As I sit at my desk looking out my window, I’m just beginning to see signs the trees are about to start their fall fireworks display. We live in the country surrounded by maples, oaks, sweet gums and all kinds of trees that simply light up the area before shedding their Technicolor dreamcoat for the winter. So, let’s take a moment to talk about some simple fall things you should, or should not, be doing for your roses.
First let’s stop the deadheading. I wrote about this in a post last fall but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. Deadheading encourages new blooms and new growth and we don’t want that this time of year. For more details please read my post from last year but I want to reiterate this.
Secondly, get in there and trim out dead wood – if you have any. Leaving it will just stress the plant and is also a way for bugs and all kinds of things to get into the rose. The rules about trimming spurring new growth doesn’t apply to dead wood so don’t worry that. Just trim it off and if the bush needs more shaping that can be done later – when you do your later winter prune.
Third, outside of dead wood don’t trim anything else yet. I’m sure you are like me and have some tall canes whipping around. While there is the temptation to cut them down I’d advise you hold off a bit. Wait for a few hard frosts and then trim. At that point the roses will be shutting down and doing some light trimming will not spur new growth. Trimming those long canes back in early winter is a good idea because it will help prevent the winds from snapping them off. Again, you will do the majority of the shaping later on during pruning, but after a few frosts feel free to trim down a bit.
Fourth, stop fertilizing!!! I can’t say this loud enough. Fertilizing will push new growth and for the reasons we’ve talked about we don’t want that happening right now. Let nature runs its course so the roses shut down for the winter on their own.
Irrigate. I know this seems odd but if you’ve been having a dry spell it won’t hurt to get some water to the roses right about now. We want them to enter the winter as healthy as possible. Roses get through winter by living off stored starches they developed during the growing season. If they are stressed from lack of water they can’t store up as much and this lessens their chance of getting through a long cold winter. If you have soaker hoses those are always good, but if not try to get a hose on them and give them a couple of gallons of water each.
Lastly check your mulch levels. If it is thin apply more. Mulch is great insulation for the root zone during cold nights and making sure you have a good thick layer will help your roses come back should the tops die back.
That’s it really. Nothing fancy and likely nothing you wouldn’t do for your other plants. But a little work now before Jack Frost comes nipping at your rose buds will really help your roses emerge into glorious show next spring.