Here in the upstate of South Carolinas fall is in the air. The dogwood and sweet gum trees are leading the parade of fall colors, berries are starting to appear on the hollies and the squirrels are making their fall push to collect as many acorns as they can to store for winter.
This also means the roses are slowing down to get ready for their winter nap. This is a good thing, as that gives them a chance to rest and get ready for next spring’s big show. While we have discussed stopping fertilizers to help them go to sleep there is another thing you can do.
First of all, what is deadheading? Deadheading is the act of cutting off old blooms to encourage new ones. While roses will certainly bloom again if you don’t deadhead, it is true they will rebloom quicker if you do. I generally just snap the the old blooms off when they are finished or do a bit of grooming and re-shape the bush when I’m deadheading.
The second thing to know is why do roses bloom in the first place? The bloom because that flower is the first stage of the rose instinctively doing what all things in nature want to do. Reproduce itself. A rose sets a flower, the petals fall off and they are followed by what are called hips. Hips are those bright, mostly orange, berries you see on roses where a flower used to be. Inside those hips are rose seeds. Yes, actual seeds that have the ability to grow into new roses. And this is how roses reproduce themselves.
This means when you deadhead the rose hasn’t finished its “job” and so will produce another flower in the hope of it becoming a hip. It’s only when the rose “sets” hips, that it goes to sleep and takes a break. And that is exactly what we want in late fall in climates with a true winter. We want the rose to go to sleep.
If we continue deadheading then the rose will instinctively try to put out new flowers. The danger here is that it pushes sap up into the outer, most tender branches to do so. A sudden freeze could freeze the sap. When liquids freeze they expand and this literally blows the rose apart from within by the freezing sap rupturing the cell walls. In fall roses instinctively send their sap down into the roots so there is no danger of that. Deadheading interferes with that process and you run the risk of damaging the roses.
I realize this all sounds very doom and gloom, but it isn’t. Roses are tough and they can survive a sudden freeze with some sap still in the canes. But why risk it just for the sake of another round of blooms. Like all other aspects of rose care, our roses are much better off if we work with their natural rhythms rather than against them.
A side benefit to letting the roses set hips is they are a great food source for birds during the winter. Encouraging birds to stay in your garden means they will be there in spring to be part of your army to help battle aphids and the like.
And that is why I don’t deadhead in the fall. And encourage you to do the same.