A Newsletter for our Rose-Loving Community

Edition #4 November 30, 2015

It's That Time of Year!

Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday was always the appointed time to “put the gardens to bed” for winter. This was a tradition in my family for at least 5 generations and I certainly passed it on (whether or not it will ever be used) to my brood. Growing -up in the mid-Atlantic area, this task was performed after the first heavy frosts and before the “rains of November.” On a brisk autumn morning fortified with several cups of coffee or tea, the dash was on to clean-up the gardens, re-mulch where needed and prepare for the winter blast before the ground became too soggy to work. 

Although zones apart from where I grew up, in central California, we thankfully have a similar scenario this year in that it appears El Nino may not disappoint and we will have snow in the mountains and rain in the Valley. After the ravages of several years of drought, soggy sounds fun.  

So whether you are tending vegetables or roses, grapes or succulents, it is that time of year to prep plants for the changes winter brings.

Generally speaking, any garden check list should look like this:

  • Prune bush roses back hard -- 8” maximum canes
  • Prune climbers for shape removing weak branches and tying up those for trellising
  • Check for spider mites and insect pests for treatment, if necessary.
  • Rake and Remove all debris, weeds, old mulch
  • Add organic matter where needed
  • Winterize your garden
  • Maintain garden tools
  • Winterize water outlets/spigots and hoses

For most of the US, this is the critical, primary cut-back for the rose. To keep your rose bush (not climber), producing branching and growing healthier, chunkier canes, cut back to about 8” above the graft union or the ground. Climber canes should be evaluated – weak canes removed, larger canes tied up along the trellis and all trimmed back to an outside training bud that will eventually make a branch next season.

Rake & Remove

The next step removes all the trash from your garden. This is extremely necessary in keeping your rose garden, any garden, free of over-wintering pests, weeds, etc. Rake away all leaves, old mulch, pull weeds from the roots and move all plant parts to a burn pile, if you are permitted,  or a green waste removal in your community. Fungal diseases like black spot over-winter in plant debris. If you are winterizing a vegetable/fruit garden, there is still time to plant a cover crop, i.e. wheat.

Add Organic Matter

If you have been fertilizing all growing season you should be able to get by with the addition of a low fertility organic soil amendment like compost.  Work this gently into the topsoil and then add a high quality hardwood or pine mulch around established plants. 


Winterize & Mulch








In zones 7 through 3, mulch roses as deeply as you can. Even in California, I have seen new plantings where the canes look like brown mounds or buried teepees. Mulch retains moisture, therefore the addition of the mulch piled deeply to the top of the 6”- 8” canes prevents the desiccating winter winds from freezing your plants. In California, this is done for sun protection and moisture retention due to intense sunlight. In the higher zones, i.e.7 through 9, pine straw is a garden mulch favorite for winterizing the garden. Regardless, the mulching retains moisture and keeps the canes protected from winter blasts. Mulch is a must.

Clean and Oil Tools:  After the outdoor project is complete, the pruning shears, loppers, even spade should be examined and cleaned for the winter. Shear blades may need replacing, and I always lightly oil all outdoor tools before hanging them up for the season.

Winterize Water Outlets/Spigots:  In the climates of snow, ice and frozen pipes, now is the time to drain the lines from the hoses and pack them away as well as draining the water outlet and in many cases wrap in bubble wrap or one of those innovative insulated faucet covers found at the local hardware store.
I have also asked a few of my most knowledgeable rosarians to contribute to this newsletter to give different zonal comments on this annual ritual.  And, by the way, when the job is finished, celebrate with another cup of coffee, tea, and something wickedly sweet.

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