University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
FALL CARE OF ROSES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Do you have some roses that you would like to have survive the upcoming
winter, if at all possible, and particularly if new plantings? Or, are
you one of those who had roses going into last winter, only to have many die
while those of your neighbor lived? If either of these fits, you might
consider mulching and mounding this fall.
A mulch will not only keep the soil warmer than unmulched soil, but also
will prevent rapid fluctuations in soil temperatures which lead to soil
heaving. Snow is the best mulch but, as we know, can not always be
counted on. So other materials must be used.
A good mulch will settle lightly on the soil surface without excessive
packing (this rules out most oak leaves), cause no harmful effects (such as
from diseases or weed seeds), and be reasonably attractive and priced.
Mulches derived from plants also add organic matter to the soil.
Examples of good organic mulches are peat moss, weed-free straw (not hay,
which is often weedy), cut evergreen branches, bark mulch, or wood chips.
Mulches should be piled at least a foot deep around plants, and not before
mid-November, as roses need cool fall temperatures to develop some winter
hardiness. Mulch much later and you may have to contend with snow
first, and valuable ground heat will have been lost.
Mounding also may be used to protect roses during winter, simply mounding
loose soil or compost a foot or more high around the base of the
plant. Use loose sandy or loamy soil, as dense clay soil may cut off
the oxygen supply to the roots, resulting in injured or dead plants.
Mounding is preferable over mulches if you have mice that may live in
organic material and chew on the rose stems over winter.
Climbing roses may be protected by removing the canes from their supports
(keep this in mind in the spring when tying them up, for easy fall removal),
then laying them on the ground. Use a wire hoop or similar device to
hold them in place. Lay a piece of burlap over the canes to protect
them during the spring uncovering operation, then mound soil or compost or
organic matter over the canes. Uncover the canes when they begin to
grow in spring, checking them in early April or shortly after the snow
Mulching or mounding protects roses in a couple of ways. Roses vary
greatly in their hardiness, depending on species and cultivars, with the
more hardy not even needing protection. You may find a list of some of
these on our website of previous Vermont hardiness trials
(pss.uvm.edu/ppp/rosedata.htm), as well as in the publication from the
Vermont Extension Master Gardener program (www.uvm.edu/mastergardener),
Landscape Plants for Vermont.
Most roses also are grafted onto a hardier wild rose
“understock.” Where they meet—the graft union-- is the swollen
area you can find at the base of many rose plants. It is often tender
and susceptible to winter injury, so needs protection. Many recommend
to even bury this graft union below the surface when planting, which also
will help prevent undesirable sucker canes arising from the wild rose
Before mulching or mounding roses in mid to late November, finish fall
cleanup. Remove all plant debris and diseased parts. Pruning,
although usually done in spring, may be done now to remove diseased or dead
stems and to make the plant easier to mulch. Even with protection,
canes may have some dieback and need further pruning in the spring.
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