Care for Roses in the Fall

High temperatures may have induced a brief period of summer dormancy, especially in hotter parts of the country, but once the weather starts to cool, many roses put on a fantastic show well into fall. The change in weather often brings wind and rainy conditions; the reappearance of diseases like black spot and powdery mildew provide a reminder that next year’s success depends on putting the roses to bed for the winter.

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10 Steps to a Healthier Spring

  1. Stop deadheading 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost. This will harden off roses, allowing tender new growth time to toughen prior to potentially damaging cold weather. If your roses have hips, allow them to develop naturally. You’ll be rewarded with seasonal interest.
  2. Stop transplanting and fertilizing prior to the onset of cold weather to prevent the rose from pushing new growth. No-nitrogen fertilizers intended to promote root development, such as super phosphates, are an exception to this rule and can be applied in fall and winter.
  3. Rake up and destroy all leaves at the base of roses. Do not compost, as this could spread pathogens. Many fungal diseases that affect roses overwinter on the rose or as litter on the ground. Removing this material will reduce problems the following spring.
  4. Clip off diseased leaves from the bush. Pulling leaves off can create small tears along the stem and provide an entry point for disease.
  5. Prune off failed buds (called balling) that did not open due to rainy conditions. This will help to prevent botrytis dieback.
  6. Review all roses for crossed or thin canes that can whip against each other, causing stem wounds from thorns. Remove as needed.
  7. Prune off overgrowth on climbing roses and tie securely to structures to prevent top-heavy canes from breaking in the wind.  Top off taller hybrid teas or shrub roses at 4 to 5 feet to reduce wind throw risk. In colder climates, the combination of rocking in the wind with freeze/thaw cycles can uproot the rose from the ground.
  8. Apply compost or mulch around the base of roses. Mulching provides valuable nutrients, as well as an insulating layer that will protect roses during cold snaps.  A 2- to 3- inch layer is sufficient in most areas.
  9. Mound compost around the base of roses in extremely cold zones. In spring, spread the mulch out into the bed, away from the base of the plant.
  10. Cut tall roses to 4-5 feet and then thin to reduce wind damage.

Before Fall Pruning & Clean Up

After Fall Pruning & Clean Up

Steps to Fall Cleanup of Roses

Prune out small or crossing canes that could be whipped around during windstorms and create stem wounds.

Remove all top-heavy canes that could break during a windstorm. Bring all canes down to a uniform height of 4 to 5 feet or secure to a structure.

Remove diseased canes. Pathogens can overwinter on stems, which are often overlooked as a source of disease.

Remove and destroy diseased foliage. For best sanitation, defoliate completely and spray with lime sulfur when dormant.

Clean all debris from base of plants, including weeds, which harbor pests like aphids and spider mites, or diseases such as rust.

Top rose beds with a quality, weed-free mulch or compost to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Mound higher in cold climates.

Tools for Fall Rose Cleanup

  • Bypass clippers
  • Tool sharpener
  • Heavy duty rose gloves
  • Bucket for supplies
  • Debris can for clippings
  • Flexible tie tape for securing plants
  • Disinfectant for clippers and equipment that come in contact with plants
  • Rake and shovel for cleaning up debris at base of plants

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