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Friday, December 8, 2023
Growing Together: Caring for your roses in the fall
Raindrops on roses (but no whiskers or kittens). JOANNE YOUNG.

The beautiful, classic rose has captivated people’s attention for centuries. From inspiring countless poets, composers, songwriters and artists to just being adored by many gardeners and non-gardeners alike, the rose is one of the most loved flowers of all time.  

As beautiful and admired as rose flowers are, pruning roses seems to be one of those many mysteries of gardening.

If you have roses, you probably know that they do require some maintenance to keep them growing healthy, but what does that actually look like?

There are always differing opinions on this subject, but here is what makes the most sense to me when it comes to caring for your roses in the fall.

I know that there are people who always prune their roses down short in the fall.

I also know that there are some of you that will disagree with what I am about to say, but there are several reasons why I do not recommend that you do any pruning on your roses before winter.  

If you have grown roses yourself, you will know that roses have trouble going dormant in the late fall and winter.

Depending on the temperatures, you will often see them still blooming and still having green leaves into December.

During the summer months, we want to keep deadheading spent blooms to encourage the plant to keep producing flowers throughout the season.

As fall sets in though, we want to stop encouraging the plants from producing new growth and blooming.

Any new growth produced into the fall may not have enough time to harden off properly before the freezing temperatures, which will cause damage.

Because of this, you should always let the last flowers of the fall remain on the plant. This signals to the rose bush that it is time for them to go dormant for the winter.  

A plant’s job or purpose is to produce seed so that it can reproduce itself.

By removing a plant’s flower, you are also removing its seed. A plant knows that its seed has been taken and will produce more flowers to produce more seed.

This is good to know earlier in the summer with not only your roses but also with any flowering plant to keep them performing.

Come fall, we want the rose to go into dormancy to protect itself from cold temperatures, so we need to stop pruning them.

Do not prune roses at this time unless canes are so tall that they will be damaged in the winter.

The best time to prune your roses is the late dormant period, in early spring, just as the leaf buds are starting to swell.

A good indicator of the proper pruning time is when the forsythia plants come into bloom.

Another frequently asked question is whether you need to hill up your roses for the winter.

Hilling up your roses is a process where the graft area of the rose plant with soil or mulch. With roses, the graft is usually just planted above the soil are.

The graft area of the rose is the most sensitive part of the plant, so by mounding soil or mulch over the graft area it protects the rose even further.

Over the years, I have not noticed that hilling has improved the success rate of overwintering the roses.

Where people go wrong with the hilling process is that they hill up their roses way too early in the season.

When hilling the graft area, you want the plant to be in a dormant stage first.

If you hill up the roses before they are dormant, you are keeping them from going dormant, which is not what you want to happen.

If you prevent them from going dormant and we get a warm spell in February, you will find that their buds will start to swell and begin to grow.

Then we get a cold spell in March and that new growth gets damaged by the low temperatures causing the canes to die back.

So, the most loving thing that you can do for your roses at this time of year is just to leave them be.

Just take time to smell the flowers!

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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