Winter rose care tips

<p><i>Article by Sarah &ldquo;The Gardener&rdquo; O&rsquo;Neil, from our garden care partners, Gardena &amp; Yates.</i></p><p>There is something special about roses with their showy blooms, that have made them popular in gardens throughout the ages.</p>

They come in a vast array of colours and growth habits and can flower abundantly and ramble across an arch to suit a cottage garden style or can be more refrained as a standard hybrid tea rose that makes each bloom an elegant feature in a more formal garden. There is a rose for everyone.

Although summer is the season for enjoying the delightful rose blooms, winter is when much of the care and maintenance is required for healthy plants and prolific flowering.


Planting Roses

Winter is when you will find bare root rose plants in abundance. They don’t look like much, a few thorny sticks with the roots bundled in a bag, often grafted onto healthy vigorous rootstock. As dormant plants now is the best time to plant roses.

  • Pre-prepare a sunny position with good drainage. Enrich with plenty of organic material such as compost or well-rotted manure. If your soil is a heavy clay add some gypsum to improve aeration or create a raised bed 15 – 20cm high.
  • Choose plants with plump stems and roots that look alive and fresh with a bright colour and not dull, shrivelled or dead looking.
  • Before planting, dig a hole about 30cm deep and fill with water and allow the water to drain away.
  • Remove the plant from the packaging and prune off any damaged stems and roots. Soak in a seaweed tonic to hydrate the roots, promote healthy root growth and remove the packing materials.
  • Make a small mound in the hole and position the roots on the mound and backfill the soil so the graft union is about 5cm above the soil surface.
  • Water well to remove air pockets and add an organic mulch layer but avoid putting the mulch up around the stem.
  • Once shoots begin to appear, feed regularly with a good quality rose feed.

Maintaining roses

While the plants are dormant, it is a good time to tend to tasks that will ensure healthy plants, help reduce the risk of pests and disease and encourage a magnificent display of flowers.

To prune a rose:

Pruning can seem daunting; however, it is difficult to kill a rosebush through pruning, and it will result in a healthier plant with and abundance of beautiful blooms when the warm weather comes.

  • Always use clean, sharp secateurs, and sanitise between plants to avoid spreading disease.
  • Start by removing the dead, diseased and broken branches at the base of the stem. Then remove any that are crossing or spindly, also at the base. Remove any shoots from below the graft.
  • If it is an old plant you can also remove old wood at the base. Large cuts can be sealed with a pruning paste that stretches as the plant grows, to prevent disease entering the wound.
  • Trim the remaining stems down by a third, just above a bud on the outside of the stem, making the cut on an angle that faces outward.
  • Stand back and look at the plant to make sure it looks balanced, has an open structure to encourage good airflow and allow the sun to reach into the centre of the plant when in full leaf. Make a few more cuts if necessary.
  • Remove all trimmings and leaf debris from around the base of the plant and apply a thick layer of mulch around the base, taking care to avoid contact with the stem.

There are always exceptions, and some roses can be pruned a little harder and others require more care and attention so always check your rose’s preferences before making any cuts.

Spraying roses:

Roses are notorious for their pest and disease vulnerability and a winter spray can help control and prevent diseases that can impact the health of the plants and quality of the blooms.

  • A good quality copper-based fungicide can control a wide range of fungal and bacterial diseases, such as black spot, downy mildew, leaf spots and fire blight and is ideal for spraying during the dormant period.
  • To control pests and break their life cycle, a spray with a broad spectrum insecticide (look for one that also controls mites) applied in the winter can take care of a well range of existing and potential problems - well into the spring and summer. The most common insect pests to bother roses are aphids, thrips, caterpillars, budworm, whitefly, and mites.
  • When spraying, always follow the directions on the label and wear the appropriate safety equipment. When spraying insecticides avoid spraying while bees and beneficial insects are about, so ideally early morning or dusk.

Feeding roses:

While dormant plants do not have an immediate need for readily accessible plant food, it is beneficial to add a slow-release fertiliser to the soil whilst you’re planting – that is tailored specifically to roses and flowers. That way, roses can access what they need for healthy leaves and flowers once the weather warms up. If planting your rose in a pot look for a slow-release fertiliser that is recommended for use in pots, so delicate roots aren’t burnt.