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Rose Garden Care Tips for October, November & December
Remember, these tips and tricks are current for zone 5 and need to be adjusted one week earlier for each 100 miles south of the southern tip of Lake Michigan that you live, and one week later for each 100 miles north.
Tips for October

At this time of the year, your rosebushes should be looking a little shabby. The new blooms will slowly be replaced by spent or plucked blooms and you might even notice a thinning of the leaves as they drop and are not replaced. The leaves are starting to change and some are scattered on the lawn and starting to collect in the flower beds. You may have had a frost or two but unless the frosts were severe the rosebuds are not damaged and will still look good when they bloom. you should be letting your roses set hips by not deadheading or pruning. You can still cut for vases but remember, each time you cut a bloom you are pruning. Any new growth will probably not set a bud or will be frozen back later this fall. Now is the time to enjoy what in my rose garden. This is usually the best bloom of the season. The bushes are at their largest and the cooler nights have allowed the buds to develop into the largest flowers. Remember to continue your spray program right up to the first "hard" frost.

You'll notice the color of the canes darkening as they start to harden off. As you collect the fallen tree leaves run over them with your lawn mower to chop them up to use to cover your roses. If you don't have enough leaves, have your neighbors save theirs for you unless you have mulch, wood shavings or dirt to cover the bud union.

DON'T put any cover ( rose cones) on your bush at this time. You need to wait until the ground freezes hard. You can use a collar of newspaper, 8" wide plastic, screen or tar paper around the base of your bush to hold the material you have used in place to protect the bud union.

DON'T prune your roses back, wait until spring. Keep this thought; "Nature works hard all summer storing food in the animals and plants so they can overwinter and survive till spring. Am I going to cut it off and throw it away? I think not!

Watch for sales on rose cones and, if you buy any, get those with removable lids and throw the lid away or cut the tops out of the others. I'll tell you why next month.

Other than hilling the base ( at least 8" deep) just leave them alone except for spraying. This is prime powdery mildew weather ( warm days and cool (cold) nights.) Keep spraying every week or ten days. The more healthy they are in the fall the greater chance of making it through the winter and coming back strong in the spring.

This is only October and November is the time to strip the leaves and tie the canes. Unless you have a really hard freeze, wait until December to put on the rose cones. The idea is to prevent the freezing and thawing cycle at the bud union, not to keep the ground from freezing.

Now is a good time to prepare your new rose bed for next year. Get a load of manure or lots of leaves, grass clippings, compost and other organics and rototil them into the bed. You needn't do a good job, just get them in the ground so they will compost over the winter and then, in the spring, finish the job.

If you didn't fertilize in September, do it now for a nice greenup in the spring. If needed, use a herbicide containing Trimec, in the middle of October, to kill those stubborn weeds such as creeping charley, wild violets, dandelions, and clover. Avoid getting herbicides in your flowers and shrubs or under your trees. Herbicides are very unselective and don't know the difference between broadleaf weeds and flowers or trees and could cause permanent damage or kill them.

I start hauling horse manure from my favorite stables to put on the beds. By the time I have to cover the bud unions it's aged enough to use for that. I age it on site, in the beds, using it as a mulch. It's use in the beds at this time of the year has not caused me any problems with tender growth later on. It does help with the spring growth though, as it helps the soil. Now is also a good time to watch for sales of discounted fertilizers for use next spring, put down weed killers in the lawn, and get your outdoor projects, that you'll need for this winter, ready. For now though, sit back and enjoy. Take time to "STOP' and smell the roses!

Keep watching for those fall clearance sales on gardening supplies. Sometime you can save tons of money on garden tools, garden hoses and repair parts, pots, trellises, and other supplies.

October is a month that can either make you or break you for winter and next spring. The temptation is to just relax and wait until the work has to be done. If you do that, you'll have to work harder in November and, what has to be done for the winter sometimes doesn't get done due to the weather or other unforeseen happenings. Prepare what you can and think ahead so you won't be swamped with work in November and next spring. If your roses aren't ready for winter you might be looking for replacements next spring and that could be costly.

I know this from experience. Learn from my mistakes.

The fall of 1999 fall was a little different. In my zone 5a we didn't get a hard freeze until after Christmas. Then it hit with a vengeance, two feet of snow and temperatures below freezing.

Many of you are planning your winter protection based on last year's experience. Not a good thing.

We could get a hard freeze and snow before Thanksgiving. Whatever, you need to be prepared for the worse and hope for the best.

It's still too early to cover your roses but not too early to start getting ready. You can tidy up your garden, keep the weeds pulled and continue spraying. This a perfect weather for powdery mildew.

Get the material ready that you are going to use to cover the bud unions. You can even put it in the rose beds near the roses so all you have to do after the ground is frozen is pull it over the bud unions.

I use collars at the base to contain the material. I make them out of newspapers so they are biodegradable. They hold up well all winter and in the spring you can put the out with your recyclables. Work on putting them together. You'll need lots of full size newspapers.

newpaper collars
Place 3 sheets of paper, fully open, on the floor. Get 3 more sheets...

newpaper collars
and lay them so that half of one set overlaps half of the other set . You'll then have a newspaper 3 sections wide. The first will be three sheets thick, second 6 sheets thick, and the third will also be 3 sheets.

newpaper collars
Fold 1/3 of the resulting product over on itself the long way.

newpaper collars
Fold the remaining third back onto itself.

newpaper collars
Staple it at each end and in the middle When you put it around a rosebush you can staple the two ends together.

newpaper collars
You'll have a cylinder about 10 inches deep and as big around as a "Warps Rose Collar" and it's free.

Remember, normally you wait until the ground freezes before you put down your winter protection. If we have a warm, long fall like last year, you might want to cover the bud union before Christmas. By that time the roses have pretty much gone into their winter rest.

If you only have a few bushes you can wait until the forecast calls for a deep freeze. If you have many bushes there's no way you'll be able to get them winterized in one day.

Tips for November

The leaves are falling and some of us have had a light frost already. Outside too. You may be chomping at the bit to get your roses covered and ready for winter but hold off a while. Get your rose collars ready, pile the material you are going to need to fill the collars with next to the rose bush but not over the bud union yet. Spend this time putting up your storm windows or raking the leaves.

Wait until we get a hard freeze. Then run out and cover your roses. That's when you will be glad you made some preparations. That freeze may not come until December.

Why wait?

Putting cover on the rose bush bud unions now will give mice an invitation to build their winter nest at the base of your rose bush. They like that. Their winter snacks are the bark on your rose canes. They'll strip those canes and if they do it all the way back to the bud union you'll have a dead bush in the spring.

If you wait until we have a hard freeze, chances are they'll already have their nests made elsewhere.

You shouldn't cut your roses back in the fall. Think about it, "Mom Nature spent all summer putting those food stores into those rose canes for a reason. Do you really want to cut them off?" The canes die back from the tip down. Each time it freezes a little more will die. If you cut them off, you're stressing the plant and lessening the chance you'll have a healthy plant in the spring. If you really must cut to make your winter yard look neat, only cut down to 3 or 4 feet. It's still not time to cover them but you can continue working to be ready when it is ready.''

Tying the canes together tightly with a soft string or old nylons will prevent them from whipping about in the wind. More roses die from drying out and damage than from the cold. If you use rose cones, cut the tops out and throw the tops away. Let the tied up rose bush stick up through the hole.

The material around the base will protect the bud union. The rose cone will equalize the temperature swings and prevent the soil from the freeze/thaw cycle. Even with the top missing it will do it's job.''

If you build boxes over your beds, you can construct the sides. Leave the tops off until after the ground freezes. The same reason applies for this as for the collars and rose cones. If you've done your homework, your bushes will be hardened off. If not and you have lots of new growth, you'll lose it when it freezes. Don't worry about it. Just make sure that next year you stop fertilizing around the 15th of August in zone 5, or 6 weeks prior to the first expected frost in your zone.

Now is the time to get your new beds ready for next spring. Double dig the bed or rototill it mixing in lots of amendments such as horse manure, compost and perlite to loosen and enrich the soil and make for better water retention and drainage.

If you have grass you have to remove, you may want to put black plastic or thick layers of newspapers over it for the winter. In the spring, the grass and most of the roots will be composted and can then be mixed in with the soil.

You probably have received many new rose catalogs for next year already. Try to resist the temptation to order too many roses for next spring. My resistance is really great. I've only got 38 new roses bushes ordered. Oh well, I guess I should practice what I preach. A good rose grower never buys more than 10 more rosebushes that he has room for.

If you are going to put in a new rosebed next spring, start NOW. Rototill or spade the area in the fall, mixing in lots of organic material including plenty of horse manure, compost, and leaves. These organics will start to break down over the winter to a form that your new plants can use in the spring. This will make also it easier to prepare the bed in the spring. Remember, always plan ahead.

If you haven't fertilized your lawn for the fall yet, do it now. Even though you can't see your grass growing much now, those roots are growing deep. Don't cut your lawn short for the winter. Keep it at the regular height.

You've always got to plan ahead for the next year or season. This will keep it more of an enjoyable hobby than a backbreaking job.

Tips for December

If a rose is healthy and not stressed when it's put to bed for the winter, and then protected properly it will survive until the spring and come back healthy.

Winter care varies with the different climates so local gardeners advice is invaluable. However there are some general guidelines to follow. The further south you live from Zone 5 the less you need to worry about winter protection. Zone six usually can make it by just covering the bud unions with a collar and and filling it with soil or other cover. Boxes or cones can be used if you have a lot of tender roses.

Zone 7 may be able to get by with a hill of soil over the bud union. Zones 8 and up wonder why we have to do anything.

Rose bushes die or die back over the winter from cold drying winds, changes in freezing and thawing and from cold temperatures to the bud union. To protect the bud union mound up soil or a mulch to about one foot high after the first hard frost. Make sure they are watered well. A lack of water will kill as many roses as will the cold and if we have little snow fall we will have little water. Depending on the number of Roses you have, in zones 4 and colder the safest way is to do the "Minnesota Tip". That's digging a trench next to the bush, cutting the roots on the opposite side with a shovel and tipping it over into the trench and burying it.

A number of rose folks in the colder climes have been planting their roses with the bud unions 6 inches deep. Then, the addition of 8 inches of cover over the base for the winter protects them well.

Zone 5 needs to wait until the ground freezes hard. You can use a collar of newspaper, 8" wide plastic, screen or tar paper around the base of your bush to hold the material you are using in place to protect the bud union. DON'T prune your roses back, wait until spring. Keep this thought; "Nature works hard all summer storing food in canes so they can overwinter and survive till spring. Am I going to cut it off and throw it away? I think not!"

  • You can cut them back to 3 feet or so and tie them together so they don't whip in the wind.
  • Cover the bud union with 10 to 12 inches of compost, soil, shredded leaves, wood shavings, pine needles or mulch.

Use that collar to hold the material in place. If you use rose cones, cut the top out of it and throw the top away. Let the canes stick out of the top. Put the cone right over your rose collar full of protection. That's to protect the bud union, the cone is to protect the canes and keep the ground at an even temp to prevent freezing and thawing. Spray Wilt-Pruf or other anti-desiccate on the canes to help prevent them from drying out.

The recommended method for wintering climbers over in the winter in zone 5, "if you want to protect the canes and have nice long ones in the spring", is to dig a grave next to the bush, cut the roots on one side out about 10" from the base, tilt the whole thing over in the grave and bury it under a foot of soil. You can also lay the long canes on the ground, stake them down, and cover them with at least a foot of whatever you used on the bases of your bushes. Get it all ready and wait until the ground freezes before you cover it to avoid mice and such which will make a winter meal of your canes if you cover them while it's still warm and before the mice have their winter homes all set.

If you don't care about dieback and the length of the canes next spring, then just cover the base of the bush with a foot or more of soil, mulch, shredded leaves or what have you. It will protect the important part and your bush should send up good strong growth in the spring. It all depends on where you want to start next year and how cold and snowy it gets this winter.

I go to the extreme with roses in beds that will take to building boxes over them. I use 1 & 1/2" extruded styrofoam panels 2'wide by 8' long for sidewalls. 1x2s are used as stakes inside and out to hold them upright. A bed 4' wide by 75' long will be covered with a box 2' high, 4' wide and 75' long. Every 2 feet a 1x2-4'long will be placed to support the cover which is also a 4x8 sheet of the same styrofoam. I notch for the 1x2s so the covers are flush with the sides. The covers are held down with twine stretched across the tops from side to side and tied to the supporting stakes. My 2 foot wide beds are covered the same way. I then fill the boxes to the top with shredded oak leaves. The sides are built in November, but the leaves and covers are not put on until the ground freezes. A series of 2 inch holes are cut in the covers about 2 feet apart to allow water and snow melt to enter and prevent the bushes from drying out. I've used this method for 8 years now with good success. Storage of the styrofoam is a problem during the summer, which accounts for the 2nd story on my garage. The leaves are left on the ground in the spring and used for mulch. By the end of May they have decomposed down to 4 inches deep.

Another method is to build a 2 foot high fence around a bed with chicken wire and then fill it up with shredded oak leaves to the top. This will also work but those bushes under the boxes have less dieback. Do your pruning in the spring. Then you can cut away the dieback. By not pruning severely in the fall you will have more and longer green canes in the spring. Remember, you can always cut it off. Once it's cut, it's gone. It works for me.

My winters will sometimes get to brief periods of 20 to 30 below. Sometimes lots of snowcover, other times none at all. You have to be ready for the worst and hope for the best.

After reading all of this, remember, you'll reap the rewards of your labor in the spring based on the work you put into your garden in the fall. Those with Old Garden Roses which are generally hardy will probably not have to do anything. Some other roses are also winter hardy. Usually a person finds out when a bush comes up in the spring following a hard winter with no winter protection. Using the hit and miss method it's possible to have a rose garden which requires no winter protection. You just replace those that die. If I only had 10 bushes, I'd not worry. 100, 200, or more if lost can be quite expensive.

Good Luck and Happy Holidays!

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