Fall rose care aims to keep the plants from breaking dormancy during any temporary warm spells that may occur over the winter. If roses resume growth during warm spells, the return of cold weather may damage that growth and jeopardize next year’s flowering. Follow these steps to prepare roses for winter:
o Stop deadheading in early or mid-autumn. Pull the petals off remaining flowers and let hips develop. This signals the plant to start reserving its energy for winter.
o Don’t cut back the canes (stems)! When tree leaves begin to change color, wind the rose canes together with twine. This will keep them from breaking under winter’s wind and snow. Use an 8-foot-long strand, start at the bottom of the plant and wind upward.
o When the ground is cold enough to stand on without making a footprint and the forecast shows cold weather ahead, pile soil over the base of the plant.
o After the ground freezes completely, pile salt marsh hay on top of the layer of soil. This locks sunlight from tawing the soil and making the plant break dormancy too early. This layer is crucial in winters without snow.
Bonus tip: Wait until the last possible day to cover the plants with soil and (later) with hay. In fall, mice, voles and moles are looking for a warm place to spend the winter. If you cover your roses bushes too soon, they will burrow in and chew the canes all winter. Waiting until the ground starts to freeze forces the animals to find other winter quarters.