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Roses are plants, too!

Make Sure You Provide A Winter Home For Beneficial Insects

The foliage and flowers of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ will provide a winter home for beneficials.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

As I’ve talked about in previous posts, the rule of thumb for pruning roses in colder climates was to do so in the fall. That thought is changing and most rose folk now recommend doing so in later winter/early spring. If you have forsythia in your area that is the time and if not then 6-8 weeks before your last frost date will work.

That’s one fall garden chore you can postpone till next year.

And here’s another.

Don’t cut back your perennials and grasses either.

Grasses left uncut during the winter are generally considered to be an ideal home for overwintering insects.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

One reason is because you don’t want to accidentally stimulate new growth during an unexpected warm spell during winter. The more important reason is this growth is going to be the winter home for a lot of beneficial insects.

Beneficial insects use rough vegetation to either overwinter themselves or lay eggs to be hatched next spring. Those eggs will hatch before aphids and other pests appear. The adults from this first round of eggs will lay their eggs in time to control the aphids then later on thrips, spider mites etc.

By cutting back all that rough vegetation now you are essentially tossing nature’s army of beneficial insects into the trash and that’s a waste of their talent. This is all part of creating a “host environment” and I cover that more in depth in my book ‘Everyday Roses’ published by Taunton Press.

The leftover flowers of Echinacea provide a winter feast.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

Another reason not to cut back the vegetation is that many of the flower heads contain seeds that birds can overwinter on. It’s the same reason I advise to stop deadheading your roses in early fall so they can set hips. Hips are those “berries” that appear when the flowers fall off naturally. They are a great food source for many animals.

Try to resist the urge to cut back your garden in the fall. I know it’s nice to have it looking tidy during the winter but just think forward to next spring when possibly cutting it back now could result in an aphid infestation later. In my opinion that would be much worse!

Happy Roseing

Rose hips are rich in vitamin c and provide winter food for birds.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

View Comments


  1. KathyL1947 11/17/2014

    Very good Article
    Birds like to eat the seed heads and spread the seeds too..
    I spread my leaves over all my beds for warmth and protection from the COLD Ohio winters and it helps to holds in any moisture (rain or melting snow) for the plants,They adds nutrients and heat to the soil as they compost.
    A lot of plants self-seed you can increase the size and density of the bed, example (Cone flower)
    Any extra leaves, chop with by mower and put onto a compost pile, they can be used on the flower or vegetable gardens in the spring
    Kathy L. . .

  2. RosieBramble 12/31/2014

    Thanks for the info. What is a good time/season to do the pruning?

  3. genalorainne 01/21/2015

    @rosieB if she ever reeds it: it is best the pruning to be done with in late winter(which depends on your location, but I will do a guess and say February).

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