Now's the time of year to concoct a rosy plan
Though it may seem a bit late in the season to pay attention to your roses, now is a critical time for them. Without adequate protection, some types of roses will not survive the winter, while others will simply not perform their best next growing season. Improper pruning this late in the season also can lead to increased winter damage and decreased vigor. So, while your roses might not be priority No. 1 this month, here are some ideas for keeping them happy and healthy for many years to come.
First and foremost, know that different types of roses require different types of winter maintenance. Newer rose selections, like those in the Flowering Carpet and Knock Out series, are touted as easy-care and require little maintenance this time of year. In fact, you are better off completely ignoring these roses each fall and waiting to prune them until next spring. They often have less winter die-back if left alone in the autumn. The most care they'll need is a covering of deer netting, if Bambi is an issue in your neighborhood.
English roses, such as some of those in the David Austin series, require minimal winter care, though some selections are more tender than others. To cover your bases, provide these types of roses with a bit of extra winter protection, but there is no need to go overboard. If you'd like, you can place a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch around their root zone and snug up against their stem. Be sure to remove the mulch in late March when you prune them back to 3 feet in height. I know a few folks who wrap their English roses, especially climbers, in landscape fabric to keep them warm and snug through the winter. I don't think this is a necessary step unless it is a more winter-tender variety, but it also isn't likely to hurt them.
The fussiest of all roses, the hybrid teas, require the most winter protection. All grafted roses, including hybrid teas, must have the graft union adequately protected from freezing temperatures or you risk losing them. If you are unsure if your rose is grafted, follow the plant from the soil level upward and look for a large, swollen knob on the trunk a few inches above the ground. If one exists, this is probably the graft union (the point where the root system was joined to a separate shoot system). To protect grafted roses for the winter, mound shredded leaves, peat moss, or shredded bark up and over the graft node. You may need to surround the plant with a ring of chicken wire to contain the mulch. Remove the mulch in late March and prune the plants back to 1 to 2 feet in height.
Come spring, all roses should be fertilized every four to six weeks with an organic granular fertilizer formulated specifically for roses (I use RoseTone from Espoma). At that time, you'll also want to prune out any canes blackened by winter kill.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.