You may find yourself busy with roses while they’re blooming, but there’s plenty of other work to be done when winter comes. Just as you get flowers with your cuts, you can manage healthy roses with your colder weather work.
It’s best to keep on top of rose pruning through spring and summer, but this changes to other tasks as the days get shorter, the nights get colder and the leaves are falling.
For autumn, roses should be left unpruned. Leaving the buds to wither and rot may not be too attractive, but the roses will tell their roots to prepare for winter. This process, known as letting the roses “harden off,” also alerts the rose to stop blooming and conserve energy for the long winter.
While you leave the blooms, roses may require some wind pruning during the fall. Just cut the rose at about waist level. You don’t really need to worry about cutting at a node, etc. You’re just cutting it to prevent the rose from getting blown so hard in the wind.
Next comes winter, and roses will need a little more care from you to make it through in good health. The first step is to mulch the roses. This consists of finding good mulch—bark dust or garden compost in most cases—and spreading it around the base of your roses.
Use a shovel and throw a few scoops around the base of each rose. It doesn’t have to cover the entire plant, but the base should be well insulated. You may want to put some tough gloves on and pat the mulch down. The point is to protect the base and root of the rose from the cold.
That should keep your roses as happy as can be during the winter months. If you do experience damage or burns from wind, ice or extreme cold, don’t cut the problem parts of the plant. Unfortunately, you’ll need to leave the plant alone and hope for the best. Most plants will pour on new growth when it’s time, but they need their parts—damaged or not—until the new stuff grows.
As soon as winter is finished and the days are getting longer and warmer, you should remove the mulch. You can usually just pull it from the base of the roses and spread it in your beds. The stuff will be full of nutrients and a turn will do it some good. You must be sure to get the fist-shaped base of the roses uncovered. Leaving them covered with mulch could cause suffocation and rot when spring has sprung.
This is also a good time to “spring prune” your roses. Pick the best stalks and cut them at about knee-level. You should reduce the plant to only four or five of these stalks. The rose, at this point, will look like a hand turned palm up with fingers pointing up. As with all rose pruning, you should encourage outward growth, rather than dense, inward branches.