methods you select will depend on the temperatures where you live. You should only completely cover your roses with fleece or cones when it is strictly necessary –typically in zones 1 to 4. 

'Many of the shrub roses are hardy and do not need to be covered,' explains Melinda Myers, gardening expert, author and host of How to Grow Anything

‘A heavy snow cover will help insulate and protect the plant through the winter. Also, the winter winds can really dry out the plant so you may want to wrap the plant with burlap,' adds Heidi Mortensen, Rose Portfolio Manager at Star Roses & Plants

'If rose cones are used make sure they are vented on the side away from prevailing winds.  This allows hot air to escape on cold but sunny days. As temperatures begin hovering around freezing in spring or plants begin growing it is time to remove the covering. Rose cones can be lifted but kept handy in case unseasonably cold weather returns,' explains Melinda Myers. 'Leaving plants covered too long can result in the temperatures inside rising and potentially damaging the plants. Also, the warm humid conditions in the rose cone can increase the risk of disease.'

Some gardeners prefer the mounding technique which involves covering the rose with a loose mulch such as potting soil, rotted compost, or pine bark. Cover up to 12 inches above the top of the soil. 'This way the rose bush is kept insulated and covered, keeping it frozen and protecting it from the sunlight and wind. Not all roses benefit from this extra work but it is worth mounding hybrid tea roses, Grandifloras, and Floribundas,' says Trevor Lively founder of Blue Jay Irrigation.

Regardless of which approach you do decide to adopt, it is important that you factor this in when designing a rose garden to ensure you have enough space.

roses in frost

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What temperature should I cover roses?

If your roses need covering in winter – typically if you live in zones 1 to 4 – then wait until temperatures have dropped consistently to 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. 'Wait for a week of freezing temperatures in fall or early winter before starting to cover the plants. This way they are entering dormancy.' explains Melinda Myers. 'Covering roses before the cold temperatures arrive can increase the risk of disease as heat buildings up beneath the cover, and can cause injury or death of the plant.'

roses in frost

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to winterize climbing roses

'Most climbing roses bloom on older growth. This means the protection if needed, must accommodate the large plants,' explains Melinda Myers. There are several different approaches when it comes to how to winterize roses that climb up a wall or trellis. 

'Some people tie the canes together, mound soil over the crown of the plant to protect the graft (if a grafted plant), and wrap the canes in straw and burlap,' explains Melinda. 'While other gardeners, opt for the Minnesota Tip method. To do this, tip the plant over and bury it for the winter.'

Not all climbing roses need overwintering, as Melinda explains 'old fashioned once blooming ramblers and some of the large Canadian shrub roses grown as climbers do not need winter protection in most areas.'

If you are hoping to add climbing roses to your garden – and why wouldn't you, they include some of the best fragrant roses – then be sure you research how to plant climbing roses to ensure their greatest chance of success.

roses in frost

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Do I need to cut the roses in the winter?

In short, yes you will need to cut the roses in the winter. However, it is best to wait until the worst of the winter has passed. 'Allowing the plants to stand for winter and waiting until late winter or early spring, just before growth begins, to prune is best. At that time you can prune to remove older canes and winter damage or for reducing the size and removing any wayward growth,' says Melinda Myers.

‘For correct pruning, check which rose group they are as this will differ. The principles are the same, however: remove dead, diseased, and dying wood first, then open up the center of the bush this will help with airflow to reduce potential issues with black spot,’ explains Jon Webster, curator at RHS Garden Rosemoor, home to one of the UK’s largest collections of roses. The steps for how to prune roses are slightly different to the steps for how to prune climbing roses, so be sure that you know the difference.

If you are hoping to take cuttings of your roses – then early fall to later winter is also the perfect time to take hardwood cuttings.

What do you put around roses in the winter?

What you put around roses in the winter, depends on the time of year. In early winter, opt for a mulch that doesn't retain too much water (so as to prevent it from freezing so severely). 'You can mulch roses with a thick layer of straw, leaves, or compost. If they are planted in the ground, you may consider adding a protective layer of fencing or hardware cloth around them. This will help keep out rabbits and other animals that might damage them,' says Lindsey Hyland, founder of Urban Organic Yield.

However, come January and February, the roses will start to benefit from added nutrients that can come with a manure-based mulch. ‘Each winter, after pruning in January, we lay a thick layer of well-rotted horse manure, which not only supplies the roses with important nutrients but also ensures moisture is retained in the soil preventing unnecessary watering during the summer,’ explains Harry Baldwin, Head of Horticulture at Borde Hill Garden in Sussex. Be sure to clear away the protective early winter mulch before adding the manure.

roses in frost

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to winterize potted roses?

The best way to winterize roses in pots is to move the pot into an unheated greenhouse or even just a more sheltered spot in the garden – away from the worst of the winter weather. 

‘Don't panic! Leave the containers outside through the first few touches of frost, then bring them inside and store them in a cool, dark area such as your basement, unheated greenhouse, or garage. If you store your containers in the garage, remember to protect them from the winter temperatures that can come in as you open and close the door. Store your containers inside until the threat of the last frost has passed, typically in early spring. You'll want to check your roses periodically to make sure they don't dry out completely,’ advises rose expert Heidi Mortensen.

Holly Reaney
Content Editor and Sub-editor

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.