Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Winterizing Roses

Here is an article that ran in my Rocky Mountain News gardening column in 2005. John


Once again our summer rose gardens are a cherished memory to fill us with hope of renewal this winter, as the shrill colors and killing frosts of autumn then snows serve to welcome back another long winter. And while those first luscious blooms of next June are many months away, many of us already dread finding once again a bunch of our roses either dead or badly damaged or reverted to that lanky ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock. Does it ever seem to you that your rose garden never "arrives" at a point of glory you can take pride in and luxuriate in? Join the club! But as our trees’ leaves cascade around us like giant colorful snowflakes we can give ‘The Queen of Flowers’ a few easy advantages over winter’s cruel excesses.

First….do less in your rose garden each fall and early winter….many folks spend HOURS brutally pruning back their rose bushes to "neaten up" the garden. But that leaves only the heart of each bush exposed to bitter, drying cold. Instead wait until winter when the bushes are dormant and prune off only the long lanky canes you feel could be snapped by heavy snows. Then let winter’s bitter cold "prune" the rose for you by killing vulnerable canes, which you can cut off late each April as you shape your rose bushes for another summer. Much easier, huh?

But you do need to do some work if you haven’t mulched and have bare soil. Why? Low snowfalls make dry soil a cruel enemy of our landscapes, including our beloved roses. Avoid those perky, suspiciously red mulches that are "decorative" but tend to fade and/or float away in gullywashers while holding little moisture and barely suppressing weeds. Treat yourself instead to a load of the chipped branches-and-leaves mulch provided by tree trimming services at low cost or even for free. A 6-8" thick layer of this valuable recycled organic matter will have a great natural look, settle firmly into place, add vital humus to your funky soil as it decays, dramatically boost your population of earthworms, suppress many annual weeds and most importantly, do wonders to keep your garden soil damp all year long. Plus it acts as an insulating blanket to greatly reduce wild freeze-thaw cycles that can "heave" bulbs from the soil and stress the roots of roses, grafted roses in particular.

Do make it an instinctual habit to give all your roses a deep watering once a month on those inevitable mild days. "Winter Drought Stress" is hell on our roses and landscape in general if we let the soil dry out. Do this every non-snowy month from November through April if you really love your gardens….plus it will take less water in the spring to nourish your plants as you will not have to rehydrate the soil.

And late each summer consider not doing a couple things… stop deadheading and picking every single bloom so that the bushes can set hips, cease vegetative growth and thus deepen their descent into dormancy. Water deeply just once or twice instead of 4 times in September to further help them to "harden off" for winter. Do less and get fewer dead roses each spring!

Lastly, remember that "own root roses" are much tougher in most cases than the wimpy grafted roses so many of us have come to regard as "annuals". Ever wonder why Grandma’s roses (remember her rooting cuttings in the garden beneath mason jars?) and those ancient ones in cemeteries and alley ways live for decades with little or no fuss? They are on their "own roots" vs. being grafted onto a frail ‘Dr. Huey’ or ‘Manetti’ rootstock rose grown in balmy southern California or Texas. So every year as your gnarly grafted roses "Bite the Big One" just calmly replace them with the expensive-but-worth-it "own root roses" increasingly available at many local and mail order nurseries. . Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to buy each rose variety you love just ONCE?

Wanna hear something weird? Try planting own root roses in the fall! Yup, right up till just before the ground begins to freeze. They send out roots all winter long beneath the mulch layer so they can burst into growth in the spring. Plus own root roses are often on sale in the autumn....achieve success AND be frugal (well I’m cheap!) at the same time.
And while us gardeners may see winter as welcome as Ozzie Osbourne at an Enya concert, it brings to our roses the period of rest they need to fill our hearts once again with the priceless gifts of soul-stirring color, fragrance and annual renewal. So let’s give them a cozy bed every autumn and early winter.

Harlequin Market, Boulder 303-939-9403
The Antique Rose Emporium 1-800-441-0002
Chamblee’s Roses 1-800-256-7673

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