How I Prepare My Roses for Winter

Reine Victoria ice covered rosehips

I’ve been asked a few times how to prepare roses for winter and so I finally sat down this morning and wrote these general rules of thumb. I just want to stress that I am a gardener who grows roses in a colder climate, so if you live in the warmer climes, your preparation is probably going to be different and I’d love to hear about them. I hope these reminders are helpful to you and as always I welcome your comments!

PS: if only it were as easy as putting a winter scarf and hat on our roses, eh?


Preparing roses for winter starts as early as the spring by choosing the correct kind of rose for your growing conditions. I garden in an area where winters can get below freezing for extended periods of time so I try to choose roses which are winter hardy to as low as zones 3-4. That just saves a lot of trouble when it comes time to prepare for winter. (However, many of my roses are in containers so they will require a little extra protection. See below.) If you are growing grafted roses (not on their own roots) and you live in a cold winter region, I recommend planting that bud union a few inches below the soil line.

Stop fertilizing and deadheading roses in late sumer to tell the rose, “Hey it’s time to start going into dormancy.” Otherwise, your rose will continue to put out tender new growth which will certainly be killed off once winter arrives.

Clean up and discard diseased debris such as leaves that are afflicted with blackspot or powdery mildew. Actually, you should be doing this during the growing season (and by discard I mean throw out or burn–do not place in your compost bin.) But as winter approaches, chances are your roses are dropping their leaves and it’s best to carefully rake them away from your roses and get rid of them so you’re not harboring any plant diseases over winter.

Check roses for any pests and this is especially important if you are bring your potted roses into your garage as I will be this winter. Don’t forget to check the underside of the leaves where they might be hanging out.

Know your climate pockets I’m sure you’ve noticed that some areas of your garden are more protected from buffeting winds and soak up more sunshine than others. For example, we have several climbing roses growing against the south portion of our house which significantly increases their protection from temperature extremes and harsh winds and the heat from the sun reflects back on the roses all winter long. They are snug as a bug in a small “climate pocket” in our garden. These roses, such as ‘Blaze’, ‘Eden Climber’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Pink Supreme Flower Carpet’ and ‘Piñata’ do not require any additional winter protection other than a pile of mulched leaves around their base.

I do not prune my roses in fall preferring to wait until late winter/early spring. There are several reasons for this: First and foremost, pruning roses stimulates new growth which weakens the rose going into winter. Also, I like to shape my roses in spring after I’ve seen where the strongest new growth is emerging and removing any dead or non-productive canes. Additionally, many of my roses are once-blooming (Old Garden roses typically bloom once in late spring-early summer), and if they like to be pruned at all, and most don’t, it should be done immediately after flowering as they bloom on the previous year’s growth. And last, I grow a lot of climbers which in my opinion, really shouldn’t be pruned at all unless absolutely necessary, so in spring/summer I take a look at their shape the direction in which I would like them to grow and make my cuts then.

Climbing roses may need to have their canes carefully removed from their supports and then pegged to the ground using stakes or “earth staples” if you are concerned about their canes being buffeted by cold winds. Pile up soil, compost and/or mulched leaves on top to make a protective mound, but wait until your rose is in complete dormancy before doing this or you may damage the rose. (After a few hard frosts you should be safe to do this.)

Loosely bundle and tie the canes on shrub-like roses, such as floribundas, hybrid teas, grandifloras, English roses, etc. to keep them from whipping around and then…

Pile up the base of shrub-like roses with soil, compost and/or mulched leaves. Conversely, you can…

Build a “sleeping bag” around your roses with chicken wire and backfill with mulched leaves.

Rose cones? Not my cup of tea. Here’s why: In order to use them effectively, the rose must be pruned down to the size and shape of the cone so that it fits completely within the cone. And you know my thoughts on pruning–see above. However, that’s just my own opinion and hey, they may work for you and that’s fantastic! Just make sure you pile soil around the base of the cone after fitting it to your rose to hold it in place.

Container roses may need to be brought indoors and by indoors I mean an area of your home which is unheated but protected from severe temperature changes and winds. I will be bringing close to 25 roses into our garage this winter. Yes, my husband is not pleased, haha, but fortunately they’re still pretty small. (Not sure what I will do next winter but I guess we’ll cross that bridge…) Roses that are grown in containers are more sensitive to temperature changes and dehydration. As a pretty good rule of thumb, your container roses should get a buffer of 2 additional zones to what they’re listed as being hardy to. So for example, a rose that is “hardy to zone 5” is really hardy to zone 7 when it’s planted in a container. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but something to keep in mind when preparing container roses for winter. Before moving your container roses indoors, make sure that you’ve done the steps above removing diseased leaves and checking for pests.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I like to give my container roses a good watering prior to bringing them into the garage and then throughout the winter I pop in to check on them from time to time to make sure the soil doesn’t completely dry out. Also something to keep in mind, your container roses, kept indoors, will start breaking dormancy before your outdoor roses. It’s important to watch for any hard frosts that may kill their tender new growth if you decide to bring them out into the sunshine in the spring. You may have to move them back into the garage (like I did here) in the evenings and/or if the temps dip back into freezing.

Spread a layer of compost or mulched leaves on your rose beds this fall whether they need that additional protection or not because that additional layer of organic material will have all winter to work it’s way into the soil and enrich it for next spring. Fall is a great time to compost!

What am I forgetting? Any gardeners out there who have some tips they’d like to share?  

16 thoughts on “How I Prepare My Roses for Winter

  1. Finally! Finally I’ve found a website that a novice came make sense of when growing roses in cold climates! I live in Canada and a novice to growing roses. I’ve managed to acquire some cold weather David Austin roses and can happily say they performed splendidly this summer. I’ll follow your advice and cross my fingers. =D
    Thank you

    1. Yay! So glad this was helpful to you, Judi! 🙂 Have you tried growing ‘William Baffin’? It was bred for those cold, Canada winters. I wrote a post about that rose here if you’re interested. Good luck!

  2. Question: I planted 2 rose bushes and a petunia plant in a flower bed then covered with wood chips this summer (my first planting experience). All have bloomed beautifully and are still blooming now – almost mid-October and live in Western Wisconsin. Can I just add more wood chips or do you recommend the soil and sleeping bad method you mentioned above for the roses?

    1. Hi Jeanette, thank you for your visit!

      Your roses may be just fine without any winter protection at all depending on what climate zone they are hardy to. You can look them up by visiting this link HERE to find out how well they survive winter with/without protection. Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the good information !!
    I would like to know that when you bring your roses in to the garage,do they need natural light or can they be kept in the dark ?..

    1. Hi Marsha, thanks for stopping!

      I’m not sure how others like to do this, but we keep ours in a garage that receives natural light and I think that helps the roses come out of dormancy in late winter/early spring as the days get longer and the temps increase. Hope this helps!

  4. Thank you for the good info! This will be my first winter with container roses. I live in zone 6b. Could you please tell me when I should bring my roses into the garage? I’ve read elsewhere that you should wait until after a couple of freezes so the roses will go dormant, then put them inside until Spring. However, I don’t want to lose any of my roses during those first two frosts. Should I move them all inside before the first frost or afterward? I just want to give my precious roses their best chance at surviving the winter.

    1. Hi Lesley! Every year I would watch the weather and wait until it started to consistently dip into the low 30’s and then I would bring them in. This was usually sometime in late November/Early December if I remember correctly. There were times, however, when I had to do a quick “get them into the garage!” when we got a freak snowstorm, which once happened as early as October, if you can believe it. I started paring down my container roses when it got to be a bit ridiculous, all that coming and going (I had 60+ at one point so that was a little much.) I hope this answers your question!

  5. Could I bring my potted roses into my sprinhouse during winter? There are three windows or is a garage a better idea?

    1. Hi Erinn! I’m not sure what a springhouse is….but in my experience, it’s best to bring them into a location that isn’t heated. Does that answer your question? Essentially, you don’t want them exposed to those super cold temperatures and icy winds of winter. Placing them in a warm/heated location will make them think it’s time to come out of dormancy, and you don’t want that (unless you have a heated greenhouse which is a whole other topic!) Let me know if there is anything else I can answer for you!

  6. I put compost over my rose base last winter and I got a bit confused as to the planting depth this spring when I uncovered them. Mostly because it was super soggy but time to uncover. Would it be an idea to put a sheet of newspaper flat on the ground around the base before adding compost so you can see where you are at?

    I am in zone 6. Is there a rule as to how high to plant root graft? I was told if cold area bury graft Union if warm climate raise it up.

    1. Hi Kelly, that’s a really good question. Most gardeners agree that roses that are grafted should have the bud union planted a few inches below soil level if you live in a climate with cold winters, for example, zones 6 and under. The idea is that that extra layer of insulation around the graft will protect it from the cold and prevent it from dying (allowing the rootstock rose to take over.) If you live in a warmer climate, the bud union can be at or just above soil level. That being said, I personally have never been too persnickety about these measurements. I think the main thing you want to watch is that soil/compost/mulch doesn’t smother the canes too much, causing moisture to build up which might lead to rot. Does that help?

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