Maximizing winter hardiness

A lovely prize of a rosebush really may need and deserve a little tender, loving care heading into winter. You can take your protection cues from experienced gardeners in your neighborhood — ask them what they do and when, as well as what they use. Here's some general advice that should do the trick for most iffy rosebushes in most areas:

i Give the plant a good soaking in late fall before the ground really freezes so it heads into winter well-hydrated.

i Stop deadheading. Consider leaving the rose hips on in late fall to induce dormancy (and feed wild birds).

i Remove all dead leaves in late fall. Removing the leaves gets rid of disease spores that may be on the leaves; otherwise, these spores can overwinter and start a new disease outbreak the following year.

i Mulch the plant. Wait until the ground has frozen, and then gather 2 to 4 inches of shredded leaves, compost, or dirt and mound it up over the base of the plant.

If your winters are really harsh, you can pile it higher or even wrap a cylinder of chicken wire around the entire plant and dump in soil, which is one of the best insulating materials. You may even want to tie the canes together to help prevent wind damage. Tying the canes together also makes them more compact and easier to protect with mounded soil. Don't uncover the plant until you're sure spring has truly arrived, and then, do so gradually. Scoop off or hose off the mulch over a period of several days or a week.

For a grafted plant, keep soil or mulch mounded over the graft union to protect it. In colder climates (Zone 6 and lower), you should've buried the bud union a few inches under the soil when you first planted the rose.

Many tea roses are grafted to rootstocks that are tenderer than those of some other roses. This sometimes makes them vulnerable to winter kill, so winter protection is especially important for grafted teas, especially in climates in Zone 6 or lower.

Avoid those styrofoam rose cones for winter protection; they can heat the plants too much during January thaw and other unexpected rises in temperature.

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