University of Vermont Extension
OH 4

Winter Protection of Roses

By Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

Hybrid roses so frequently fail to survive winters in Vermont that many gardeners have given up on them. Experience of others has shown that at least limited success is possible. These notes are written for the still-hopeful rose gardener and are not intended as foolproof instructions on how to bring roses through the coming winter.

Rose plants can be killed or injured during winter in any of several different ways:

What can the gardener do to prevent such injury?
  1. Choose Hardy Varieties

    Injury from extreme cold can be avoided only by selecting the hardiest varieties available. Unfortunately, most hybrid roses have not been thoroughly evaluated for winter hardiness, so Vermont rose gardeners must be willing to experiment for themselves or rely on the experiences of other rose growers in their area. Generally, polyanthus, floribundas, hybrid perpetuals, shrubs roses, and many of the "old-fashioned" roses prove more winter hardy than the hybrid teas and grandifloras.

  2. Provide Winter Protection

    Many gardeners have found that mounding mulch around individual bushes is the most practical way to overwinter roses in this climate.

    Erect a frame around the rose bush to hold the mulch in place. Chicken wire, roofing paper, or any other sturdy material can be used. Fill the frame to at least 12 inches deep with a loose, porous mulch such as light soil, peat moss, vermiculite, or straw. Too often a dense soil mound cuts off oxygen supply to the roots and crown, smothering the plants. Oak or beech leaves can also be used, but leaves that tend to mat down when wet--such as maple, willow, and poplar--should be avoided as these, too, can smother plants. The top of the frame can be covered with opaque (not clear) plastic or burlap to keep the mulch from blowing away if necessary. Canes of bush roses can be cut back to 18 inches in late fall to facilitate mulching. In early May, before new growth begins, this deep mulch should be removed. The surest method for overwintering roses is to dig the plants in mid-November and bury them in a trench covered with soil. This should be done in a place where water won't stand in the soil during winter. This treatment is especially useful for tree roses whose height makes covering the upright plants difficult or impractical. Uncover the plants and replant them in early May just before growth would normally start.

    Climbing roses can be protected by removing the canes from their supports and laying them on the ground. Use a wire hoop to hold them to the ground. Lay a piece of burlap over the canes to protect them during the spring uncovering operation, then mound soil over the canes. Uncover the canes in early May and fasten to support.

  3. But Don't Mulch Too Early in the Fall!

    Winter protection should be applied in late November. If protection is applied too early in the fall, it interferes with the natural development of winter hardiness in the plant. Roses that are covered before mid-November may be more susceptible to winter injury than ones left unprotected.

    Before mulching or mounding, the fall cleanup should be completed, removing all plant debris and diseased parts. Even with these treatments, tip dieback can be expected. This is not usually serious, as the canes should be pruned back at least to 12 inches next spring and the injured tips removed at that time.

Edited in November 1997, based on material from 1987.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Lawrence K. Forcier, Director, University of Vermont Extension, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status.

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Last reviewed April 24, 1998.