Time to Winterize: Ready Roses for Winter

Selecting roses that are appropriate for your hardiness zone is very important. But even the hardiest rose appreciates extra protection when the mercury plummets. Let’s talk hardiness first.

Winter Hardiness

  • Winter hardy roses are ideal for gardeners who love roses but don’t want to provide much, if any, winter protection. Roses listed in our “Winter Hardy” section meet that criteria and will provide the joy of having roses in the garden even under the most adverse conditions.
  • Own root roses (the only kind we produce) are less vulnerable to winter injury. Choose from shrub roses, groundcovers, and climbers from different breeders including Griffith Buck, David Austin, and a few bred in Canada to withstand very severe cold. You will find a size and color to meet any gardening need.
  • Griffith Buck, during his time at Iowa State University, developed a group of roses that could not only withstand the Iowa cold, but proved to be disease resistant, too. While other roses need protection in Zone 5, the Buck roses do not; although some protection in Zone 4 is advisable. In order for these roses to be ready to over-winter in Zones 4 and 5 they should be planted by July 1st.

Get Ready for Winter

Winterizing involves more than just covering roses with mulch. The healthier the rose, the better it will be able to withstand cold and ward off disease. Give your plants a frosty edge with these ten tips:

  • Choose the right rose for your area.
  • Plant it in full sun where it will receive at least 5 hours of light per day.
  • Check the soil ph. It should be between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • Ensure good drainage. It helps roots to establish.
  • Fertilize regularly. Roses are heavy feeders and do not like to miss a meal.
  • Water at ground level. Aim for 2 inches per week; more if the weather is extremely warm.
  • Stop fertilizing in late summer. You want to slow down new growth, as this will enable the plant to go dormant.
  • Stop deadheading in the fall to allow the rose to form hips; this is a signal to the plant that it is time to start getting ready for winter.
  • Clean up the ground and the bush as old debris and leaves harbor pests and disease.
  • Wait until spring to prune. You don’t want to stimulate new growth.


Three Ways to Winterize Roses

Keep in mind that your goal is to prevent the rose bush from freezing and thawing. Winterize after you have had a couple of hard freezes. Protecting roses from the coldest, windiest months of winter is paramount. When spring and summer arrive, your efforts will be rewarded.

If you elect to winterize your roses, get advice from your local rose society as to what is practiced in your area. The American Rose Society website can be helpful: www.ars.org

1. Hilling

  • Pile or “hill” up loose soil around the base of the plant. It should cover the center of the rose and form a mound at least 12 inches high and wide.
  • Do not scrape the soil from around the plant for mounding, as this could disturb the surface roots and may subject them to winter injury. Bring in extra soil to “hill” your roses.
  • After you ‘hill’ your roses, cover the soil mounds with mulch. Straw and then fir boughs or branches work well too.

2. Styrofoam rose cones

  • Be sure to follow directions carefully as they must be used properly to avoid damage.
  • First, do not cover plants too early. Follow the same timing guidelines as other methods.
  • Second, the cones need to be well ventilated so heat does not build up on the inside during sunnier winter days. Cut four or five one-inch holes around the top and bottom of the cone to aid in ventilation and to keep the air inside the cone from heating up.
  • Before placing the cone over the rose, mound soil up around the base of the rose. It you are trying to protect a more tender variety you can remove more off the top of the cone and fill the inside with straw.
  • Place a weighted object on the cone to keep it from blowing away.

3. Bending down and covering:

  • Climbers and larger shrub roses are more challenging to protect.
  • Bend or lay down canes, and cover with straw and dirt. Care needs to be taken so canes aren’t damaged or broken.
  • If roses need to be left on pillars or structures, straw and burlap can be placed around the canes and the entire support should be wrapped and tied.