There is always a lot of work in the garden during the fall season. Many plants need to be pruned, borders need to be cleaned up and pots need to be washed. Your roses also need special care at this time of year. If your shrubs have been healthy and producing roses this spring and summer, you only need to help them along to prepare them for the winter season.
Many people are uncertain about how and when to prune healthy plants, however you shouldn’t be fearful of pruning your roses now. Pruning your roses now can help start them off stronger in the spring. Begin by pruning any overgrowth of your climbing roses and then tie the central canes to structures to prevent breakage in the winter winds. Prune any crossed or very thin canes from your other rose bushes, since these can whip against each other, causing damaging wounds. Top off or cut back your taller hybrid teas, grandiflora, floribunda and shrub roses to about four feet, as this will reduce wind injury to branches and rocking of the plant which damages the root system.
My friend Lorraine, a member of the Long Island Rose Society who lives in Suffolk County, has said that she always prunes her roses down to 1 foot (except the climbers which she leaves at 6 or more feet depending on the cultivar) to protect them from the winter winds. Since she wins exhibitions with this behavior, I assume it works well for her but I prune to a height of 3 or 4 feet for most of my roses, which always creates healthy plants in my garden.
Rake away any leaves and remove weeds from around the base of your roses. Destroy the leaves as these may spread disease in the spring if they are allowed to overwinter on the ground. Good garden hygiene now will help strengthen your roses in the spring.
If you plan to mound mulch or compost around the base of your roses, do so after the ground is frozen. This last step is called “hilling” your roses and it is the best method you can use to protect your roses from winter damage but must be done after the ground is frozen hard. Be sure to use new, clean soil or compost brought in previously for this purpose.
Some rosarians recommend a mushroom compost if it is available, as it is good protection and acts as a rich soil amendment in the upcoming spring. Whatever compost you use, mound it about 6 inches above the bud union or graft and spread it out about 12 inches around the base. Remember once the weather starts to warm up in the spring, you will need to pull the compost away from the base of the bush in order to avoid encouraging insects and disease.
Now is also a good time to check the pH where you have planted your roses. If you need to add lime, fall is a good time to put some down since it takes awhile for it to absorb into the soil. Remember that roses like a 6.0-6.5 pH and that the pH will affect the absorption of minerals by the plants.
These actions should help prepare your roses for a safe winter and a healthy spring filled with beautiful, healthy roses.
Josephine Borut is currently on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Horticultural Society. She is a member of The American Rose Society, The Herb Society of America and The American Horticultural Society.